The New Harmony Agenda

Long time no type. Again! Seems to be a pattern of mine.

I got too busy again. I got kinda crook too. And updating my blog was the last thing on my mind. Even though I enjoy it. Even though writing is like a release for me. Even though I know it might help somebody else going through the same things as me. Even though I want to develop a consistent habit. Even though, even though, even though. But alas, I stopped anyway.

And here I am starting again (again, again).

And I have a plan. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking over the last 6 months, or so. I’ve been studying for the last 2 years in formal courses to give me some new qualifications, and I’ve also been doing a whole lotta learnin’ informally too, about myself and my body and my other needs (physical, emotional, spiritual etc). I’ve been a content-consuming machine for years now. I love to read and listen and learn, and I want to help myself and help other people by sharing what I’ve learned.

So expect some changes around here over the next couple of months. I mean that about the website, but also about my life in general. I have reached a threshold or tipping point in my life in a number of ways.

Physically, I have become so fed up with my difficult and frustrating pattern of digestive issues that I’m about to embark upon a radical gut healing program called GAPS. I have also been working really hard on my fitness/health values and beliefs. I tried a program that was amazing but wasn’t for me, and I have begun jogging regularly with my husband the Exercise Physiologist. I have also been practicing and studying meditation and yoga, which have had profound impacts on my life. But still, there is fatigue and hormonal dysfunction (thyroid, adrenal, reproductive…) and major tummy problems. The list of foods that no longer agree with my body is getting longer and longer and at some point (that point is now!) I believe I have to stop treating the symptoms of whatever is going on in my insides and start actually looking at and treating the cause.  GAPS is nothing to be sneezed at, but hopefully it will help me heal for good this time.

Professionally, I have found a lot of clarity about my next steps and made some big decisions about the future recently. I have been granted one year’s leave without pay for 2017 from my teaching position in a state school in Queensland. This means that I will not be teaching in schools, other than some supply work (substitute teaching for those not up with teacher talk!). Part of this is because my husband and I would like to do some travel, and because I want to really focus big time on my health and getting really, really well before we even think about having babies. That is a big WHY. But it’s also because I want to focus myself full time on the creative projects that have been in my head for years. I want to write blog posts and articles and books, I want to compose music, I want to explore my creativity and I want to really put into practice the new qualifications I have gained over the last 2 years. I want to explore what it means to do all of these things without the constant pressure of trying to fit them in around the school term! But I also really, really want to make a difference in a very different way than I am currently able to do as a teacher.

I am launching a new business called ‘Self-Care for Teachers’ because I feel so passionately about preventing teacher burnout and supporting staff wellbeing in schools and ultimately I want to change the conversation (and maybe the education system!) from the ground up.

I am also going to be refocusing The Harmony Agenda as a website and as a business. Up until now I haven’t really had a brand and it has been mostly a badly updated personal blog. I have been coaching a little bit on the side of my job but I haven’t made that much of an effort to get new clients because I honestly haven’t made it a priority. But I’m ready now to really put myself out there into the world and make a real difference. It will remain a personal blog but I am planning to include a lot more informational topics too. The themes will remain the same: health, happiness, self-care, wellness, slowing down, listening to your body and befriending your emotions. But all the teacher stuff will be moving over to Self-Care for Teachers so the focus of each website will be more streamlined. I am multi passionate but I have felt scattered and confused trying to fit everything under the Harmony Agenda banner. This will hopefully help streamline my brain and what I’m offering to the world!

Oh, and I am also starting a podcast with my best friend Madison about our journeys with starting up businesses but doing them slowly and in a way that supports our health and happiness! So stay tuned for that!

Personally, I have just turned 29 and that has helped in the clarification process. I’ve had some major news about my thyroid recently that I promise I will update you on in another blog post (please don’t worry, it’s good news) but it brought a lot of big truths home to me. I’ve also been doing a lot of reflecting on the fact that next year I turn the big ’30’ and what does that mean for me? There have been a lot of questions lately about babies, or more specifically, when will we be having them. And the truth is, I don’t know when, but not right now. I don’t want to put it off forever, or even for 5 years, but I just know deep down that now is not the right time. My body is not 100% and hasn’t been for many, many years. If nothing else, that is reason to pause and heal so that one day I can be the best vessel possible for a new human being, and so that my own experience of pregnancy and being a new mum isn’t complicated and made more difficult by recurring health problems that could be fixed.

I also am faced with some decisions regarding whether I will even be able to teach with little ones, and the truth is I don’t think I will be able to. I am already part time and only just find I can manage my own health at this schedule. Most women go back to work after maternity leave to the level of part-time teaching that I am currently doing, so it doesn’t leave a lot for me to drop back to. I am aware there are many options and we won’t know until we get there and all of those other arguments. But I basically don’t want to be forced into a position where I have to go back to work at a higher fraction than is good for me. I’ve been forced to do that before (and there were no babies in the picture), and it was absolutely terrible for my health then, and I am under no illusions that it would be any easier if I had to do it again, let alone with the pressures of being a Mum (or the desires I have for being a present, healthy Mum instead of an absent, exhausted, ill parent). So the decision and the plan right now is to try to get extremely well and also build up some other income streams so that if I do decide to return to teaching after maternity leave, it’s because I want to and feel well enough to, and not because of financial desperation.

Plus, we want to do some more travel before we have babies, and I have so many creative ideas that I want to pursue too.

So the NEW Harmony Agenda for me is basically to enjoy the luxury that I have of being a middle class, Western woman with access to contraception and professional choices and amazing health care and a supportive family and with a world to explore. I am taking a gap year, not so much to find myself but to attempt to design my life so that it supports my health and my family plans and my other deep desires in life.

I am so infinitely grateful to be able to do this. The gap year doesn’t start until 2017 but planning for it starts now and I am throwing myself wholeheartedly into the process. I am excited and thankful and scared and excited all rolled into one! I hope you will stick around to hear how it all plays out for me over the next few months and into the gap year of 2017.

A powerful reminder of why it really is all in your head!

“It’s all in your head.”

Anyone who has ever had an invisible disease or health condition, or even simply a prolonged illness, knows the power these words have. In one sentence, a person can completely dismiss every painful and awful symptom and all the things you are doing to try to fix it. These words don’t just dismiss your illness and invalidate your feelings, they actually completely dismiss and invalidate YOU. It brings up a whole lot of shame and guilt about the condition for starters, and your trustworthiness on top of that.

If someone says ‘It’s all in your head’ what they are really saying is ‘I don’t believe you are really suffering from [insert condition here] and I think you are just trying to get attention’. This can be annoying when it comes from someone who isn’t important to you and really bloody frustrating when it comes from a health professional from whom you are seeking advice and treatment. But it’s completely devastating when it comes from someone close to you who is supposed to care about you…

…like that voice inside of you. In my almost-decade of invisible illnesses, I can count on one hand the number of times another person has actually said that to my face (although they may have thought it, who knows.) But at my worst, I said it to myself A LOT.

The problem is, I was right, but in completely the wrong way.

What I said to myself that it was all in my head, what I meant was that my physical and emotional symptoms and sensations were invisible to others, nigh on impossible to prove and therefore I must be imagining it.

WRONG! This wasn’t just false, it also kept me treating my body in ways that perpetuated the very symptoms I was hoping to alleviate. By denying my experiences and the messages my body was sending, I continued with the patterns of behaviour and thinking that got me there in the first place.

The truth is that the problem was all in my head, but not because I made it up to get attention (or for any other reason), but because my thoughts and beliefs were what led me to the point of chronic, invisible illness to begin with. And if the problem was in my mind, so was the solution. I just didn’t know it yet.

Massive disclaimer, just in case it isn’t already clear: I am NOT saying that I could ‘think myself better’ and take no practical action to actually treat the very real conditions I was suffering from. I believe people who push that kind of solution are only delaying a person’s actual recovery and in some cases are spreading a very dangerous message. That is IN NO WAY what I am saying here.

Did I have definite infections and physical symptoms that needed clearly defined medical treatment? Yes! Did I avail myself of everything modern medicine could do for me in order to get better? Absolutely yes!

And did I need to step up and take responsibility for my health instead of hoping for a quick fix and expecting the solution to be completely external to myself?

Yes I did. And there-in lies the gold: I had actual medical conditions that required medicine and in some cases surgery and supervision by proper health professionals, but I also needed to actually change my attitude altogether.

Only when I began to accept my health challenges instead of denying them did my journey of recovery begin. Only when I began to ask that little voice inside me to actually validate instead of dismiss my physical and emotional symptoms did I begin to trust myself. Only when I allowed myself to actually believe that I was truly sick, did I begin to treat myself in a way that would ultimately lead to wellness.

The irony is that the old “it’s all in your head” thinking was based on the idea that if I believed myself to actually be unwell, then I would get worse. But actually, the opposite happened! I stayed locked in denial for far too long. I was continuously abdicating responsibility for my health and wellbeing to external people and things, quick fixes and magic pills. I resented the fact that I continued to be unwell, despite the fact that I was working so hard to ‘think positive’ and ‘soldier on’.

IMG_2044Facebook has a new ‘memories’ feature that allows you to look back on what you posted on this day in years gone by. Today, one of my memories was of a status from 2009 which is the epitome of everything that was working against me in my mindset back then.

It reads: “Ellen…wants an upgrade, this body is definitely faulty and surely it’s still under warranty.

I would never write or say or even think anything like this now, not because I don’t still have health conditions (I do) and not because I no longer get sick and tired of feeling sick and tired (I do) but because I no longer believe the core message. The girl who wrote this believed that her body was not her responsibility. She made a joke about a body being like a kitchen appliance that you can replace when it malfunctions. Of course she knew this wasn’t physically possible with a human body (well…outside the realms of science fiction and things like organ transplants, neither of which really apply here). But her underlying belief was that her body wasn’t connected to her consciousness and that neither were really within her control. She didn’t take responsibility for enough of her choices regarding her health. She believed there was an inherent problem with her body, that it was faulty and therefore unable to be fixed.

But that was all in her head! I now know that my body is not faulty. I truly and deeply know this, it’s not even in the realm of belief anymore. My body is infinitely wise and tries in every way it knows how to get my attention. It knows what it needs and if I continue to ignore its whispers, its cries get louder and louder and much harder to ignore. That’s actually pretty much exactly what happened the year after I wrote this status. No longer did I have the whispers of ‘chronic fatigue’ and ‘recurrent tonsillitis’, but instead the shouts of whooping cough and thyroid cancer. Thankfully, the absolute awful illness that is whooping cough and the truly scary thing that is the big C shocked me into change. Slowly at first and then with increasing speed and accuracy.

There is no warranty and nor would I want one, these days. I don’t recall exactly what ailment I was suffering at the time I wrote that status, although my guess is it was yet another bout of tonsillitis. What I do know is that there were some very major health crises on the way so things were about to get worse before they got better.

The funny thing is, I did get the upgrade I asked for, just not in the way I wanted. I still have the same body (if you ignore the idea that all our cells regenerate and every 7 years we are a completely new being) but I have completely changed the way I think and feel about it. More importantly, I have taken responsibility for the way I interact with it on a daily basis. I am in no way perfect at it, but I really listen to the messages it is sending me now and I actually do a damn good job of heeding its warnings and following its instructions. I honour it and care for it because I love and care for it, truly, madly and deeply.

And that change in attitude, that newfound send of love and commitment, that total and complete transformation: that, ladies and gentleman, really IS all in your head!

Self-Care with Samuel L Jackson

Tonight it’s Friday night and I’m hanging out on the couch with my husband watching my favourite lifestyle tv and The Graham Norton Show. Tonight, Samuel L Jackson is on and he just gave some really excellent life advice. Warning: this advice comes with the usual Samuel L Jackson explicit language!

While discussing excessive Hollywood diets and ‘celebrity personal trainers’ he says:

“You know what you always tell trainers? “Motherf*cker, you work for ME!”

And I felt like cheering at the TV! This is EXACTLY the attitude more of us need to take in our lives, especially when it comes to our health. This is a lesson that it took me a long time (half a decade!) to learn, and in some cases learn the hard way. And since I realised that my doctor, coach and other practitioners work for me I have had such a different experience of not only my appointments but also my body and health altogether.

I often hear women frustrated that their doctor isn’t listening to them, that they are being dismissed and handed prescriptions that they don’t want. It isn’t just restricted to doctors but all types of practitioners that this happens with. I’m in no way anti-doctor, however I am against being a passive patient who hands over all control to the man or woman in a white coat. Or the psychologist, coach or counsellor whose office you walk out of feeling worse. Or the celebrity diet guru telling you that their meal plan and their meal plan only is what will work for you. Or, in Samuel L Jackson’s case, the personal trainer telling you to go harder when your body is saying no.

In a former life, this was me. I overtrained because I followed the advice of a well-intentioned PT giving advice to me that completely ignored the fact that I had chronic fatigue syndrome. I continued seeing a psychologist for a few sessions who, short of making me worse, certainly wasn’t helping me get better. And I spent an awful lot of my time in doctors offices having my symptoms dismissed and being given prescriptions for drugs or surgery which, if I had my time again, I’m not sure I would repeat.

It’s really only been in the last 18 months that I’ve truly started to stand up to practitioners when they are giving me advice that just does not sit right with me. Last year, in my gynaecologists office, I had to justify to her why I didn’t want to be on hormonal contraceptives anymore and why I wouldn’t let her perform an unnecessary and ‘maybe it will work, maybe it won’t’ procedure on my cervix. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. It was so scary to speak up and say ‘Actually, no, I don’t want that. Maybe it works for many other people, but my instinct is telling me it isn’t right for me right now.’ Now, my gyno was a nice lady and I’m sure she meant well, but I’m also pretty sure that she felt she knew better than me what was right for my body. (Amazingly, the condition cleared up on its own when I went off the hormones, no scary cervix scarring needed. Funny that!) It was really, really hard to stick to my convictions when put on the spot by her, but I’m so glad I did.

Since then, I’ve been faced with a few more opportunities to stand up for myself with health professionals, and also with other kinds of people I’ve hired. And it has required a bit of a self-pep-talk each time and I always end up sounding way more tongue tied and far less articulate than I hope. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter because it’s MY body and MY choice how I take care of it. My agenda for my life and body may not always align with that of the practitioner or other person that I’m speaking to, and that’s ok.

So from now on in these situations my new mantra will be courtesy of Samuel L Jackson:

“Motherf*cker, you work for ME!”

How self-care and focus will help you reach your goals

Well, it’s February already. By now many people’s New Years Resolutions are faltering, if not completely forgotten. But not me! Not that I made specific ‘resolutions’ this year but I did spend a fair chunk of my time in January contemplating and planning the year ahead. I created a 2015 calendar overview, chose a ‘word of the year’ and decided on my core desired feelings for the year. And so far, 6 weeks into the year I’m happy to report that I’m doing better than I’ve ever been. So how have I managed this? I’m so glad you asked!

Firstly, I made it a priority. As many of you will know, the last 6 months have included a huge amount of change in my life. I have been through a huge amount of personal growth. I took up part time study on top of my day job, I began business building, I lost and then grieved for my beautiful cousin, I got engaged, my new fiancé and I bought and then moved into our own home, we had an engagement party, Christmas and New Year in the same fortnight, I completed the assessment for the first part of my course and we also planned the wedding. The majority of this all happened in the last 2 months of 2014. It made for a very stressful, expensive and busy time. I wasn’t on the blog much, because I just didn’t have time, and then in January when things settled down and I did have time I made a conscious decision to take some time out for me.

And I’m so glad I did. I was able to settle into our new home, spend some quality time with my fiancé and nurture my very tired body with quality food, movement and rest. I also found that giving myself some mental space suddenly made a lot of room for new and exciting ideas! It’s going to be a great 2015.

Strategies for success

So let’s talk strategies. In the past using a calendar and diary has always been part of my life. However, last year in particular I let it slip. I attempted to make the transition from paper to digital scheduling and it worked, initially. But I found it needed a great deal of daily maintenance to keep up to date, not to mention being constantly plugged in and connected, which is something that is fraught with distractions for me. Plus, I could never seem to get the ‘global’ view that I wanted and needed because there would always be a need to scroll or change pages or maximise/minimise the image in order to read it. So eventually I let it slip and my productivity and sense of ‘having-it-together’ slipped along with that. Reflecting on this I decided to make the change back to a hard copy diary and paper calendar this year as an experiment. Well, already I can tell you that it is a resounding success! Old-fashioned pencil-and-paper scheduling FTW! I’m sure I’ve talked before about how writing is a psycho-neuro-muscular activity so even the act of writing something down imprints it into my brain more than keying it into my phone. But I also get the global view of the day, week, month and year that I need to get perspective on how I will be spending my time. It is SO much better. I highly recommend it!

The next strategy is a ‘word of the year’. I’m pretty sure I got this from Liz Gilbert in her book ‘Eat, Pray Love’ but I also have recently heard Natalie Sisson of The Suitcase Entrepreneur using this strategy as well. So I chose my word: ‘quality’ (as opposed to quantity, which is something I’d been thinking about A LOT over the moving house process!). The quality over quantity sums up pretty much everything I want this year in a lot of areas: relationship, possessions, food, exercise, work, entertainment, reading…the list could go on forever! So my word for the year is quality. 

Then during a number of coaching sessions over the month of January the word ‘peace’ came up for me a lot. And I realised that peace is my core desired feeling for 2015. This concept comes from the book The Desire Map by Danielle La Porte. I haven’t finished reading it yet but what I have read so far I really resonate with. It’s something I’ve heard and read about quite a lot over the holiday period as I deepened and explored my coaching journey. So my core desired feeling this year is peace.

What you focus on is what you get.

The last strategy is really what has made all the others a success though, and what is giving me confidence that I really can and will achieve my goals in 2015. And that is simply frequent, consistent focus. One of my favourite success principles is ‘what you focus on is what you get’. And I really have been living that this year. Every day I have made a conscious effort to focus on what I want instead of what I don’t want, what I’m grateful for instead of what I feel I’m missing and what the next actions are in order to create the life I want. I haven’t put a lot of pressure on myself to do this. I haven’t beaten myself up if I miss a day. And I haven’t tried to completely overhaul my life in large, dramatic ways at once. Instead, I’ve focused on small actions that take me step by step towards what I want to do, have and be. And I’ve focused on them frequently and consistently. And now, 6 weeks in, I’m seeing and even more importantly I’m feeling the benefits.

Some of my daily actions are to have a green juice, do a 2 minute meditation, perform at least 1 act of personal self-care, a 10 minute tidy-up or de-clutter and 5 minutes of some kind of movement every day. I have also made sure I check my diary and review my lists of to-dos for the day, week and month if not every day then at least every other day. Some other daily strategies I’m now adding seeing as those seem to be under way fairly well include a 1 sentence journal, a conscious wind-down before bed and 5 minutes of stretching every day. I have signed up for yoga and am feeling immense benefits of even just 1 class a week (although if I can get to more then I do) and have been going for at least 1 big walk a week too. Exercise and I have had a checkered history so I’m taking baby steps here with my commitments. I’m also making sure I commit to weekly coaching sessions to keep me on track and to help me stay motivated. It’s also nice to be able to share the ‘wins’ with someone who is 100% in my corner and has no agenda other than to help me succeed.

Right now, I’m really feeling the snowball beginning to build as these good habits start to become more automatic and the benefits start to feel very real. This only makes me feel even more motivated to keep going. Don’t get me wrong, there have been times when I have gotten lazy or distracted and either intentionally or unintentionally not done some of these habits. And I feel worse because of it. So that is also helping me stay on track. It’s a great feeling and it all comes down to focusing on what I want and taking the time to implement the small self-care strategies to help me get there!

So how are you going with your resolutions? Did you make any? What do you want 2015 to be for you? Let me know in the comments or on Facebook, I’d love to hear from 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?