Slowing down in the name of self-care

It’s a beautiful Sunday morning here in the Harmony House. The weather is cool but drizzly, which is a nice change after the heat of the previous week. I have had a lovely slow morning where I woke without an alarm and felt refreshed, I took my time having breakfast and making my West End Matcha tea and then I listened to a the latest episode of The Slow Home Podcast while I pottered about the house tidying up. Crinkle the cat was hanging around, my darling husband was sleeping in and then watching sport and then cooking bacon and there was absolutely no urgency or rushing. It’s got me feeling very reflective.

In short, it was my ideal morning. I feel very grateful to have realised that several days a week (usually 3 but sometimes more, sometimes less) I get to live a version of my ideal day. Mostly it involves being a homebody, lots of self-care, spending time with my little family, a phone conversation with one of my loved ones and learning about topics I love. Often it involves coaching of some sort, whether that be working with a client, participating in a webinar or doing some further study. All of these things, to me, represent a significant slowing down from the life I lead the other days of the week.

That life sees me rising very early (often before the sun), commuting for over an hour, functioning at work amidst the chaos and feelings of ‘never enough’ and ‘too busy for a toilet break’, followed by either a long commute home, dinner and bed, or staying overnight in the town where I work as it is too long of a commute to do both ways every day. There are many things I love about that life. I actually enjoy my commute because I get to listen to awesome podcasts and sometimes have long, meaningful conversations with my bestie via the magic of hands-free mobile technology. I really love the people who open their homes to me when I need a home-away-from-home and they feed me delicious food and we have many wonderful conversations. And I really enjoy many aspects of my job — especially the connections with lovely staff and students and the great music we get to enjoy and create.

But ultimately that life represents a lot of things that are not ideal for me. It’s frantic and exhausting for a start. Anyone who knows a teacher knows that it’s far from the 9 – 3 job some people think it is. The days really are chock-a-block full and lunch-times are not really a break but a chance to chase up students who you need to see and prepare for lessons and organise all manner of ensembles and rehearsals. The more days I have off in a week, the worse the busy-ness of the 9 – 3 hours gets. Since I’ve had the fit-bit it has become easier to see just how active these hours are for me. I regularly do 12,000 steps in a day at school. That’s without any attempt at setting aside time for exercise. On more than one occasion I’ve made it to 20,000 steps in a school day. There is also the emotional drain of a system that is never-ending in it’s quest for ‘perfection’ and where some of the clients and customers are really, really hard to get along with. As a highly sensitive person, I find it really draining to be interacting with such hostility so regularly. Plus, the constant improvement agenda and quest for more, more, more and better, better, better is quite a trigger to this recovering perfectionist. It’s also in stark contrast to my values, which is also emotionally draining.

The other problem is that this life also takes me away from my home and haven 4 days a week (sometimes more!). It’s an epiphany I’ve had before but I’m realising anew lately just how crucial this haven is for my health and happiness. It’s the reason I’m really not keen to have any guests stay over-night ever again, actually, although this is an ongoing conversation in our household at the moment. But being at home, either alone or with Stuart, gives me the chance to recharge my energy and block out the frantic noise of the world. It’s crucial for my self-care, it’s what reconnects me to my husband and to myself. So having to get up and rush to leave by 6.15am every work-day morning and either not get home until 6.15pm or, if I stay overnight in Esk, until the following day robs me of that re-charge time. As much as I love the dear friends I stay with in Esk, and as much as they look after me and give me everything I could possibly want in a home-away-from-home, it isn’t actually home. It’s not my space and staying there means I don’t get to see my husband or my cat for usually 36 hours minimum, sometimes closer to 72 hours depending on the week. Of course I know that is nothing compared to the separation that some couples deal with and I also know that I can choose to drive home any night that I like and I can even choose to work somewhere else. But neither of those options are really better options to me. In fact, this situation is the best that it could be right now. But that doesn’t mean it is the ideal. And it’s certainly not slow, which is what I’m craving right now.

So, next year, I am planning on dropping back to a 50% teaching load which will end up as 1 x full day and 2 x three-quarter days of teaching. At this stage, it will probably be Monday, Wednesday and Friday, which will mean three big days of commuting and busy-ness, but I’ll get to be home in my haven with my husband every night and I’ll get a day off in between every work day to recover and recharge and refocus. It’s more slowing down and another step towards my ideal life and I’m really looking forward to it.

Before then, though, I still have 7 weeks of the term to get through. This coming week I’m working 5 days because we have our school Awards Night on Tuesday (usually my day off) so I’ll be working Tuesday and staying away from home 3 nights this week. After that, the marking and reporting cycle will begin in earnest, so things are about to ramp up in that regard. As a result, I’ve decided to take the pressure of myself with The Harmony Agenda for a while. I’ll be blogging still, but perhaps not as regularly. I had planned to re-launch the Self-Care Matters E-Course in November in the new 12-week format but I don’t think I will now. I think I’ll leave that until the New Year because it does need some re-working and I won’t be able to devote the time or energy to it that I’d like at this stage.

I also plan on focusing more of my energy into developing resources for other teachers to be able to prioritise self-care. As such, I’ll be putting as much of my knowledge into practice to get through this term in as slow and self-care-filled manner possible. I am starting a Facebook group for teachers to support each other in self-care because I see a real need for a safe space for this online. And I will continue with the coaching part-time as well.

I feel really grateful to have not only the opportunity to create a version of my ideal life on the weekends and the odd day off during the week, but also to have the perspective to realise that for now, although I’d really like more of the ideal life, I need to do what needs to be done to get there sustainably. At the moment that means slowing down on the business building because I have to focus on staying well and doing my job well too. I know this isn’t forever and that at some stage in the future I will miss this school and these students, so I will appreciate them while I can. And I’ll focus on the nice bits and try to let go of the not-so-nice bits. And I’ll remind myself that even when I have to slow down and change my plans, even when I make less progress in all areas of my life than I want and especially when I feel like I have let myself or others down, I am enough, already and always.

My health and happiness has to be my priority, and that’s ok. I want to help as many people as possible to realise that they can prioritise themselves too, but I want to do that in a way that is congruent and sustainable. No use burning myself out spreading the self-care message! So for now I will live my values as much as possible, slow down and practice self-care, and lead by example. That’s my harmony agenda. What’s yours?

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. 

Self-care Spring and Body Boosting

So 2 months ago I wrote a post about my intention to make September all about self-care. I did that, and then checked out of the blog for a while, which was part of my process for managing all the things going on in my life and maintaining my equilibrium. But even though I wasn’t blogging, I was self-caring. And it has been going so well for me that I decided to extend the even to encompass all of Spring!

As part of this, two weekends ago I invested in myself and attended a workshop on the Sunshine Coast run by one of my favourite podcasters, Kim Morrison at her beautiful new Twenty8 premises. It was absolutely fabulous and I so enjoyed learning more about self-care from Kim, about nutrition from Sarah Clarke of Natural Earth Health Products, and connecting with the many like-minded people also in attendance.

I plan to do a review of all the things I learnt at this workshop in an upcoming blog, but tonight I just want to celebrate because I received my Twenty8 order in the mail today. I can’t believe how quickly it arrived! I only ordered on Wednesday night, and this morning there was a little post-office parcel slip in the mail box. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning unwrapping all my beautifully wrapped and scented gifts!

Beautiful Twenty8 Products

I am so happy and cannot wait to pamper myself with these beautiful self-care products. They are all natural and ethically produced, so I know I am not putting anything nasty onto my skin, which is very important to me right now. They smell absolutely divine, so it feels like such a treat just holding them and breathing the fragrances in. And the best part? They support me in my self-care journey and help me prioritise nurturing my body every day.

Kim Morrison developed these products and teaches people about self-care processes that help support them in their busy lives. One of these practices is called a daily body boost. Using a carrier oil and a couple of drops of essential oil (plus the magnesium spray if you are lucky enough to have some) the idea is that when you get out of the shower, you rub the deliciously scented oil all over your body while practicing good self talk and repeating positive affirmations. These can be about the mind, body or soul — whatever works best for you or whatever you most need to hear.

Kim says she hasn’t missed a day of body boosting in over 28 years, which is just amazing. I only started a few weeks ago and I have already missed a couple of days, but that’s ok. I have started and I have been doing it regularly and I LOVE it! Already I feel that it has helped me. So thank-you, Kim Morrison, for your wonderful products and beautiful example of how to take care of yourself. I plan to continue to body boost throughout this Self-Care Spring, and probably into Self-Care Summer as well!

Now over to you: what are you doing to support and nurture yourself during Self-Care Spring?

Start again and be grateful!

So, long time no blog posts. Again! Lately my blog has just been at the bottom of the to-do list once again. And this time, I’m not even going to think about mentally beating myself up for that. It’s cool. It’s what needed to happen. There has been A LOT of change in my life since the last post about self-care, and ironically part of my self-care routine this last 6 weeks has been to not stress about blogging and not put too much pressure on myself to progress in my coaching journey too quickly.

A brief update: I got engaged to my wonderful partner Stuart (yay!), started writing a music teaching book and this week we bought a house! On top of that, there has been holidays, work, study, wedding planning and some more health stuff going on. So it’s been quite busy and I haven’t been placing too much pressure on myself because I know that looking after myself, especially allowing time to rest and relax, is the most important thing and is what allows me to get all those other important and urgent jobs done.

This weekend has been pretty amazing and inspiring. I have been reading a lot, coaching and being coached, doing some big life planning with the love of my life about our future and some business planning with my bestie and business coach Maddi. Like I said, this week Stuart and I bought a house (ok, so we are in the process of finalising it…it hasn’t actually all happened yet, but we’re well on the way) and this has really forced us to sit down and get focused on our future in a more detailed way than ever before. We had our first ever formal ‘money date’ this morning, and it was wonderful. More on this in a future blog. Even more exciting is that yesterday Maddi and I began putting steps in place to make our podcast happen. Actually, we recorded two pilot episodes. These may never go to air, but it is the first step and we are both very excited about it. I will definitely keep you updated about this in weeks to come. Hopefully we will launch the podcast by Christmas! Exciting!

So I had been meaning to update the blog all week because there have been a lot of exciting learnings for me this month. What really kick started me getting back into it was a post I read this morning on Naomi Arnold’s site Project Healthy Happy Me. In light of the fun Maddi and I had yesterday recording our podcasts and talking about gratitude and with the encouragement I got from Naomi’s blog post, I decided to start again with my blogging routine and write a little list of all the things I am grateful for this week! 🙂 So here it is:

1. My wonderful fiancé Stuart. He lights up my life and I am so excited about our future together.

2. The knowledge I have. This includes self-knowledge as well as various content specific knowledge. Knowledge is power and it’s so great to acknowledge and feel the sense of empowerment that comes with all forms of knowledge, but especially self-knowledge.

3. Coaching! It’s related to point 2, but I am so grateful for the insights and empowerment I receive from having a coach (or 3!). Yesterday I had a coaching session as the client and it was just fantastic. One of my coaches, Vanessa from Three Sixty Coaching, has helped me feel so empowered and determined to create the life I want. It’s all happening and she has really helped me with it. I also love being a coach and paying it forward to help others create the life they want.

4. Still related, but access to information and resources is a huge gratitude item for me. There are so many incredibly knowledgable people out three. Some of them I am privileged to know and learn from directly, and some I only know indirectly and learn from through their products (books, blogs, podcasts etc). But either way, I love learning and I love having the access to info that the internet provides.

5. My super team of encouragers and inspirers. This primarily includes my sister Naomi and a number of girl friends, including Maddi. Like I said, she and I are about to launch a podcast about life and business and relationships and health and we are very excited. Maddi has two businesses, one as a business coach and consultant and a side project at Cheeky Whispers. Check her our, she’s rad 🙂

6. ABC DigJazz! We have had this playing in our house all morning and it is just so soothing and calming and a perfect back-drop to grown-up conversations about life, money and the future!

7. Flowers! There are fresh roses in a vase next to me that are just SO fragrant. I got them from our garden on Friday. Gorgeous! Jacarandas and silky oaks are in bloom here, as well as all the other beautiful spring blooms. So happy, so inspiring 🙂

8. A tidy house. I am so much more productive when my environment is un-cluttered. I feel like there is always more to do in the de-clutter area but a tidy house is enough for me for now 🙂 With an upcoming move I am sure we will again do the cull of our possessions, and I actually can’t wait!

9. A cool drink on a hot day. There’s a bit of a heat wave going on at the moment, and I am so grateful for the tinkling of ice in my glass that keeps my drink cool next to me. Such a simple thing but so refreshing 🙂

10. Being excited about the future. I feel so lucky to have so many things to look forward to in coming months, including moving into our very own home, getting married, going on a honeymoon, launching a podcast, publishing a book (probably self-published, but hey, it counts!) and continuing to learn and grow. I am very grateful for the great things coming up, and for the perspective that any challenges I’m currently dealing with are also opportunities to grow. Yay!

 

That’s it from me today, but watch this space for more frequent updates soon 🙂

 

Grace and peace, y’all!

 

Ellen x

Saying goodbye is so hard

I woke up this morning with the song “For Good” from the musical Wicked playing in my mind. Today is 3 weeks since my dear cousin passed. I don’t have much to say except that I’m thinking about it a lot still.

My mother did the eulogy at the funeral and memorial service, and she read a quote from A. A. Milne that says it all really.

“How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

And it’s true. I am so glad I got to know her and spend so much time with her. I am so glad I have so many wonderful people in my life.

How lucky I am to have so many, many people in my life that make saying goodbye so very, very hard.

A beautiful reminder and something poignant to reflect on for all of us.

I have been changed for good

This week has been tough. Let’s face it, every minute since 3.30pm on Tuesday, 29th July when I found out my cousin had died has been tough. Losing someone you love at all, let alone suddenly, is always tough. I knew that intellectually before this happened. But I guess you never really know or understand anything truly until it happens to you.

The strange thing is that I’m surprised by how little life has changed, but also how much everything has changed. It seems so callous to say, but life does indeed go on. After the burial and memorial services last week (which were tremendously beautiful and infinitely sad) and a few days off, I guess I went back to work this week thinking it would be good to get “back to normal”. But it wasn’t normal, because I have changed. I didn’t expect it. Intellectually I know that is silly to say. Of course I’m affected, of course normal life feels different, of course my perspective has changed. But it really did take me by surprise.

There have been many moments of tears this week. One moment I’m doing fine, next minute I’m bawling in the staff room when my boss asks a simple thing. One moment I’m enjoying a good book in the morning sun, next minute tears are rolling down my face and I can no longer read the words on the page. One moment I’m diligently running errands about town, next minute I’m criving all the way home. (Criving is a fabulous term that means crying while driving. It was coined, I believe, by Australian radio hosts Chrissie Swan and Jane Hall).

I have had to remind myself to be gentle with myself. I think I was surprised because this isn’t how I felt when other family members have passed away. But then, those other family members were elderly and sometimes had been sick for a long time. As sad as those situations were, it is the natural order of things. Your elderly relatives are supposed to pass away before you. And when someone has been in palliative care, there is time to prepare and say goodbye.

This is a very different situation. I never expected my beautiful cousin, just one year younger than me, to die so suddenly. I didn’t get to say goodbye and I was so unprepared for this kind of grief. Intrusive grief that doesn’t care about my to do lists or that I need to not fall to pieces while I’m at work.

But as hard as it has been, I’m so glad I have been so affected. I know it’s a bit of a cliche, but this has made me re-evaluate my life. Death of a loved one, especially a sudden death and even more especially a sudden death of a 26 year old, really puts things in perspective. I guess I was already having a bit of a quarter-life crisis/looking to change a few things in my life. After all, that’s what this blog is all about. But I think my cousin’s death has really sped up the process by reminding me that time isn’t actually infinite.

So although it may seem a little silly to say, I have been changed. This quote from C. S. Lewis sums up pretty aptly how I feel the future will be now:  “With my mother’s death all settled happiness…disappeared from my life. There was to be much fun, many pleasures, many stabs of joy; but no more of the old security.”

I am certain there will be much fun, many pleasures and many stabs of joy in my future. But that easy happiness, that security about life’s predictability and invulnerability that I didn’t know was there until I lost it, has gone.

The song “For Good” from the Musical Wicked was played at the memorial service and it was a perfect choice. The lyrics sum up perfectly how I feel right now:

I’ve heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason,

Bringing something we must learn

And we are led to those who help us most to grow if we let them

And we help them in return

Well I don’t know if I believe that’s true

But I know I’m who I am today because I knew you….

Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?

But because I knew you

I have been changed for good.

I have some big plans for the future. I am excited to start taking action towards my goals and dreams. And I’m sure that because I knew this wonderful, creative, loving soul, my life has been changed for good. 

 

Grief and Gratitude

This week my family lost a very gentle, beloved soul quite unexpectedly. This beautiful young woman, who went to bed on Monday night and didn’t wake up on Tuesday, was someone I shared my childhood with and who I really didn’t expect to lose at such a young age. She will be greatly, greatly missed.

Yet, in the midst of grief, there is so much gratitude.

For her life, shorter than it could have been, but well lived none-the-less. For the many lives she touched and for the happiness that she felt from being with people.

For the childhood memories of companionship and family, of girlhoods full of barbies and teen years full of chick flicks.

For drinking glasses of water and writing lists of chores and playing in the yard. For vitamins and room redecorating and trips to McDonald’s. For the phase she went through when we were little and she wanted to be like my sister and I so much that she stopped calling her parents Mum and Dad and started calling them by their names, because that’s what we called them!

For her love of music, for her eagerness to perform and for the many times we sang together.

For the many Christmases and Easters we spent together in our Grandparents’ home. For the family celebrations and traditions that we shared.

For the hours we spent shopping, playing The Sims and chatting on the phone.

For her love of purple and Jatz biscuits and crafting.

For the joy that filled her face whenever I saw her. She was truly such a happy soul. Life was not easy for her but my memory is filled with her bubbling joy and contagious excitement for simple things.

For the efforts she took to make even simple occasions memorable events. She loved parties and coming up with a theme and getting dressed up. She put so much thought into decorating tables and planning menus and creating outfits. She took such pleasure in hospitality and getting her hair done. She really knew how to savour every last bit of anticipation for an occasion.

For her love of travel. For the tales she could tell about her much anticipated and then warmly remembered trips to Disneyland and Far North Queensland and to visit family and friends near and far.

For all the things she taught me and all the love she gave me and everyone around her.

For her deep compassion and caring for others, especially those less fortunate than herself. For her faith and love of God, for her eagerness to encourage everyone around her to participate and have faith and help others.

For her eagerness to capture moments in time on film, even when I sometimes felt she was too trigger happy with the camera. How glad I am now that she always wanted to take photos.

For how much she loved those soft toys that have a recording device in their hand, so when you squeeze it and talk into them, they repeat back whatever you say in a chipmunk voice. For her laugh and the way she’d kind of not quite get my Dad’s jokes but would chide him for being irreverent.

For the too-few lunch dates we shared and for her love of Sizzler and other good buffet restaurants. For the times she would ring up out of the blue and chatter away for hours if I let her. For her eagerness to get the family together, for her memory and recognition of important dates, for how proud she always was of any and all family achievements, no matter how small.

For the memories I have that I will cherish forever. For the fact that whenever I think of her, the words I think of are ‘love’ and ‘joy’ and ‘fun’.

For 26 years on the same planet as such a beautiful soul.

x

What thyroid cancer taught me: Part 1

July has turned into a fairly pensive month for me these last 5 years or so. It’s winter in Australia so the days are shorter and more time is spent inside, so there are more opportunities for thinking, for a start. There are always holidays mid-year, whether from school or uni, so I often have the gift of a little extra time, too.

But without a doubt, the main reason July prompts so much reflection is because major things in my life always seem to happen in July. I climbed Mount Fuji in July 2013, which was a huge achievement. I moved away from my hometown for work in July 2011.

And in July 2010 I had thyroid cancer. In March of that year I read a magazine article about a woman with thyroid cancer that possibly saved my life. It prompted me to ask my doctor about the lump on my throat. Then I had an ultra-sound, which revealed that there were several smaller lumps behind the bigger, palpable lump in the right lobe of my thyroid. The doctor wanted me to have a biopsy but I had whooping cough at the time and couldn’t breathe without coughing, so there was no way I would be able to lie still enough for the biopsy. Besides, thyroid lumps are so often benign that it didn’t seem urgent to follow up so we waited a few months until I was all better from the whooping cough.

June 29, 2010 I had a biopsy. I took my Mum with me because I was scared of the needle and that I might faint and not be able to drive myself home. That was the scariest thing about the whole thing for me at that point. Little did I know that I was going to get very good at getting needles in the months that followed. I had googled ‘thyroid lumps’ and of course cancer was high in the list of Dr Google’s diagnoses. My boyfriend and I actually joked about it because I knew that Dr Google pretty much says that about everything. I mentioned it in the biopsy room and the man that took the biopsy said reassuring things like, “Oh females grow things in their thyroid all the time. You have about a 2% chance that it’s cancer. If you were a man we’d be worried.”

My doctor had asked me to make an appointment for 3 days later as that was how long it would take the tests to come back. So it was a surprise when I got a phone call the next day, on Wednesday the 30th June 2010 at about midday. It was and still remains the scariest day of my life. The doctor rang and said she needed to see me immediately. I explained that I had an appointment on Friday but she said to come in straight away. Like, right now. She’ll squeeze me in between other patients. About 30 seconds after I hung up the phone and as I began to tell my little sister what she said (we were both home as it was uni holidays) the phone rang again and it was the doctor telling me not to drive myself, to bring someone, preferably my Mum.

You don’t get a phone call like that, after having been told how routine the tests are and how likely it is that the whole thing will turn out to be simple and benign, and not know immediately that something is wrong. We tried to ring Mum a few times and she didn’t answer, so I left a message. No idea what I said but I am pretty sure I would have sounded freaked out. My sister said she would drive me if need be, and we were getting ready to go when Mum finally rang back. I think she was in a meeting or something, but she had left and was on her way home to take me to the doctor’s surgery.

Thank goodness that doctor had the good sense to ask me to bring someone with me. I don’t really remember the rest of that day. I don’t remember driving to the surgery or anything she said really. I just remember sitting in her little consulting room bawling my eyes out. Mum asked a lot of questions and took some notes I think. My mother is an incredible woman for many reasons (more on that another day) and I am so, so grateful for her calm presence that day. I imagine it must have been very scary for Mum, hearing that her already not-very-well daughter probably had cancer. But she has had lots of experience of dealing with heavy, emotional stuff and crisis situations with her work, and I’m sure she realised that it wouldn’t help if we were both big balls of tears. Somebody had to remember what the doctor actually said, after all.

So the biopsy had come back suspicious for thyroid cancer and the only way to find out for sure was surgery. So two weeks later, on Tuesday, July 13, I had a right thyroid lobectomy. In the previous two weeks I’d had to deal with heaps of doctors’ visits, the agony of not actually knowing what was wrong, fear for my future, our house getting broken into, my sister’s car getting stolen, putting my entire life on hold, my parents having to suddenly find several thousand dollars (as I was a broke uni student without health insurance) and my relationship going from ‘fun little fling’ to ‘holy sh*t, this suddenly got heavy’. I was scared. I’d never had surgery before and I didn’t like needles. So that in itself was scary, let alone dealing with the topic of cancer, and the unlikely possibility that my vocal chords could be damaged in the operation.

Fortunately, I had a great surgeon, and the surgery went very well. The evening before the surgery, my boyfriend picked me up and we bought cheesecake and ate it at a local lookout around dusk. I am sure we talked about the operation, but mostly I remember him having a big chat to this old couple at the lookout (tourists from Canberra…why do I remember that!?) and just holding my hand while I watched the sunset. I fell in love with him a lot that evening, because he was a ‘grown up who can talk to people’ (unlike previous boyfriends) but mostly because he didn’t run away in my time of need. He was just there, and he didn’t say much, but he didn’t avoid the topic either. I know he wanted to get me out of the house, take my mind off the scariness of the next day but he didn’t pretend like it wasn’t happening either. And he just held my hand and let me sit and think. No pressure. A steady and calm presence in my life that I am still so grateful for every single day. And it’s funny looking back now because we were still so new then and I was so unsure of us.

It’s funny/wonderful how so much happiness and certainty can bloom out of a time of deep fear and uncertainty.

So the first thing I learnt is that crisis can be a time of deep bonding. My strongest memories of those few scary weeks are of my amazing parents, my beautiful little sister, my cuddly cat and my steadfast boyfriend. Their constant love and support, their presence in the scary times, the bonding that occurred because of the fear and uncertainty in the situation.

Love really can be a source of deep comfort and help drive out fear. 

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.

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!