Category Archives: Personal growth

The Feels

During the summer, I won the biggest photography competition of my life. I have no clue why I entered. It was an organization I don’t usually have any dealings with and I can’t even remember now how I heard about it, but once I knew it seemed to constantly be on my mind.

It was a global competition with potentially millions of entries. “There’s no way on god’s earth I’d stand a chance of winning” I thought to myself, yet I entered anyway. And the reason I entered was because I had The Feels. Something in my gut told me it was important for me to enter. I knew I’d be amongst the winners, even while dismissing my own intuition as wishful thinking.

I get The Feels about places, events and people. A new couple have moved in to a house next door to me. They are perfectly pleasant and haven’t really put a foot wrong, yet I don’t like the woman. I’ve tried to like her because there’s no tangible reason not to, but I know that there is something about her I should be wary of. I’m not sure what yet, but it’s there. Her husband, OTOH, is absolutely lovely.

We all have intuition, we just don’t accept, tune in, or acknowledge it. But as I’ve aged I’ve learned to trust my gut more and more. It never lets me down, even if I don’t understand situations when they happen as with the bungalow-which-fell-through sitch, which felt absolutely like it was meant to be in my soul.

An old school friend of mine used to say this “what is meant for you, won’t go by you”. I thought when I was younger that this was absolute bollocks, but now I totally get what it means. There’s all sorts of stuff I’d like in life which I don’t get yet which I think I deserve, and all sorts of scenarios which I think should have panned out but didn’t, but the truly important things have always come easily. Chance encounters, unasked for help from unlikely sources, money from nowhere landing in my lap. I haven’t worked for, or looked for, or asked for any of it yet it’s appeared anyway.

My partial recovery is a case in point. For 6 years I spent tens of thousands of pounds trying to get better from very severe M.E. I tried every ‘cure’ known to man, yet none of it helped. Then one day, skint and exhausted from the fight, I decided to simply accept my lot. I was going to be bedridden forever and I just needed to get the fuck over it and live my life as best I could despite it. And that’s honestly when my recovery began – when I stopped trying. Which doesn’t mean to say I just lay there like a blob all day! I still paced, and tried to eat well, and took medication for my sleep and pain and all manner of other stuff but I wasn’t trying to get better, I was merely trying to live my best life within my given set of circumstances. And having done that, the Universe helped me along.

I don’t get The Feels very often. We don’t encounter life altering situations every week, so when I do have intuition about something I listen. The more something feels wrong, or the more it’s on my mind, or the more it feels right……the more I listen. My gut instinct is the Universe’s way of speaking to my soul.


My bestie is coming for a visit today. We live about 30 miles from each other and are both sick, so we only get to physically meet every 3 weeks or so, which makes our get-togethers that much more precious. On our last meet up, she remarked that she saw a big shift in my mental health from recent months and asked what had happened. I told her I’d decided I’d been miserable, stressed and negative long enough and had decided to be grateful and happy instead. Simples!

But in order to be happy you have to know what makes you happy. It’s a harder question to answer than most people realize and will be different for everyone. It’s easy to say “if I had more money I’d be happy”, but there are lot of miserable rich people. “If I were married I’d be happy” but there are a lot of very unhappy married people. “If I were well I’d be happy” but there are a lot of unfulfilled healthy people. You get my drift.

So I actually sat down with pen and paper and wrote down what made me happy. Truly happy. I thought about the situations in which I felt totally at peace, fulfilled, passionate, joyful and absorbed, and analysed what it was about those situations which really resonated with my soul.

This is what I learned makes me happy:

  • Being creative
  • Being in nature
  • Getting enough quality rest
  • Sharing knowledge (ie through my blog and teaching photography)
  • Having people in my life I trust and value
  • Eating well
  • Accepting and loving myself (a work in progress every day, especially as my life has been filled with people who have been critical)
  • Living with integrity (I have this word on my bedroom wall so that I see it every single day)

It’s not a big list is it? And there’s nothing complicated about any of it. If I have just one day which contains all these things I feel truly, truly blessed. My health could be really shit on that day, but I can still be happy, joyful and fulfilled. In fact, I am on day 5 of a continuous thumping migraine and was awake half the night with back and arm pain so am tired, but I’m still excited to see my bestie and looking forward with joy to my day 😊.

So instead of focusing on all the things which were wrong, which was why I have felt so miserable in recent months, I am focusing on all the things which bring me joy. And the law of physics states that what you focus on you will manifest.

In ordinary day-to-day life happiness is a choice. My circumstances haven’t changed this month from what they were last month. I don’t have a new home. I don’t have any more money. I’m still caring for my parents. I still don’t have help in the house due to the pandemic. I’m still sick. I’m still single. But I am genuinely so much happier.

Happiness is something you need to work on because it’s so easy to fall into familiar patterns of negativity. I’m not a person who can do meditation, in fact it actually stresses me out, so I use my daily 30 minute dog walk/scooter ride to think. Regroup. Open my heart. Focus on joy. Let go of the bad shit and welcome in the good shit. Change my thought patterns. I’ll also sometimes play inspiring YouTube clips on my laptop while I’m getting dressed each morning, or listen to inspiring podcasts on my iPod while driving the car. They help me bring my focus back to what makes me joyful.

This is the only life we have. Each day is unique and precious. I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t want to be happy, but when you ask people what truly makes them happy they find it difficult to answer. And unless you know what fulfils you and brings you joy, how can you focus on achieving it?

The Pep Talk

When everything seems to be going wrong it’s easy to become despondent.  Defeated.  Overwhelmed.  The pandemic hasn’t helped anything and when the very air we breathe has felt hostile and threatening it’s no wonder many of us are struggling.

To add insult to injury, having poddled along in my menopause journey for a good 7 years now and prided myself on doing OK emotionally for the most part, the past 2 months everything has turned to crap and I have become a blubbering wreck.  Nearly all-of-the-time.  And the times I’m not crying I want to wreak vengeance on anyone who crosses my path, preferably by causing them intense bodily harm.  Neither is good for my mental health.

beating shit

So, having allowed myself to wallow for several weeks which we all need to do now and again I realize it’s time now to get up off the floor because it’s not good for my soul to feel this miserable.  I can’t do much about my hormones, so I have to let the guilt of being a raving loonatic go and just be forgiving and understanding of myself even if others aren’t, but I can do something about the rest.  And this is how I do it.  It might not be your way, but it works for me.

1. Happiness is a choice

Twenty years ago, if someone had said that me I swear I would have punched them in the face.  There are times in life where it is impossible to be happy and if you are currently in that place I send you love and hugs.  You can’t be happy in grief, poverty, turmoil, fear, intense suffering or huge loss and no-one would expect it.  If that’s where you are now, simply be kind to yourself.

For me, however, I thankfully live in a space where happiness is a choice.  The question is……………what makes me happy?  Which is a post for another day.

2. Count your blessings

I’ve been struggling to keep up with housework and meals recently, due to feeling ridiculously tired, and it’s got on top of me.  However, 15 years ago I couldn’t even clean my teeth and would have sold a kidney to be able to cook anything.  The fact I can scrub my toilet, hoover my lounge carpet, or change my own bed is nothing short of a miracle and I need to focus more on how lucky I am that I am able to self care at all.  The majority of my M.E. friends from 25 years ago are still severely affected and I should never, ever forget my privilege at being able to function.

3.  Remember the law of physics

I am not religious, but I am spiritual and do believe that this existence is not all there is.  Too many “coincidences” have happened in my life for me to not believe in miracles (for want of a less biblical term) and I truly believe our souls are made of energy which never dies.

I have gone round this year grumpy, whiny, angry, confrontational, judgemental………….and the universe has responded in kind.  I have been on the receiving end of anger, judgement, resentment and negativity and it’s no wonder.  The law of physics states:

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  The size of the forces on the first object equals the size of the force on the second object.” 

In other words, what you give you receive and I need to switch the energy back to abundant, loving, kindness.  It’s not easy when you’re a raging hormonal psychopath but I’m trying and I can’t ask more of myself than that.

4. The Universe has my back (to steal a phrase 😉)

The Universe knows my soul’s purpose and the Universe knows what my soul needs.  Things happen as and when they are supposed to, and in the meantime I just have to keep the faith.

When the bungalow fell through in February it felt like the end of the world.  But it turned out to be a HUGE blessing in disguise, because 3 weeks later we were in lockdown and living in a one room annexe with no kitchen or proper bathroom, on my own in a village where I knew no-one for months on end, would have been a total nightmare.  That the house didn’t go ahead after lockdown ended just proves it wasn’t meant to be for me and the person whose home it has become obviously needed it more than I did.

I do believe we receive signs which give us guidance and point us in the right direction.  Whether we choose to believe them, or just brush them off as ‘coincidence’, is up to us.  This week I’ve asked the Universe to give me a sign on the house situation and will let you know if I receive it.  If I don’t, that too is a sign – that I’m not moving this year and will have to be patient a bit longer.

Update: Less than 30 minutes after writing this I received the sign I’d asked for on my walk with Bertie yesterday afternoon.  I now excitedly wait to see which house is going to become my next home 😊.

5. Offer it up

Sometimes, despite my best efforts, life gets on top of me.  I can’t raise myself up no matter how hard I try and life seems utterly overwhelming.  It’s then I admit that I can’t do this on my own, and offer up my burdens to the Universe.  It’s amazing how freeing that is and I invariably feel lighter.

6. Live with intention


I ask myself this question a lot.  And while we can’t go through life ignoring the dirty dishes, questioning what we truly want and what truly makes us happy and then striving for that every day can only lead to a joyful life.

7. Live with integrity

Which is my guiding principle and a must for my soul to be at peace.

However, I forgot that this weekend.  All my neighbours have been torturing me with their various noise for months and showing me no consideration whatsoever.  So to get back at them I hoovered my car at 9am on Sunday morning with the radio blaring at full volume.  But it didn’t make me feel good.  Quite the opposite.  It’s not who I am.  I’m not vindictive in any way and am always very considerate of other people’s feelings and spaces.  I need to stay true to myself, regardless of the provocations which come my way.

Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.” – Oprah Winfrey

Having said that, this doesn’t mean I lie down like a doormat and let other people walk all over me.  Living with integrity also means setting boundaries and expectations for others’ treatment of you, which is why it was important for me to let my ‘friends’ go last week, as neither of them had my best interests at heart.


8. Know your purpose

I am by nature an open book.  I share my life easily, even the bad bits that most people want to keep hidden.  I believe that part of the reason for the many negative experiences I’ve encountered is so that I can share these with others so they feel less alone and can take strength from the fact that I have not only survived but thrived.

I am also a bit bolshy.  I remember a friend saying to me once “for someone who hates confrontation you seem to encounter it a LOT” and that’s because I will not allow behaviour which negatively affects me or others to go unchallenged.  I will stand up for my rights and for what is fair.  Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose, but I can always sleep at night knowing I tried my best.

I do strive every day to be authentically me.  I am by no means perfect, and am always a work in progress, but to quote Maya Angelou:

maya angelou

9. Miracles happen every day

My chances of any kind of recovery from M.E. were 7% and my chances of spontaneous recovery from severe M.E. were zero.   Yet here I am.

In 2008 I had a car crash.  My car flipped twice at speed and was so badly damaged it was written off.  I walked away without a scratch.

In 2011 I went to small, local, rural kennels to choose a rescue dog for adoption.  What are the chances I would find a dog with the same name as my Dad and who was born on my Nanna’s birthday?  The signs couldn’t have been clearer if they’d been written in 6ft neon letters.  And if it weren’t for adopting Bertie I would never have become a photographer.  Speaking of which…..

I live in the middle of absolutely nowhere.  I am chronically ill and spend a minimum of 17 hours each day in bed, alone and invisible.  At the age of 45 I didn’t even own a camera let alone know anything about photography.  Yet in the past year I have won my 10th international gold medal, was exhibited in London, been on the cover of a leading American photography magazine and won a global competition beating photographers from 90 countries across 5 continents without barely leaving my house.  Photography feeds my soul and the Universe has my soul’s back.  Enough said.








Judge not lest ye be judged

I woke up this morning to the news that Love Island presenter Caroline Flack committed suicide yesterday.  I’m a huge Love Island fan.  Caroline was young, stunningly beautiful and good at her job.  Should she have assaulted her boyfriend?  No, of course not.  But the judicial system was dealing with it.  Despite that, the internet was awash with the Court of Public Opinion.  The likes of you and me voicing our judgement on a situation we knew fuck all about because we weren’t there and don’t know either of them.  Forgetting that, at the end of the keyboard, was a young woman who’d admitted to depression in the past and who was obviously emotionally out of control or she wouldn’t have hit her boyfriend.  And now she’s dead.

The internet is relentless in its judgement on all manner of topics.  From criticizing our politicians, who are also just people, to scrutinizing Prince Harry & Megan’s every move (did we learn nothing from Princess Diana’s life and how miserable we made her?!), to the endless judgements on women’s appearance.  What is the intention of the judgement, I wonder?  What are we hoping to achieve?  And how would we live up to that level of scrutiny?  Have we never made a mistake?  I walloped a boyfriend when I was in my twenties on more than one occasion – did that make me a terrible person?  Or did it make me a young woman suffering from depression whose upbringing had included witnessing physical violence and hadn’t given her the tools to deal with conflict or her own emotions very well?  Would I ever hit someone now?  Not in a million years, because when you know better you do better – I’ve grown and matured as a human being.  Isn’t that what life is all about?

There is a sickening lack of empathy, kindness and compassion in cyberspace.  I find it frightening how vicious most people are and how relentless the criticism and judgement, on everything from poor grammar to a total stranger’s private life, like it’s any of our business.  We use others’ misfortune as entertainment.  As a way of feeling good about ourselves because we would never make that mistake.  I’m not saying we should never hold our politicians to account, or that we should condone violence, but unless we have a specific end goal like righting injustice, or a legitimate purpose for our actions such as outing an abuser, I’m not sure what all the criticism on social media achieves, other than to make us feel superior with no thought to how it affects the person being judged.  I’ll end with something Caroline posted on her Instagram recently – if we’d all been more kind maybe she’d still be alive.

be kind meme

Silence is golden

The older I get, the more people irritate me.  I can no longer deal with fuckwits who think their opinion is the only one allowed, and cyberspace is full of them.  They are right and I am clearly an idiot who needs to be educated like a clueless child.  Just typing that gets my blood pressure up.

I’m having some stressful, worrying issues with the house I’m buying (more on that on my renovation blog) and am on the verge of checking myself into the nearest sanitorium.  One of the problems relates to sewage because new, and confusing, regulations came in on 1st January which affect everyone in the country buying or selling a rural, off-grid property.  Wanting to connect with others going through the same thing, I went on the building forums and found loads of posts about the issue, but virtually all the posters seemed clueless as to what was actually going on.  Trying to be helpful, I wrote about my experience and what I’d learned.

Instead of anyone saying “thanks for that, it’s really helpful” within 30 seconds someone had challenged the post, picking every word I’d used apart.  They don’t know, of course, that I have a brain injury, am dyslexic and struggle to write just about anything, but even so how fucking rude.   I was interrogated about my situation like I was on trial when all I’d tried to do was be helpful.  For all they knew I could be 20 years old and this could be my first, scary house purchase.

It happens a lot online.  You write something and immediately someone disagrees.  You aren’t allowed to have an experience which differs to theirs, or an opinion which differs to theirs without them jolly well letting you know about it.  What is their intention I wonder?  To publically make you look like a dick?  Or to make themselves appear superior?  To try to make you change your outlook to meet theirs?  To change your personality, culture or beliefs so you are more like them?  What’s it all about?  Why can’t we let people have a voice which differs to ours?

I’ve been accused here on my blog of not liking people who disagree with me, which isn’t the case at all.  You can disagree all you like……………..just do it in your own space.  This blog is my space, for my experiences and opinions.  If, every time I post something online someone immediately tells me my views aren’t shared by them, it feels like a continual battleground.  A place where I’m constantly defending my viewpoint or having to explain my experience.  It’s absolutely exhausting and I’m tired enough already.

The Brexit situation springs to mind.  Although I didn’t vote to leave, I increasingly found myself defending the Brexiteers because the Remainers were really, really bloody annoying.  They harped on relentlessly, shoving their viewpoint down other people’s throats at every single available opportunity.  They just couldn’t accept that other people didn’t want what they wanted.  They knew better y’see.  Their take on the Brexit situation was the right one.  The fucking arrogance of that!  In the end,  I stopped sharing my opinion online about Brexit because I couldn’t face being pounced on by the Remainers .  They stifled my voice.  They made me withdraw from the debate.  From society.  They basically bullied anyone who didn’t share their view into silence.  How dare they?!

There are lots of people’s views online that I don’t share.  But unless they are hurtful (racism, sexism, threats etc.), or unless I’ve been specifically asked what I think, I just keep my mouth shut.  We’re all entitled to our own opinions and I’m not sure what my intention would be in telling someone “I disagree with you”.  What am I hoping to achieve, exactly?  At worst it ends in an entrenched row and results in animosity, and at best you both agree to disagree, in which case what was the point?



Watching for the signs

When I adopted Bertie in 2008 I felt like it was meant to be.  I looked at loads of dogs online in local rescue centres but the signs that he was The One shouted at me loud and clear.  For a start he has the same name as my Dad – I know, freaky!  And for seconds he has the same birthday as my Nanna.  The Universe couldn’t have been clearer if he’d had He’s Yours tattooed on his cute, furry forehead.

I moved into my current house in 2004.  I’d been looking for the right property for 5 lonnnng years, but due to my health problems I had strict criteria.  It had to be within a 7 mile radius of my parents – tick.  Outdoor space but no lawn to mow as I couldn’t cope – tick.  Two bedrooms – tick.  A good sized bathroom with a separate shower – tick.  And I longed for a separate utility room – tick.  But there were things I was uneasy about.  I absolutely didn’t want to live by a road due to my brain issues and need to rest, and this house was literally 4 feet away from the curbside. I’d also desperately wanted a view and this house really didn’t have one.  I would have ummmed and ahhhhhd over buying it, if it weren’t for 2 things: when I’d lain in bed dreaming about my next house, for some reason I simply knew it would contain a sink in the bedroom and tongue & groove panelling in the bathroom rather than tiles.  Don’t ask me how I knew this, I just did.  And sure enough my current house has both.   It’s weird when you think about it, because what house these days has a sink in the bedroom?  An en suite maybe, but just a sink?!  And to add icing to the cake, the postcode for the property is my parents’ initials 😮

Having said all that, I didn’t get the warm and fuzzies over my current house.  It felt like a compromise being next to the road and having no view and even when I bought it I felt a bit flat.  My intuition knew it was the right house for me at the time, but not for all time.   And although on the whole I’ve been really happy living in my little cottage for the past 15 years, here I am moving on.

Like last time I’ve been looking for a bungalow now for 5 lonnnnng years and had said internally to myself that if something hadn’t come up by Xmas I was going to stop searching and try and be happy where I am.  And, blow-me-over-with-a-feather, I had my offer accepted on the house I’m buying 4 days before Christmas – sign number 1.

The house I’m moving to is in a tiny hamlet that I’d never been to in my life before, yet when I drove through it to view the property I genuinely got the warm and fuzzies and a word kept jumping into my mind in capital letters: HOME.  Even now when I approach the village I suddenly feel happy for no reason.  Sign number 2.

I desperately wanted a large room to use as a photography studio and it never crossed my mind I’d find a bungalow with a separate annexe.  Sign number 3.

I have a gorgeous view – tick.  The house is on a slight hill and set well back from the road – tick.  In fact, all those years ago when I was living in town and dreaming of living in the country what I ideally wanted was a detached house with a private, south facing garden, a view and to have space but not be totally isolated from neighbours and as it turns out my Dad knows the neighbour opposite, who came over to introduce himself and seems lovely.  Tick, tick, tick and tick!

We have “gut feelings” about things and voices whisper to us that we simply don’t listen to.  We push thoughts away because our reason tells us we’re being ridiculous, when we really should be trusting our intuition more.  We should take heed of the signs and not poo pooh them as wishful thinking.  As I get older, and more confident in who I am as a person, I listen to other people less and my inner self more.  Which isn’t to say this move will be easy or stress free.  In fact, at 3.30am this morning I woke having a panic attack at what I’m about to take on and what could go wrong and I remember lying in bed on the first night in my little cottage and wondering what the fuck I’d done!  Following our dreams takes courage and a leap of faith but when the signs are there we know everything will turn out OK in the end.




Love me for who I am

I was having breakfast with an elderly, male friend yesterday and he looked at me and said “do you never wear makeup, or jewellery?”.  The question took me aback.  It was 9.45 on a Sunday morning, we’re sat in a cafe in a tiny rural farming village and I had just walked (aka scootered) my dog for 3 miles in the rain – why on earth would I be dolled up?!  So I just looked at him and said “why, do I need adornments?  Am I not perfect just as I am?”  which threw him, because it’s not like he could say “no you look like shit and need artificial help” 😉  I wouldn’t care, but because of my wig my hair always looks immaculate and due to my lovely, unblemished hEDS skin I look 10 years younger than I actually am, which is pretty darned good for a chronically ill 51 year old even though I do say so myself.

My whole life, men have wanted a perfect version of me.  That’s because they are drawn to me because of how I look, not for who I am on the inside.  It didn’t matter to my biological Dad that I was the most intelligent kid at school, and it didn’t matter to my ex-husband that I was the most attractive woman in any room, it was never enough.  I was never enough.  That incorrect judgement, which started when I was a self-conscious teenager, changed how I thought of myself until I was in my forties, and it’s taken until I am in my 50s for me to challenge the kinds of statements my friend made to me this morning.

One of the reasons I have been single since I became ill 25 years ago is that men struggle to accept my disabled life.   Despite being told of my limitations there is constant pressure to join in their healthy life, and early on in my illness I did try.  I made myself horrendously ill going out for dinner in the evenings, going for walks in the countryside and travelling for hours in a car that made me vomit to the point of dehydration….. but not any more.  Y’see, there is never any desire on their part to join in my disabled life.  To sacrifice their precious time off work to lie in bed watching B list movies when the sun is shining outside, or to forgo their annual holiday in Greece to keep me company.  It’s always a very one-sided affair with my needs not being met in order to make my partner happy, and it’s taken a very long time to realize that my needs are just as important as anyone elses.

When we love someone, we have to love them for who they are not what we’d ideally like them to be.  After all, we’re far from perfect and expect them to love us faults, flaws and all.I really don’t know why I’m never enough for the men in my life.  I am a truly exceptional human being who has walked a path so difficult it’s a wonder I am still standing.  And not only am I still standing but I am living with joy, integrity and passion despite all the odds being stacked against me.  I deserve to be surrounded by people who celebrate that, and the beautiful person I’ve always been, and so do you.


Treating the beloved child

Most of the time I live a happy enough life.  I was going to say under the circumstances, but actually you can be happy regardless of circumstance – well, so long as the circumstance is tolerable.  Finding happiness in a war-torn country, or if you fear for your life, or are living on the streets or in abject poverty is asking too much of anyone but thankfully I’m in none of those situations.  In fact, I have much to be thankful for.

I’m not super human though and there are times I feel overwhelmed and wake up in a morning wondering what the fucking point to it all is.  This past month has been one of those times.  I am so exhausted I can barely function.  I’ve been worried sick I may have cancer (which, let’s face it with my drug history wasn’t going to be treatable), yet my dog still needs walking, feeding, grooming and health care, my parents still depend on me for every little thing, the bills still have to be paid and I am stony broke, my hormones are playing Jekyll and Hyde and I have put up with over a year of being bullied by a bunch of little bitches who want to destroy the only good thing in my life which is my photography.  It’s a lot to be dealing with and while I take care of everyone, and everything, else there is no-one ever taking care of me.

I’ve felt tempted to just chuck in the towel and sink into the depression which has been trying to suck me in for some time now.  I’ve been dealing with shit for decades and I’m tired, not to mention achingly lonely.  But then there’s a side to my character which refuses to give in.  It shouts at me to stop being an ungrateful pussy and wallowing in self-pity.  Are you homeless?  No!  Are you penniless? No!  In physical danger?  No!  Are you bedridden?  No!  Terminally ill?  No!  Well shut the fuck up moaning then and count your blessings.

I am blessed to have my little dog.  My faithful companion and cuddle buddy.  I have friends who are simply too unwell to have a pet, or living in accommodation which doesn’t allow pets.

I am blessed my parents are still alive, even though they drive me crazy and my Mother can be a bitch.

I have a lovely home, even if I need new windows and my front door doesn’t shut properly.  It’s mine, no-one can chuck me out, it’s warm, it’s dry and I have satellite TV and reliable broadband 😉

I do not have cancer 😀

I am not bedridden.

I am not bankrupt.

I have lovely, supportive friends.  They’re few in number, but I cherish them for the very fact they are few in number.

It’s true I have no-one caring for me, so I have to care for myself.  If my child were living this life what would I currently do for her?  I would wrap her in a blanket on the sofa, feed her peanut M&Ms and Pringles, we would rent a movie, cuddle up and I would tell her she is beautiful, she is worthy and tomorrow is a bright new day full of possibilities.  I feel better already.

“Treat yourself as your own beloved child” – Pema Chodron




Strong Women

As some of my readers know, I was really struggling with the situation regarding my alcoholic Mother last Christmas so paid to see a therapist.  I come from a working class background (both parents worked in a factory and don’t have a qualification between them) and live in a farming community – if you have a sensitive disposition you’d sink where I live because swearing is the order of the day and men dominate.  And I do mean dominate.  Everything from their wives to the Chamber of Trade which as far as I know doesn’t contain a single female.   In my local newspaper 80% of the editorial is written by men – the only page dedicated to women is the ‘Women’s Institute’ – jam and craft making.  Yay.

One of the things the therapist said to me which really struck home was that I am a strong, intelligent woman and it appears that my whole life there has no been no place for that in my family.  How right she is.  Men can be as dominating and rude and dismissive as they like, but if women speak up they are classed as “opinionated”, “troublemakers” or just plain gobby.  I have been accused of all three on several occasions.  I rail against the differences in how the genders are perceived because it makes me furious.

To live an entire life so torn between conforming to the expected norm yet feeling the exact opposite has been confusing to say the least and has left me with huge inner conflict.  Take what happened at our Club dinner on Friday night for example.  I hated the seating plan.  To be told who I could speak to at a social event like I was 5 years old irritated the fuck out of me, so I told the organizer I wasn’t happy.  That’s all I said “I’m not happy” and all hell broke loose.  I then felt so guilty for upsetting the organizer that I was tearful on the way home, yet I had a valid opinion which I should be able to vocalize.

I’m still stressed about it nearly a week later and as stress badly affects my health I’ve barely slept or eaten all week.  I now face having to attend a committee meeting and put my views to the organizer who is a formidable, quite frankly rude and dominating personality.  Part of me wants to simply not do it while the other half knows I have a sodding right to my opinion.  However, when you’ve been told your whole life that having an opinion makes you a troublemaker the desire to just roll over and bow to other people’s wishes is overwhelming.

My best mate said to me once that for someone who hates conflict I seem to be involved in it a lot and she’s right.  I hate conflict – it genuinely makes me ill – but despite that I refuse to act like I don’t exist.  My needs, views and desires are as important as anyone elses.  So despite what it takes out of me I stand up for myself, and in doing so for women who don’t feel able to stand up for their selves.  But it makes for a stressful life.

When I first joined my Camera Club I realized that 98% of the judges were male and that while photos  of steam trains did really well in competitions more feminine pictures of flowers for example did badly, which disadvantaged women photographers.  So I challenged the status quo, which let me tell you didn’t go down well.  One of the male camera club members said openly to me that “I prefer women like x, who just quietly get on with their photography without making a fuss”.  Yes, I’m sure you do.  However, it’s a good job not all women go about their business not making a fuss otherwise we would never have been emancipated and we’d all still be tied to the kitchen sink, the property of our husbands, without the right to vote, be educated, hold down a job or attend a Camera Club for that matter.  I’m still convinced some men mourn the old days where they had absolute power and women had none.  Four years later I’m still teased at the Club for “throwing my toys out of the pram” because some judges didn’t like my pictures.  How to not get the fucking point about gender equality and be patronizing to boot.

Because of the domination of men the only way women have their voice heard is to be LOUD which is then seen as aggressive.   Men of course can be loud and it’s just seen as normal!  Will we ever reach a time where women can gently and quietly have their viewpoint heard without having to shout?  I hope so.  And I hope I can one day put forward my opinion without feeling guilty for even having one.

Avoiding The Pit

I am prone to clinical depression.  I had a chaotic childhood which predisposed me to mental health problems.  I have mast cell disease which definitely affects my moods and depression runs in my maternal family, in my Aunt’s case so severely she had electric shock therapy (which BTW doesn’t work).  My Mum has suffered from depression my whole life and I have three female cousins who turned 50 this year and all have suffered from depression for as long as I can remember, albeit at various levels.

I was clinically depressed during my teenage years and half-heartedly attempted to take an overdose.  I was definitely depressed when I got divorced, though it wasn’t clinical depression.  And I have had one serious depressive (actually more bipolar) episode since I became ill, though I think that was mast cell related because it was totally out of my control and felt more biochemical than emotional.  So when I talk about depression I do have some experience of the condition.

But I am not a victim of depression.  I bloody well refuse to be.  I have watched my Mum suffer from the disease my whole life and do absolutely nothing about it.  Being miserable seems to be a familiar comfort blanket and certainly not something she seems to want to change.  I simply don’t get that.  I only have one life and I’m damned if I’m spending it moping around and bringing everyone around me down.  I’m acutely aware I have a tendency towards depression and am as proactive about that as I am about my physical health.

So how do I go about avoiding the pit of depression?

  • Acceptance.  We can’t change the past and, in my case, I can’t change the present either – I’m never going to be healthy again a day in my life and there is nothing I can do about that.  So I accept it just like I accept the weather outside my window and I live as full a life as I can despite it.  When I was bedridden and suffering the tortures of hell it was impossible to be “happy” but I learned to be accepting, which gave me peace.
  • Purpose.  We all need a purpose in life or there’s no reason to get out of bed in the morning, especially when that involves pain and illness.  My little rescue dog gives me that purpose.  Regardless how I’m feeling he’s awake at 6am and demanding to be fed.  He then wants a tummy rub, his morning walk (paid for by me), his feet wiped, his Dentastix for lunch, another walk, more feet wiping, his tea and a bedtime cuddle.  My reward for all that hard work (and, oh boy, is it hard work) is completely unconditional love and a furry bundle that makes me smile every day of my life.
  • Passion.  I honestly don’t know how I’d get through without my photography.  It gives me a goal, pleasure, forces me to get out in the world, mingle with other people and forget about my health for an hour or two.  The editing side of photography is something I can do in bed, picking it up and putting it down again when my health and energy wax and wane.  I simply love it.
  • Distraction.  Due to all the resting I have to do my mind has a lot of time to think and not all my thoughts are helpful, so I have to find ways of switching them off.  I watch far too much TV, even having it on in the background when I’m cooking or doing chores, so that my brain is distracted from dwelling on the negative.  I listen to loads of talking books which I download free from the Library.  I have them on when I’m out with Bertie, driving the car or lying in the bath – in fact any time I am relaxed, because I don’t want to give my mind too much space to think about stuff which only makes me sad, angry or frustrated.  I even listen to a talking book as I drop off to sleep or wake in the night, so that my brain has something to focus on other than how crap I feel.
  • Gratitude.  I know this is an Oprah cliché but for me if I start focusing on all the things I don’t have or can’t do my mood nosedives, so when I find that happening I make a conscious choice to be grateful instead.  I had my Christmas groceries delivered yesterday and as I was huffing and puffing and moaning to myself about having to put it all away (my back, neck and arm are still really painful) I stopped in my tracks, called myself an ungrateful cow and started thinking instead about how lucky I was to have all this beautiful food and a clean, safe home in which to eat it.  And then I spent a cosy hour on the couch stuffing my face with Pringles and watching Eastenders.  Bliss, although my waistline will never forgive me 😉
  • Setting myself up for success.  My whole life I’ve attracted people with issues who want to offload their crap on to me.  Which is fine – we all have problems now and again and need someone who can empathise, but I began to realize that these people’s problems were never resolved. They were emotional vampires, sucking the very life out of me in order to raise themselves up and they had to go.  Which is why I feel so trapped in the situation with my Mum because if she were anyone else in the world I would have dumped her ages ago.  I only want to be around people who make me feel joyful, happy, supported, encouraged and understood and the relationship has to be a two way street – gone are the days where my friends and  family do all the taking and none of the giving.

I also avoid negative information.  I catch the news headlines so that I know basically what’s happening in the world and then I switch channels.  There is nothing whatsoever that I can do about the situation in Syria, Brexit or the fact that 6 people were killed on the motorway this morning and hearing about it can make me feel emotional, so I don’t listen.  I don’t embark in heated discussions online because I find it stressful and you can guarantee someone will lose their cool and start being nasty which I don’t need.  I try my level best not to take on the weight of the world because my shoulders simply aren’t wide enough.

  • I put in the work.  I’m sure some people are born with a sunny disposition and nothing gets them down but I sure as hell wasn’t.  For me, happiness takes work and it’s something I aim for each and every day.  If you’re predisposed towards depression you have to make an effort to not be depressed.  And it is an effort, especially when you’re already feeling ill and exhausted.  But the good news is the more you practice happiness the easier it becomes, whatever life chucks your way.