I am a list writer. Things I need in my wardrobe, food we need in the cupboards, to-do lists every day. I must have read that if you write it down you will make it happen. Plan the life you want and how you aim to get it and it will happen. But this is not happening for me. I know that this doesn’t happen for a lot of people.

While clearing through mounds of books and papers recently I discovered that my partner has been literally planning, through writing, scattegrams and mindmaps, a better life and relationships for years, not just once but over and over – years worth of plans. All the things we discuss now together with honesty and full hearted excitement, I realised with sadness he has planned and dreamed of all of this before in his former life. He is an articulate, imaginative, clever and hardworking person. So what stopped him actually just doing it?

I can honestly say I don’t know for sure what stops the dreams and schemes we all have from becoming just repeated words on pages. It’s sad to realise that unless we all do something extra-ordinary, and take an uncomfortable chance, life really is just Groundhog Day.

If I think about how I used to dream of better relationships, a better lifestyle, and better work it becomes visible to me. It is not fear. It is not bad luck nor errors of judgement. It is the people we surround ourselves with. The ones that unintentionally keep us small and take, and take again, because it suits them.

In the UK if you have a big idealistic mind and you tell people about it, it is rarely cultivated and admired, one becomes a dreamer or a boaster. Totally in opposition to Americans who seem to love and embrace people with big dreams; the bigger the better. They love dare-to-do’ers and winners. Here we love to lose; it allows us the self pity that we had ‘prepared earlier’.

One of my parents would always say ‘oh you don’t want to do that’ ‘why would you risk that?’ ‘It’s too soon’ ‘Its too late’. Then, as I got older, subsequent partners who liked life as it was (usually at my expense in one way or another) did exactly the same.

I am not historically blaming the people around me. No I am blaming myself for listening to them. I have recently broken off from associates, and fallen out with older members of my family because I have learned to claim my space, literally. I cant deal with their problems for them and trying to do so has been holding me back from moving forward. So I have become selfish. I will own that one because I don’t feel guilty: I need space from the nay-sayers and I don’t need the toxicity of my past in my present.

Resisting the urge to proclaim over and over that my life is brilliant is hard. I have so little in terms of finances and wealth. But my goodness, I am physically more healthy than ever, mentally getting stronger everyday, and I am putting myself out of my comfort zone to achieve greater things.

Procrastination does not work for anyone. Claiming your space to allow you to get on with whatever IT is, does.

NOT procrastinating!

What do you see?

Yesterdays view from the passenger seat

What do you see? The menacing dark clouds or the beauty of the sun rays tearing through? Or do you see the weeds at the bottom that despite their low position reach tall and grow despite the adversity of not being wanted nor beautiful, reach high and proud to bathe in the sunlight and warmth?

How we view what we each encounter has an enormous impact on what we see. My own recent therapy sessions have made me take stock of all the negative events in my whole life, not one event, but many, many that could have defined me, if I let them. It is quite a revelation to realise that we rarely define ourselves by our own achievement or success story. I am not saying that at the time each hasn’t challenged me and broken me to a certain extent. But not for too long.

What is too long? Too long is when people start avoiding speaking to you and prefer to text, because you literally bring them down, you drain them. When you no longer see anything in a positive way at all. Where life really is just dealing you lemons; one after the other. I think we all get to this point sometimes, hopefully not too-often-times. It is then that we need help or to make a serious change in our lives: ours way is not working, so it is time to stop doing it our way and try a different way. Help is not an embarrassment or admitting failure or despair. It is just saying ‘I didn’t expect this and I don’t have the tools or strength to deal with it alone’.

Counselling through the doctor takes so long but it is worth getting on the waiting list and in the meantime self help: read recommended books by people in your situations – you will never be unique in your situation. Someone on the internet will have written / blogged about it at some time. Samaritans are listeners. No judgement. People that want to listen so that you may be able to cope a little better, one step at a time.

Exercise is exhausting, especially when getting out of bed is overwhelming but get outside, close those sad and heavy eyes and just simply b-r-e-a-t-h-e. Nature has been around hundreds, thousands, of years and seen and heard many events, secrets and lies. Let nature caress your soul and look after you. Cold or hot, sunny or rainy, it is living and a constant.

One step at a time. We all need to move forward. In this photo I saw the beautiful sunrays and I smiled because nature does that for me. I bloody love this planet and this humanity I was lucky enough to be born into. Today I see its beauty and therefore today will be a good day.

Best Friends

I had a best friend once. She and I had so much in common at the age of 11. Her father was absent, I wished mine was. Her Mum was a resilient matriarch who made everyone feel welcome. Everyone was welcome at her small, damp and basic house; built before the freeway that roared traffic constantly passed the front room window.

No one was welcome at my home. My father once pronounced that you can count the number of friends you have on one hand, that no one I considered a friend really was. Neither my Dad or my Mum had friends. No one visited and no one was welcome. But my best friend and I snuck in during the school lunch break. We carried on writing physical letters to one another during the school holidays: her tales of Dreamland Margate and the rides and mine of spending the whole summer either locked indoors in our home, or sat in the car with my Sister while our Dad serviced customers TVs. My Mum at this point was a working Mum.

We went through life experiences, exams, first loves and first jobs together. Then we drifted apart, although never in spirit. I worked in the West End and was full of my own self importance whilst she worked locally and learned to drive, then became a body builder competitor. We lost touch for a couple of years during which time I had married, had babies prematurely and experienced the utter desperate pain of my firstborn son dying in my arms at two days old. As my first marriage fell apart I sought her out and we became awesome best friends as if no time had ever passed. She had not married yet and was a high flyer driving a top spec Mercedes, her own house, huge salary, incredibly sexually free and wow, how I envied her identity. She envied mine ironically, two beautiful and bright babies under three who loved their new ‘auntie’.

I introduced my best friend to her husband and it was me who suggested she might be pregnant when she came back from honeymoon, wondering why she felt sick and bloated. We shared so much. I could tell her anything and everything: a sister, a love, a friend, confidante, a beautiful spirit that enjoyed being with me and my family.

Change was inevitable. She moved in a much more flamboyant circle. I could not keep up financially with weekends away, holidays, nights out. I was going through a terrible break-up and had a final straw moment when I knew I had to move away and take control of mine and my children’s lives (three aged under 6).

Saying goodbye on the moving day was so painful. How we cried. Her husband amused at this outpouring of grief pointed out we would see each other again, I was only a motorway away. There are two times in my life that I have felt these tears: when I moved and said goodbye to her, and when my second Son, my only Son, went off to University. How I cried, I knew it was the last time he would ‘live’ at home. On both occasions I was totally bereft.

I was right to feel that way. Things were never the same. My Son never moved back home and she and I saw each other less and less. Then she had her news. Cancer. She had cancer. We cried together, we cried separately, we cried and cried.

Eventually her way of dealing with ‘it’ was to disconnect from me. At this period my own life was out of control, failing relationships after giving them my all. Desperate weight loss and upheaval, which my poor pre-teen children all experienced with me. Sad times. I had a cup full of woe while she dealt with the deathly cup with new friends who didn’t know her history. She could be who she needed to be I guess. My Son would often tell me to get back in touch when a month turned into several, and then into a year. We had time I always thought, completely oblivious to the severity of the cancer and its advancement.

I decided to google her name to see if she was on Facebook, as I didn’t have it. Her name brought up an “In Memoriam” page. I remember staring at my laptop and thinking, what the … , what the ???? Does this mean she had died. Tears flowed for days which turned into weeks. I could smell her perfume and hear her voice. I still can. I miss the smell of her pretty blond hair when we hugged. I miss her utterly and some days it takes me by surprise and it physically hurts. I never thought I would have another best friend, I didn’t deserve one.

But I do have a best friend. I have told him more than I ever got a chance to tell her. He is so good at reading my moods and needs that I feel totally blessed to have found this wonderful life partner. He knows me in the same way that she knew me. We laugh, we cry, we sit in silence (happily) and sometimes we talk incessantly.

So my own Father may well be right about how many friends we have in our lifetime. But I would rather have had the two best friends I have, than dozens of ‘friends’ who don’t drop in or ‘get me’ without me having to explain and justify. I have learnt a lesson in that we must truly value real friendship – real in the way that you utterly miss that person when they are doing something else. We must love and be loved in this life.

It is the Anniversary of her passing and today I am thinking about all the funny and painful moments we shared. She was a massive part of my life and I miss her terribly. To my best friend A, I truly loved you x

Consumer Nutritional Experts

Women are experts. We shop for our families, we devotedly list every food we eat on MyFitnessPal when we have hit that ‘rock bottom’ of weight gain. And so we are, without doubt, consumer nutritional experts. What woman doesn’t know that cake and bread are ‘bad’ carbs and that brown rice and wholegrains are both righteous and rewarding.

I remember my Mum starting Weight Watchers in the late 70s and overnight delicious butter and Sunblest squidgy white loaf disappeared from our kitchen (I can smell that bread packet even now!). No more running in from school and eating a ton of yummy jam sandwiches before she came home from work. No, a tasteless emulsified, chemically produced ‘spread’ of yellow nature and bread with bits in replaced this treat. Boo. We also had our Frosties and sugar breakfasts kidnapped and replaced with a brown thin cardboard imposter – bran had come to town thanks to Rosemary Conley and that darned ‘Hip & Thigh’ high fibre diet.

What followed was a revolution in food production. Sugar replaced Fat in the manufacturing of ‘food’. Mothers made choices because of the Holy Grail proclamation of “Low Fat”. It needed to appeal to our palates, humans have evolved to enjoy the taste of Fat because, well because it keeps us alive and taste nice! So what could it be replaced with that late 20th Century palates had come to love – evil SUGAR.

We are learning over time that whole foods, as nature intended, are indeed better for us but I’m not convinced this message has got out enough. What foods are we giving our children? Convenience and packaged?

Mindful of class allergies and peer pressure, I remember packing up my children homemade hummus and crudités, heart shaped wholemeal cheese and marmite sandwiches, grapes, cherry tomatoes and baked crisps. Until my youngest pleaded with me one day to stop the embarrassment of breath that smelt of garlic “please Momma no more, my friends say I stink!”. So within days I too gave in to the peers so as my beloveds did not stand out from the crowd, and a box of health got replaced with (sing this to the tune of the Fast Food Song – incidentally, an all time low in song writing) “ham sandwich, ham sandwich, cheesy, squeezy and a chocolate bar”.

Even now, given that there are an incredible 61 different forms of sugar (yes- 61!), we are hood-winked into thinking we are making healthy choices for our families : “Low Fat & Low Sugar” … well, what the heck does it actually have in it???

Regardless on how long it takes, let’s try and use whole foods: if it didn’t grow, didn’t breath or swim, then it isn’t a whole food. Take a few minutes to cut a piece of cheese and wrap it in paper for our children’s lunch. Pop their natural unsweetened yogurt with some blueberries in a recyclable pot. Prepare a few veggies and make a dip (maybe without garlic in it!). And remain steadfast and smug that not only do WE eat healthy, but we have made that choice for our families also.

Exam Stress Time

Why are school children still judged on their English Maths and Science grades – who decided this? Why and when? I love this letter from a Headteacher to his student’s parents.

There is so much depression and anxiety amongst our teens that exam scheduling and methods seem to be so antiquated, stressful and cruel. Isn’t it time that they were challenged? In the meantime, let us all look after our children going through this for the next couple of months with space, kindness, consideration and love.

Yes I Can

Opportunities rarely just come along. We create them. By putting ourselves out of the comfort zone and taking a moment to allow opportunity in … it really does just happen. Faith in our own ability waivers so badly. As women we are born questioning our own selves: can I? Am I? Why me?

I have been told so many times recently I am great at this and that, praise is so hard to accept and not because I am totally humble. Far from it, I am a Leo after all and seek praise and affirmation constantly.

No, praise is hard to accept because I am my own harshest critic. And I have noticed this about all my girl friends and female clients also. I don’t really know when it happens, whether its nature or nurture but it is so hard to believe in yourself and MAKE an opportunity. I do know this though, from my own experience over the last week when I consciously made a decision to seize the day, put myself out of my comfort zone and promote myself, I was rewarded with time and opportunity. I have exciting times ahead, not because it just came along, but because I made space for the ‘luck’/ opportunity to develop.

Next time your gut tells you ‘no you can’t’, let your head be louder and win and say ‘yes I can’.

Mindful Body Check

Do you ever do a mindful body check? I do this at the end of teaching a Seated Strength & Stability classes for Seniors asking ‘if we don’t know how each part of our body feels right now, then how can we know if it is better or worse than last time?’.

Take some time to quietly sit in meditation – this will mean different things to all of us. Close your eyes, supported in a chair, feet flat on the floor, or laying if you prefer and breathe. Concentrate on your slow breath coming into the body through your nose and leaving through your mouth. Do this at your own speed. When calm washes over you, start at your crown and ask yourself how does my head, jaw, face feel today. Take time to note if you feel tense, if you are congested or your throat is sore. Follow this all the way down your body: neck, shoulders, arms, wrists, back, hips, legs, knees, ankles and feet.

Take stock of your self.

Are you someone who would reach to the medicine drawer for ibuprofen when your joints ache, or a gel if you have muscle soreness? Open your mind and read up on “rolling”. There is an amazing alternative out there using various size and hardness of balls and techniques that can literally change your quality of life. I recommend “The Roll Model” by Jill Miller as it is comprehensive and tells you which balls to use and how. Dr Kelly Starrett is very well known to CrossFit community as is his book The Supple Leopard, his stretches and use of balls and rolling methods will astound you. And you will not need pharmaceuticals again. Sometimes just the breathing will alleviate stress. Our bodies are truly amazing, designed to survive most general aches and pains without 20th century medicine so give it a try.

Tune up balls for Rolling aches and pains away
Roll aches away

Vital Ingredients to my Recipe of Life

I have recently seen the same GP a number of times for insomnia, which, ironies of ironies, is caused by stress and causes me more stress (go figure). She rarely takeS the time to look me in the eye, and the last time I visited she walked ahead of me into her office without holding the door which nearly knocked me out. Half way through me describing the blackhole of my insomnia, she started moisturing her hands; a clear indication that her thought process was more along the lines of ‘my hands are dry, oh I must moisturise them, now, right now’ rather than which medication and approach may help poor weary-teary Karen.

“A yawn is a silent scream … for COFFEE!”

So 3 days in to the new meds I had a ‘funny turn’. I experienced my first and hopefully last episode of BPPV (fancy name for a type of Vertigo) “common in older people” – wait a minute, I am not old, I am 51 and a big bit! It may or may not have been caused by the meds, it may just be a one off, only time will tell. But its not serious nor ominous.

I am sharing this because the GP I saw today has made a difference. If I was given one wish, it would be to make a positive difference to each and everyone I encounter . She did this in less than a 4 minute appointment. She had taken the time to read my note on why I needed the appointment and was prepared; she didn’t need to ask ‘what seems to be the problem’. She already knew and had read my notes. She looked me in the eye. All of a sudden this GP had given me a value. She has changed the meds to one that will help the vertigo with the added side effect of sleepiness and I have exercises to do to move the crystals in my ears that are in the wrong place.

But here is where she made a difference: referring to my notes and that I had been seen for insomnia and stress related anxiety, she wrote the name of a book and personalised the appointment by telling me she too experienced this unpleasant condition and that hers came on with stress. She related that the mind and body work together to conspire and to fulfil our lives. I have left the surgery determined to get over this nausea and take control of my life with a different approach. I’m going to have a curfew on mobile devices 90 minutes before bedtime. I’m not going to drink coffee after 12 noon (that is actually going to be very hard!). I’m going back to the Mindful Apps that I recommend to my clients, because quite simply, they are brilliant and a lot of them are free.

There are definitely areas that GPs neglect – mental health training is NOT a part of their training in any significant way yet thousands of work hours are lost to ‘stress and anxiety’ sick notes every year in the UK. Our younger people, for whatever reason, have very poor mental health. As a Mum of 3 beautiful and accomplished young adults, they all have experienced serious debilitating anxieties/ depression. I have worked with teenagers and this is a REAL issue. An individual’s perception of what is stressful and causes them anxiety may not seem consequential to another but to them it just IS.

If we all think about the four things that make or break us they are : Diet, Exercise, Mental Health and Sleep.

They are all different and immense subjects on their own but they all work together within our bodies. Look at all four and see if their are any changes you need to make – do you walk and get fresh air and sunshine, do you exercise and challenge your strength & fitness, do you eat a variety of whole foods as much as you can, do you spend hours on devices when you could be walking, talking and engaging in living? And finally do you sleep, really deep fluffy cloud sleep?

These four ingredients are the only ones we need to pay attention to for our Life Recipe.

What do you to clear your head?

I live in a flat and have done for nearly two years. I can see outside, I can step on to a balcony. I can hear, smell and see the town. But it does not bring me peace. For all of us it is something different.

A couple of years ago I hugged a tree for the first time in my life. Having chosen the exact tree, drawn to it like a puppy in a rehoming centre. I took a moment, breathed in deeply and wrapped my arms around its all-knowing geriatric trunk and Nature herself coursed through my body.

A tree has seen so many seasons; grows, sheds and shoots year in year out. It just IS. When you wrap your arms around a tree you become just a being. Not a ‘Karen’ with a perceived hundred-thousand stresses and issues to sort, texts/ emails to send, people to impress or let down. Just one human BEING.

I have found the same solace sitting in my local park. With eyes closed I listen to the birds and wind blowing through the leaves. And by the sea – literally sat at the tides edge, eyes closed, listening to waves as they ebb and reassuringly whisper ‘sssssssh’ along the shingle.

Mother Nature places her hand on my forehead, holds me to her breast and strokes my hair, I am saved and I am safe and my head is cleared.