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. 

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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.

Resilience

I am a child of the Earth
Ever adapting
You can hurl meteors at me
But I will keep on going –
Tear out chunks of me
And I will make the scars beautiful
Like the moon.
I can be volcanic or cold
It depends which part of me
You decide to behold.

A Month of Creative Writing

Challenge Yourself to a Month of Creative Writing

Throughout this month I have shared ideas to combat writer’s block, practice techniques and my own efforts to get back into writing. For the first time I have openly shared some of my own work and have grown in confidence as a result. I was really terrified about posting up my first ever poem but since then have been going through my back catalogue, editing and developing older works. It is now time for me to get back into writing so for March I am hoping to put some of the techniques I have banded about into practice.

I have challenged myself to a month of creative writing.

In With the New

Blogging has done what I hoped it would and kick started some of my old creativity. I used to be writing all the time but when my mental health began to decline it slowly grounded to a halt. When I was at school, poetry gave me a way to express my negativity. The pain of my father’s illness, of teenage romances and the rage of hormones flowed out of me and on to the page. Some of the results were very poor, violent and messy but some are poems that I am quite pleased with such as Hunters, Grief, and Listen to the Bees.

I can’t pin point when I stopped writing, but I am confident in saying that Love Letter was my last good piece of work. No longer writing reflects how insular I had become, no longer expressing my feelings resulted in them accumulating, eventually leading to the disintegration of my mental health. Blogging has been part of putting myself back together.

I have found a renewed energy this month. I has made me realise that during the past 2 years there has been very little stamina to my enthusiasm. Now, however, I have a spring in my step, a refreshed spirit and a string of ideas.

Finale

With this rediscovery of enthusiasm I wanted to wave goodbye to February with one final piece of old writing. Once again it is something I did when I was at school and is another exercise that I wanted to share that I think might be a way of either easing oneself back into writing or overcoming writer’s block.

Just as in that previous post, this is a piece of work inspired from the work of another author. This is why I am only sharing these pieces as a suggestion of getting into writing, great care should always be taken when gaining inspiration from the work of others to avoid plagiarism.

At A Level, following on from War Poetry we studied Love Through the Ages. One of our texts was William Shakespeare’s Othello. Our assignment was to write a soliloquy in the style of the villain Iago. For anyone unfamiliar with the play and its characters I have included some notes from the Oxford School Shakespeare text:

Othello: The Moor: a black African prince living in a European, colour-prejudiced, society where he holds high rank in the Venetian military forces.

Iago: Othello’s ensign (standard-bearer): a Venetian and a professional soldier, he conceals his real nature under an appearance of ‘honesty’.’

The text below forms part of Iago’s soliloquy from Act 1 Scene 1, lines 145-159:

Farewell, for I must leave you
It seems not meet, nor wholesome to my place
To be produc’d, as if I stay I shall,
Against the Moor. For I do know the state….

Though I do hate him as I do hell’s pains,
Yet, for necessity of present life,
I must show out a flag and sign of love…

The crux of the matter is that Iago hates Othello and sets about sabotaging his relationship with his wife Desdemona. He plants seeds of jealousy, making Othello think that his wife is having an affair. To reveal anymore would be spoilers.

The piece I am posting today was part of a school assignment to write our own soliloquy for the character Iago. As such it uses the same archaic language as Shakespeare and is not intended to be disrespectful.

How I abhor the ancient
Who does me many an injustice;
Old Oak of Moorish association,
Standing erect above all forest dwellers.
Your towering majesty holds all else in shade.
I shall embed an ivy in your roots
That will feast upon your succulent sap.

Ivy! Entwine around Oak in lustful embrace,
Slide between his bark and poison his core.
Choked shall he be from heat and mist-
Throttled in your charming snare.
Slow and gentle be
Like a breath of sweet fresh air-
He will not detect the sourness beneath.

Sun and Moon shall dance their courtship.
Summer shall slide away.
He shall lose his darling season
To a more gallant, virtuous suit.

Infested with louse and worm
That scuttle in his bough and quench
their appetite upon his wounded pride –
He shall be green!

He shall spew his leaves as the Cobra spits his venom.
They will fall in a cascade of red and purple.
He shall lose faith in his Golden Sun,
As he turns black and festers-
His acorns wither
And fall
Upon the fiery earth below.

 

Bumps in the Marital Road

Last Saturday was my first Saturday off in six months. With my husband working 9 to 5 or sometimes longer on his PhD project at the university and the emphasis placed to spend Sundays at church and religious activities, when I work weekends it really limits the quality time we get to spend together.

It has been showing.

We got married when we were both students and our schedules were all over the place for the first year of our life together. We agreed that, as it was Samuel’s Masters year and because he worked seasonally at the supermarket which would have meant missing our first Christmas as a married couple, he would stop working. I continued to work as I had been at my storytelling job for 4 years already, it was relevant to my degree and it gave me continuity and routine which helped the with severe mental illness I was experiencing at the time. Before the harassment started, my place of work was were I went for grounding. The office is underground so there was no signal and it gave me an excuse not to be contactable. To not respond when I was feeling overwhelmed. When I couldn’t cope. My place of work means an unusual amount to me.

Summer 2017 was a very intense time for our marriage. We’d been married for a year and were in a good place but we were done living in a one bedroom flat in the middle of the city. It was advertised as one bed, but really should have been one person, as we couldn’t both be in the kitchen at the same time if we wanted to have a bin as well. So we started looking at houses. We didn’t imagine that we would actually be able to buy, it’s famed that no one our age can. But we wanted to daydream at the very least.

We got lucky.

But we were £3,000 short of the deposit. So I started working 3 jobs. It was crazy. One of them was my long term storytelling job, one was at a concert hall and the other was in a museum. It was meant to be a straightforward visitor service job, but morphed into tour guiding and helping arrange a summer activities program which provided really great unexpected work experience. So it was a really beneficial, as well as crazy, time. I decided/insisted that as I was working so much (most of it very relevant to what I was hoping to do following graduation) and Samuel was likely to be starting a PhD three months later, that he shouldn’t work. He needed a break, someone needed to keep on top of the housework, and if we throw a fourth schedule into the mix, we just wouldn’t have seen each other. As it was we saw each other first thing in the morning and for about half an hour before we went to sleep.

We made it.

We bought a house. Now the situation is reversed. I am on reduced hours, just ticking over at my storytelling job, which I still love but is no longer my safe place. As a physicist, Samuel’s PhD is funded, so whilst he is technically studying, it is fundamentally a job. He works very hard and is extremely good at what he does. Our subject areas compliment each other very well. I find it highly appropriate that both our birthdays are in January, the month named after the Roman god Janus. Janus was depicted with two heads, because he looked forward and backwards. As an archaeologist I look back to the very beginnings of humans as a species and Samuel, being an experimental physicist working on technology, is looking forward. It also gives me confidence about at least one aspect of us potentially becoming parents – we have homework covered. Our other running joke is that Samuel does the numbers and I deal with words. Sorted.

Our issue is that because of all the studying, the crazy summer jobs and the recent house move, we have never really got into an established routine. We are beginning to get there now but we still haven’t quite found our rhythm. As we are approaching our second anniversary, and with the addition of our dear dog, this is starting to apply a little bit of friction. As far as I am aware this is healthy and usual in all relationships let alone marriage. We are definitely benefiting from no longer being in that one bedroom flat, as we can now be more than 5 meters apart and means I can be less distracting whilst Samuel is working and I can read my book quietly whilst Samuel watches television (Samuel is severely dyslexic so you wont find us reading together).

As a result of not having a stable, consistent rhythm to our daily routines, we have become very snappy. We haven’t fought or had slanging matches but as I say there has been some friction. I think that’s the right term. No one is perfect, everyone makes mistakes and get irritated from time to time. One of my biggest flaws is my temper, so I definitely get irritated more than is reasonable. I am very grateful not only for my husband’s patience and ability to forgive when I fly off the handle but for our ability to communicate with each other. As we got married so quickly, I don’t think that we would have managed if we weren’t able to talk about anything and everything. As I always say, we don’t necessarily recommend getting married three months after meeting, but it is working for us. We are truly very happy together. The importance of communication is made evident in every sit-com, film production and in most real life scenarios. Whole plots of plays, books, tragedies and comedies begin with a miscommunication, failure to communicate or a double meaning.

Having last Saturday off was amazing for us. Even though I was unwell with the flu, headlining fever, dizziness and nausea (how have I managed to come down with this twice this year? There have only been two months thus far?!) so we didn’t go anywhere or do very much, yet still it gave us some space to just be us. I was actually supposed to be off volunteering in central Scotland so being ill was perhaps a blessing in disguise? I described our morning in yesterday’s post. It was bliss. What really made the difference was that we didn’t have to be anywhere. We had to take our dog for a walk but other than that we had the day to ourselves. Usually one or other of us is rushing around in the morning and heading out to work. On Saturday, we could just be together and enjoy each others company.

This weekend was a big lesson for me in the importance of making time for each other. Compromise and communication are as important as everyone says they are in marriage or any other relationship. Let’s face it they are important principles in friendship as well. But the concept of date night is something that I will certainly be paying more attention to from here on.

And So It Begins…

Today, I had a breakthrough. The best thing was that I really wasn’t expecting it and that made me appreciate it more.

I might have been a little overzealous in my post New Year – New Month. At the end of that post I said that my husband and I had transitioned to a vegan diet and were trying to conceive. This is true, but I may have been a little hasty. As I mentioned yesterday, my husband and I had talked and talked about it and finally made a decision (about veganism and babies) and then seemed to get caught up and going sideways rather than forwards.

Just before Christmas, which seems a lot longer than just two months ago (it’s hard to believe it was before I had started blogging!) I became a vegetarian. I’m not sure exactly what prompted the change, or why I hadn’t made it earlier! I think it must have been adopting our dog Lassie that triggered the transition which really had been a long time coming. I knew how unpleasant the meat industry is, even on free range farms, and at the end of the day eating meat means death for the animals we eat.  But I had just been accepting this as inevitable and I am not sure why. I guess I simply hadn’t given it any serious thought.

I really have no excuses. Whilst I knew very little of veganism until I met my brother and sister-in-law, I was raised by vegetarian parents. I myself however did not grow up strictly vegetarian. My mother was (and still is) quite anaemic and as I was a child who hated green vegetables, she thought that a monthly intake of red meat was the way to go. I never actually enjoyed eating it, but it became habit and then convenience. As a student cooking mince was simple and the majority of to-go pasta, salad and sandwich options were either chicken or cheese (which I disliked and was quite violently allergic to growing up). But it was just habit as I prefer vegetarian meals, finding them a lot more colourful and flavoursome than the alternatives containing meat and since becoming vegan I haven’t missed them at all. In fact, I found no longer eating meat and dairy products easier than ceasing to consume alcohol when I became a Mormon.

There’s one other reason I think it took me a while to embrace being vegetarian and that was the false association I made with the diet and one particular story my mother shared of when she was expecting me. One day during her pregnancy, two of her teeth disintegrated. My mother has always hated milk and therefore doesn’t drink it, however she eats a fair bit of cheese so it was not, as I had assumed, that she had cut herself off from calcium. That being said, it is a useful reminder of what can happen if you adopt a diet (of any kind) and fail to keep an eye on nutrition.

As soon as I had made the decision to become vegetarian, veganism seemed a forgone conclusion. Especially as one of the principle reasons for making the transition was the information which I had recently learnt about the environmental impact of pastoral agriculture. Perhaps it should have been obvious but it wasn’t until recently that I realised the huge amount of greenhouse gasses, land exploitation and food waste that this kind of farming produces (Jenna Bardroff, One Green Planet, 2014).

My immediate thought once I had made my decision was to research, research, research. I knew that in the near future (we are still pre-New Year and blog at this time) my husband and I would be trying to have children and I wanted to ensure that I had made the transition to vegan before that happened, because whilst a vegan diet contains all the nutrition for a very healthy pregnancy, I did expect there to be bumps and pitfalls along the way. I didn’t want to add the strain of growing a person to my body as it adjusted (for the better) to this new diet and I didn’t want any slips to have an impact on that growing person.

I also anticipated that my husband’s commitment to eating meat would pose a huge challenge, especially as he does the majority of the cooking in our household. When we got married this seemed to be a very practical arrangement. At the time of our marriage I worked more and was studying at the same time and he was more passionate about food. I can cook but I don’t get excited about it and it shows in my food. Samuel’s food on the other hand is fantastic. But now I was hoping that he would cut out a lot of his key ingredients when he was cooking at home. I very much consider that what he eats elsewhere is entirely up to him. To try and ease us both into the changes I was suddenly so enthusiastic about, I signed us up to Veganuary.

There was a considerable amount of groaning. Mainly because Samuel really struggles with change. The whole way through he has actually been very enthusiastic, but every time a new ingredient got used up and removed, he would almost panic. This is how anxiety manifests in my husband. It is very different to me. I enjoy change, experimenting and mixing things up, but Samuel can get very concerned even if I suggest changing the orientation of the furniture.

Flash-forward to the end of January. I had just got Samuel on board with plant-based milks (we like coconut and soya, almond is still something we are working on) but was struggling to get him to consider plant-based butter alternatives or cutting out meat long-term. I had joined a couple of vegan pregnancy forums to learn as much as possible about diet and the additional nutritional cares of expectant vegans. One day a number of films such as Cowspiracy, Forks Over Knives and What The Health were being discussed in these groups. I fancied watching them and my husband and I quite often watch something in the evening to relax so I suggested one of these. I really didn’t expect much.

I was in for a huge surprise. I was watching his face throughout the film and saw him react when it referenced the accumulation and concentration of dioxins throughout a diet that is based on meat and dairy and the negative health effects they can have, especially for unborn children. I found his reaction particularly touching and it was clear that he had suddenly made the connection between food and family. When the documentary had finished, he turned to me and said OK.

I was aware that there was a possibility that it might just have been a shock effect. He was bombarded with facts and images and he reacted the way a lot of people do. After writing The Jungle to try and highlight the plight of workers in the United States meat industry in the early Twentieth Century, Upton Sinclair said: ‘I aimed for the Public’s heart, And… hit it in the stomach’. I was wondering which of these What The Health had hit.

It not only hit, but it stuck. So feeling very optimistic at the start of February I struck out and said we were going vegan. But we are both very anti-waste so it was never going to be an overnight transition. We had a pat of butter, ice cream, egg noodles, egg pasta, gravy cubes and jars of sauce to use up. We gave the meat we had in the freezer to friends and relatives but Samuel did seem to be dragging his heels a bit. I wanted to give away as much as possible and start over. Samuel needed time to transition. I had been committed to becoming vegan for almost two months, he had only just made the decision.

Today though, I went through the cupboards to see what we had left to use up and found a few lasagne sheets and one final jar of sauce. So, finally, our transition is complete and so is one of the circular thoughts that I was getting so concerned about yesterday. There are others, but the process of preparing to be expectant parents has definitely begun.

Habits

Blogging about my experiences with mental health really is providing the opportunity for reflection that I hoped it would. Pushing myself to write daily is making me search through my feelings day-to-day and to process them into an edited piece of writing. It is time consuming but worthwhile, although it does feel that I am spending most evenings with my computer rather than my husband. Fortunately, he is very supportive and I can already see benefits from this exercise.
This afternoon the dog had to be left alone for two hours whilst I was at work and my husband ran an errand. Unfortunately, during that time she had an accident, referred to by Miranda Hart in her book Peggy and Me as a ‘poocalypse’. Thankfully, the dog is fine but usually this scenario would greatly unbalance me, especially having felt quite low yesterday. However, I didn’t think about the surrounding areas, the dog’s paws or even consider not petting her when I got home. Another day might have seen me trying to disinfect every surface in the house in one go, bathing the dog and compulsively washing my hands every time the dog approached.  Not only is this an observable improvement in how I respond to such situations, but is thanks to developments in how my husband reacts.

I am very fortunate to have a very supportive and loving husband. He has always been a great source of strength and tranquillity for me at times when I have been stressed, anxious or depressed. But until he met me he had very little understanding of, or experience with, mental health, so this has been a shared experience in learning how to cope with my mental illness.

Today, he simply removed the wooden floorboards where the accident occurred. This isn’t as drastic as it sounds. As I mentioned yesterday, we are undertaking refurbishments and had already removed the threadbare sludge-coloured carpet from the landing. We are intending to sand and varnish the original floorboards but two of them were in need of replacing after a botched job of laying new boiler pipes by the previous owners. Thankfully, these were the ones that were affected by today’s incident. It was the best response as the wood had not yet been treated and so difficult, if not impossible, to properly clean and fortunately were going to be replaced anyway.

I was intending to write about something different today, to delve into some of my darker experiences and what could have occurred if any part of 2016 had turned out differently. If the events that led to my husband and I meeting hadn’t happened. If I had been alone on the 3rd of April. If my husband was a different sort of person. But I am enjoying the more organic origins of my posts. Of sitting down to write and almost letting my subconscious choose the direction. I have said before that I am not usually good at reflection, perhaps this is the start of a new (good) habit.