Blogging Milestones

Welcome to 2019! 

I’ve been posting a lot about New Year and the associated resolutions this month and it seems appropriate to outline my blogging aspirations for this year.

Firstly, thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read, like and comment on my posts. When I created this blog a year ago it was purely personal and I couldn’t imagine anyone reading it, let alone engaging with the content. Thank you!

I considered quitting so many times over the past year, and it has been a big lesson in perseverance which has aided my recovery and stimulated my mental well-being.

Now, I want to move forward.

All posts providing blogging advice emphasise consistency in producing material. This blog has had neither consistency of content or regular posting.

I have very much been learning whilst doing with this blog (having a lot of fun!) and it has taken a long time finding its feet. I outlined in my Dreaming of the Temple posts the initial ideas and expanse of topics I was considering exploring. In my very first post, I described my approach to blogging as ‘talking to myself’ and to be honest that isn’t going to change.

What will be different this year is that I have refined my content. I have 3 main areas that I enjoy posting about: mental health (which I am particularly passionate about and it the primary focus of the blog) accompanied by lifestyle and creative writing.

Those of you who have been following my blog since the beginning know that this year I am intending to return to university for postgraduate study. Last year, blogging helped me gain the confidence to apply for my masters and practice writing. This year, I’m looking to get back into the habit of deadlines. So the intention is to have a much more regular posting schedule, requiring me to create worthwhile content following a reliable timeline. The practice is especially required with the new arrival. Study, research and work with a new baby requires juggling, extreme time management and a flexible, yet diligent schedule.

 

 

 

 

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Putting the ‘Resolve’ in Resolution

Why Do We Make New Year’s Resolutions?

Social convention plays a big part. A typical small talk topic leading up to December 31st is ‘Have you made any New Year’s Resolutions?’ 

At this point, many of us grasp at the first thing that pops into our heads that we find least desirable about ourselves and lead with that. Otherwise it’s an activity we think will be impressive if we express interest in perusing it, or, in desperation, we just vaguely mutter something about diet and exercise. 

Thus, the initial issue with New Year’s Resolutions is that they are non-committal, often vague and generic statements thrown about in the name of festive convention. We are not motivated or inspired, the intention is not there to make them thus there is no ambition to keep them and so they are unfulfilled before even being acknowledged. 

Why Does New Year Appeal for Sudden Goal Setting? 

It’s tidy. The first day of a new year sounds like it should be highly motivational, a neat new start, sweeping out the old and starting fresh.

Perhaps this Spring Cleaning tradition would work if the New Year still began in March, when the days are growing longer and the weather is improving, more of us would be able to maintain their enthusiasm and eat healthier and exercise more. 

But the middle of winter is when the majority of us are seeking for comfort from food and warm blankets. 

What Results in Repeatedly Making Resolutions We Never Keep? 

Most of us are self-aware enough to know that we have faults, accompanied by a desire to ‘fix’ them. 

This means one of two things: either we are trying to go cold turkey on undesirable aspects of our personality (my impatience for instance) and get tripped up by being disappointed in ourselves when we are not perfect and make mistakes like losing our temper over parking tickets or someone drinking out of our special mug at work; or we are trying to undertake projects that we simply do not have the time, year after year, to complete. 

Perhaps the first step with the latter would be to improve our ability at budgeting our time and learning to prioritise, and for the former, we need to learn self-love, not to never change, but to respect ourselves and trust our ability to improve overtime. 

Change is never instantaneous and to act like it is (something that is intensified at New Year) is to set ourselves up for disappointment. We should instead appreciate that change is slow, show ourselves the patience and encouragement we would give others when we experience momentary lapses to bad habits. That way, these slips would be short-lived set backs, not obstacles that holt our progress. 

Effective Change is Born of Positivity not Negativity

The core issue is our expectations; our desire to be our best selves, coming up against our idea of perfection and falling short. 

Too often we are focusing on altering rather than enhancing characteristics.  

One of my friends included among their resolutions (it was a long list) to ‘be kind’. This is, of course, coming from a kind person. People are kind, most of us just struggle to be kind to all people all of the time.

I guess we could look at the issue of this ‘be kind’ resolution as being a blanket statement – goals should have some form of measurement (otherwise you will always fall short because your moving your own finish line) and a way to hold yourself accountable, or else it is too easy to continue to perpetually put it off. 

There are also those resolutions that are driven by external rather than internal influences, mostly regarding appearance. Exercise, diet and fitness resolutions are so frequently the result of drawing comparisons, feeling judged and pressuring ourselves from perceived social expectations, rather than from our own desire to be healthier, fitter or live a more sustainable lifestyle. 

Whilst there is much to be encouraged in pursuing a healthier lifestyle, with balanced diet and regular activity, too often these resolutions stem from places of negativity which manifests as defeatist thought spirals. 

A Time for Reflection Not Resolution 

Instead, New Year should be a time of reflection, a relaxed evaluation of the year gone by, a chance to feel proud at what was accomplished and acknowledge anything that we would have liked to have done differently. (Do not dwell on the latter, acknowledgement is not the same as regret unless you give it more than the passing glance it generally requires).

Reflection is a slow methodical evaluation that enables recognition, instils self respect through acknowledgement, resulting either in acceptance and self love, or the establishment of a considered trajectory for positive change. 

So make this January a time of reflection, and your only resolution to be one of self-care, of acknowledging not regretting and of letting go of the past year to fully embrace your potential in the new one. 

New Year: A Time for Reflection

Three years have passed between New Year 2016 and New Year 2019. These were the last time I felt strong in myself and confidently optimistic about my ability to strive into the year ahead, and the first time since.

Three years ago, I simply couldn’t imagine being where I am now. Given my recent trauma (little did I know there were still two cases of harassment to follow) I had certainly written off any possibility of getting married, buying a house was far from my mind and children seemed a dream away.

New Year 2016 was just before I hit rock bottom, the eye of the storm as I rallied from abuse and assault before plunging into deep depression just a month later.

The Power of Hindsight 

That same month I met my husband and, as I have said before, without his intervention I hate to think what might have been the outcome.

The sound advice given to mental health suffers is to NOT make any life changing decisions.

However:

I was suicidal and got married

Bought a house whilst struggling with depression

Had anxiety and had a baby

None of these actions where taken lightly, a lot of consideration went into each and a lot of love, peace and healing was gained.

I have been incredibly blessed.

Be More Edison

Last year, I published a post about Thomas Edison. 2nd January 1879 was the day that Edison began work on his first generator, only to see his life’s work go up in flames in 1914. Yet was he deterred? Not at all. Almost 70, he simply began all over again.

For me this is what January, and New Year, is all about. It is a time of year when everyone is reflecting, looking back at the year gone by and making plans for the year to come. It is important to be aware that this reflection makes it a challenging time of year for many, especially if personal tragedies have occurred. I like the Thomas Edison anecdote because it is all about renewal and rejecting regret. Regrets, and the expectations that lead to them, are the biggest foes of mental wellbeing in January.

Be More Edison

This year, I too am starting over. Our little family has grown and new life has brought rejuvenation. The past year was filled with personal reflection and emotional exploration as I attempted to regain some past integrity I felt had been lost through traumatic experience.

The initial ambition when I created this blog was to find solace, and perhaps provide some too, along the way. Now, I feel refreshed, thanks to you dear reader, I have persevered and gained confidence.  Like Edison, I have begun rebuilding, forming a disposition that I recognise from before my mental health broke down and becoming suicidal. Recovery, especially from an emotional injury, is a long journey, but I do believe it to be possible, however long it takes.

Take your time.

Where to Start?

Mental illness can be all consuming and because it is invisible can take longer to recognise, diagnose and understand.

Identifying the triggers for episodes of mental ill-health is an important place to begin. The trigger is the connection between the symptoms you experience and their root cause, most frequently a past experience. It’s working backwards to move forwards.

If you have been following my blog for a while, you will be aware that the trigger for my depression and suicidal thoughts was a series of negative relationships and intense academic anxiety. However, my anxiety is much more ingrained and has a root buried much deeper in the past.

Over the last year, I have begun to mentally excavate around the root. This began by assessing my panic attacks and identifying when the latest one started, working back from the obsessive behaviour to its trigger.

This is a good place to start because it does not require going outside, getting dressed, or even leaving the safety of a duvet cocoon.

Once identified, triggers can be used during grounding to re-centre and gradually gain control over mental illness, instead of feeling that it is control of you. It took me years, but I can now identify activities that are more likely than others to affect my mental wellbeing. As a result, I can be selective in my actions. This does not mean avoiding triggers outright. But it means that I can choose to engage with a stressor and feel in control or disengage from it if I am already feeling overwhelmed.

This isn’t about ‘Saying No’, which so many people find difficult. This is about self-awareness and being able to use that awareness to cope with the things you say yes too. Personally, I think it is generally good to say yes. Yes is positive, it makes you feel capable, because you are capable. If you didn’t know that on some level, you’re subconscious wouldn’t have jumped in and said yes on your behalf before the rest of your brain had thought it all through.

Have faith in yourself and your abilities, even if, like Edison, you have some rebuilding to do.

 

Out with the Old, In with the New

Here we are again. Another New Year, another birthday.

I hope you are recovering from your celebrations, are feeling hopeful and excited about the year ahead. To those of you who find this season challenging, I wish you strength.

For me, this is always a day of reflection, I suppose a bit delayed; I should really look back on the last day of the last year, not the first day of the new one.

So much has changed, and I have so much to thank you for! Truly, I do. Thanks to you I have persevered and can now celebrate my blogging anniversary.

I had so many ideas of how this blog might be and what I would explore. I knew going in that it could be a cathartic process but I could not predict the extent of healing I have experienced.

I have been quiet over the past few months as a result of facing some of my toughest experiences. I achieved my goal of exploring traumatic events and the struggles that followed. In November, I gave birth to a healthy baby, having banished the shadows of the past. I wanted so much for my baby’s experience to be untainted by my own trauma and through blogging I have managed to gain closure and process the emotions enough to separate the present from the past.

I leave that trauma behind in 2018, having carried the pain with me for over two years. I finally feel free.

I am future-facing, forward-looking and excited as I embark on a New Year of experiences.

New Year – New Month

As I posted yesterday, I have been in a bit of a slump the past few days. To gain the additional exercise that is widely encouraged in such moments, today I walked to the station in the next town over from our house.

The sun was shining and the sky was a clear, bright blue. The weather, too, can have a huge impact on how you feel, and today had a real spring feeling about it. There was no wind, which so often makes up a coastal Scottish winter and there had been no rain or frost the night before. So instead of being a crisp, cold, frosty winter morning, the air was soft and the ground underfoot was spongy, but no longer muddy.

Instead of a sharp chill that can take your breath away, scents other than fire-smoke filled my airways. It had that start of spring smell, of warm earth and grass just beginning to turn sweet as its filled with sugar by the sun.

Last Thursday had the spring sky and I found the first snowdrop shoots in the garden (but we have had snow since then). The weather will undoubtedly turn again; Scotland is famed for having  all four seasons in one day. But it is clear that a new season, the signal of a new lifecycle, is starting to fight through. It helped me feel more invigorated too.

A new month in a new year, a new season and a new resolution – my husband and I have finally transitioned to a vegan diet and have just started trying for a baby.

 

‘New Year, New You’

Trigger Warning: This post contains references to rape, sexual assault and suicidal thoughts.

Today was my first day back at work following the festive season. I am very fortunate to have a job that I really enjoy and is relevant to my past (and hopefully future) studies. Whilst I was down in England I had my haircut. A very simple action, but one that received a lot of (positive) attention. I am very grateful for the compliments my friends have sent my way but some comments at work got me thinking.

When I walked into the office this morning a number of people called out, ‘New year, new you!’ The New Year actually wasn’t involved in the decision to cut off over a foot of hair. I thought it was a very practical choice as I work as a tour guide in a city that has average wind speeds of almost 13mph. I was getting fed up of having my hair tied up all the time, especially as I am not very good at styling and so it just ends up in a lacklustre ponytail. So I thought a bob was the way to go. Easier to wash, quicker to dry, letting the style do the talking as it were. However, perhaps there was an underlying motivation.

Me Too

It had been over 3 years since I last had my haircut or styled, coinciding with the start of quite a dramatic period in my life. Summer 2014 had been a really fun time for me. I had just finished my second year at university and I was able to travel, working on archaeological excavations and staying with friends living across Europe. I felt very happy and positive.

Then I went back to university.

I entered into a relationship in the middle of the first semester and it took me a long time to realise that a number of aspects of it were unhealthy. During this time my mental health began to decline. I have always suffered with anxiety, I am prone to overthinking, catastrophizing and compulsive hand washing. For the first time, I began to experience stress-induced migraines, panic attacks and suicidal thoughts.

My confidence was slowly being chipped away by what evolved into, what I truly believe to have been, an abusive relationship. My boyfriend complained about my cooking, so gradually I stopped. He attacked me about my religious beliefs and when we moved into a one bedroom flat, I lost a safe space to pray. I used to have a mole on my back, it never bothered me but my boyfriend would often comment on how ugly it was. It eventually had to be removed for health reasons, and I expected a positive response. But I was left with a scar which I was told was ugly too.

My boyfriend struggled with my anxiety and I was not without fault during this period. I have a very quick temper and unpleasant insults were exchanged on both sides. There were times I caused him to worry because I was out late with work colleagues without my phone. However, one night I had been out with colleagues after work, answered his texts concerning where I was, and looked behind me on my way home to see him following me. I was working a lot during this time and researching for my archaeological dissertation. I was tired as a result and no interested in sex. But my boyfriend would pester me until I would allow him to have sex with me so he would let me go to sleep.

Eventually, I voiced to a colleague what was going on, and that I didn’t want to go home that evening because I knew that I would have to have sex. She asked me why I was staying. It was a wake up call, I finally realised that I didn’t want the relationship to continue. I went home and told him I was leaving. A number of things happened next, including some very manipulative behaviour, culminating in him raping me.

I was lucky. I was scheduled to leave for an archaeological excavation the following day and I was able to pack a bag and walk away.

Unfortunately, although it was the end of that relationship, it was not the end of a year of sexual harassment, assault and suicidal experiences. But this was one of the main purposes of starting this blog, to be able to work through what happened, to gain healing and to talk about it – something that I am very passionate about. I posted on social media as part of the recent #MeToo campaign. It was really emotional, and almost frightening, to speak out about my experiences for the first time. Society needs to change so that those who have experienced any form of sexual misconduct or mistreatment no longer feel afraid, embarrassed or fear that they will not be believed if they speak out. I believe the best way we can support each other in anything is by talking about our experiences and encouraging others to talk about theirs.