A present day history lesson

Earlier this month I travelled to Berlin, Germany, with some of my girlfriends for what is becoming, an annual weekend away to places beginning with “B”…last year was Bath, perhaps next year will be Budapest or Barcelona?!

I have only been to Germany once before to stay with a friend of mine who lives and works out there but in a very “English” area.  What I saw of Germany on that trip, I loved.  The people were very friendly and services were efficient (I expected no less).  I hadn’t really had time to research Berlin before we departed (shameful I know) I was relying on all of my co travellers who had been at least once before to show me the city in short weekend there.

We arrived on the Friday and were staying at a great hotel which was super clean and reasonable near to Alexanderplatz which is good for shopping and for getting around Berlin.  On the Friday night we checked in and went for a stroll around before going to eat dinner at a restaurant serving traditional German fare.  We saw the World Clock on our stroll and wherever you are, you can’t miss the TV tower which dominates the Berlin skyline.

On the Saturday we did a lot of walking, we first went to the Ritter Sport store where we had a go at designing our own chocolate bar – mine had ginerbread, biscuit pieces and gold stars and I can confirm it tasted exceptional.  We then had kaffee and kuchen, that favourite of German traditions in the Rittersport cafe before continuing our walk taking in the sights at Checkpoint Charlie, where we had our pictures taken in a traditional photo booth – squeezing in the four of us was quite the challenge! and then on to the Reichstag building and the Brandenburg Gate via the hollocaust memorial.

 

It then absolutely chucked it down so we ecided to spend the evening close to our hotel, although we had been planning a trip for cocktails at the Monkey Bar which we had heard a great deal about but due to the weather, sadly didn’t make it there.  Instead we took in the sights of the Galleria food hall and had a picnic in our room before taking a team photo in our Berlin jumpers, purchased from Primark.  Natch.

On the Sunday morning we had time to take in the sights of the East Side Gallery  which has the beautifully preserved mosaics from the Wall displayed in the open, before getting our flight home.

Berlin is wonderfully fun and it is a walking history lesson.  Every corner seems to have a bit of history pointing out to us humans where we have gone so wrong in the past.  It was particularly poignant that just four days after our trip the results of the American election were in and it appears that the world is once again going backwards and not forwards.

In times like these I take hope in messages like this one on the Berlin Wall:

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“Many small people who in many small places do many small things that can alter the face of the world”.

It may feel like what we do as individulas doesn’t matter, but I am a firm believer that we were created to be kind and loving souls and that throughout histroy people have tried their best to love eachother.  Let’s all do our bit to be the kind, loving individuals that we were made to be.  Let’s stand up for people who might feel scared at this particular time – let’s do that by speaking out and showing our love.  Don’t be silent in the face of hatred – do.  Make the world better, kinder, more loving and start with the people next to you, the ones you come in to contact with.  Challenge racisim or sexism or any other kind of ignorance you come in to contact with and show the world that Love Wins.

 

 

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Pausing, Two

Something changed in me last year.  I had started doing the She Reads Truth Bible Reading Plan – reading the entire Bible in a year – and the more I read God’s word the more I wanted to know God.  The more I wanted God to know me.  That sound ridiculous because of course, God already knows me, all of me, but I wanted a real relationship with God, one where I was really hearing God.  Not just saying thank you and asking for things -:“Hi God, how are you?  I’m doing okay, Thank you so much for my wonderful boyfriend, friends and family I am so lucky.  I know that.  Please keep them safe.  Sorry about that thing I messed up, I’ll do better next time, I’m trying, sorry,  Oh and by the way, can you send your peace to X because they are really struggling, I’m fine.  I’m lucky, my life is really easy in comparison, I know that”.

I’ve given that up now.  Now I come to find Jesus.  I come when I am joyful, when I am weary, when I am thankful, sad or anxious.  I don’t try and qualify my feelings now.  Everything is relative.  It’s not a competition where only the worst cases are deserving of God’s attention.

Since summer 2015 I’ve been working on saying no, making time for me, making time for God, exercising, writing and reading.  Doing all the things that make me “me” and make me feel present.  Saying “no” is really hard for me, I am by nature a bit of a people pleaser and I find it hard if I feel like I am letting others down.

In September, I went on a mindfulness retreat at Burrswood which is a fantastic place, it has a hospital part offering hydrotherapy and respite care, there is onsite counselling and retreats and has weekly healing services.  I’ve wanted to go on a retreat for ages, and this came up at the right time earlier this year.  I now know how important it is for me to stop, to relax and to accept help.  I spent four days at Burrswood and I have never felt so relaxed in my adult life, honestly, I can’t remember a time that I have felt so relaxed and content like that, I think it might be before I started university, the summer after A Levels and before starting my degree.

I find practicing mindfulness hard.  I have kept it up (and I’m quite proud of myself for doing so) since the Retreat.  I find it hard to focus on my breath though, I get thoughts all the time – you are taught to try and acknowledge the thoughts and let them pass.  I have trouble with the last bit, I tend to wander away with the thoughts, so it’s a good job I am using this book and CD guide so that I can be led back to the present:

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Being in the present is what mindfulness is all about.  Acknowledging your thoughts and feelings, noticing your surroundings.  Paying attention.  Peace.  Not rushing through life at 100mph trying to tick everything off of your endless mental to do list.

This is the theme of “Present Over Perfect” by Shauna Niequist.  I’ve read it twice.  I think this book might have been written just for me.  Shauna talks about laying things down, learning how to say no, living simpler.  The tagline for the book is “Leaving Behind frantic, for a simpler, more soulful way of living”.  Yes, I thought, that is definitely what I need.

Shauna says about saying no:

“It was very difficult for me to learn to say no.  I did it badly, awkwardly, sometimes too forcefully, and sometimes with so many disclaimers and weird ancillary statements that people actually had no idea what I was saying.  I hovered endlessly after I said it – was that okay?  Are we okay? Because I love you – you know I love you right?  We’re okay?”

I know this feeling well.  I have always been the girl who said “yes”.  Yes I’ll come and visit you on that weekend and yes I’ll see my family the weekend after and Yes I’ll do that with you the following Saturday and Yes to after work drinks and yes to staying late, yes to volunteering and yes to serving coffee at church and yes to being on that committee.

The thing is saying all those yeses meant that I was also saying no.  No to rest, no to time to myself, no to time to write, no to time to read, no to time with God, no to time with Carl, just us two.  That’s a dangerous pattern to fall in to.

There’s nothing wrong with yes.  Yes is fun and leads to wonderful memories, laughter and time with family and friends, opportunities and adventure.  It has to be balanced with a bit of no though…or perhaps more yesses but yesses to things like rest and quiet time.

I hope I am more balanced now.  I am trying.  I still fall into the yes trap, sometimes I do it because I am worried about disappointing someone.  Now however, I respect my nos and I respect other people’s nos.

There is nothing wrong with setting boundaries.  As hard as that is to do sometimes.

Here’s to embracing the pausing.

Pausing, One

Anxiety is no friend to logic.  You might “know” something but your body betrays you.  You feel like you have something heavy sat on your chest.  You can’t breathe deeply enough.  Your airways are tight.  Your chest doesn’t expand properly.  It feels like there’s a rubber resistance band strapped around your lungs.  You feel sick and your stomach is upset.  You obsessively and compulsively bite all of your nails down to the quick.  Tears are never far from behind your eyes.

It is the absence of peace.

In August 2015 I turned 30.  That summer I experienced a prolonged feeling of anxiety for the first time.  Lots of things happened and turning 30 seemed to bring it all into a sharp focus.  I had changed my job four months before and I suddenly realised that it wasn’t the job, it was me.  I was working long hours and was very stressed at work.  There was an altercation with my neighbour which left me feeling vulnerable at home.  I felt unanchored and a little bit lost.  I didn’t know what I should be doing for a career, could I really change?  I had spent so much time and energy (and money) getting to where I was.  Other people really want my job, it felt a bit like a betrayal to be thinking about changing careers.

I have experience (a long time ago now) of working in mental health.  So I did what I advocate, I acknowledged the way I was feeling, tried not to beat myself up about it and I was honest with my inner circle.  I also went and spoke to my doctor.  My doctor upon listening to me said he wasn’t surprised I was feeling like that, and suddenly, just like that I started to feel better.  Sometimes all we need is someone independent, someone outside, to take a look at our life and offer us some reassurance that we are not weak or crazy.  Sometimes it takes more than that and that is okay too.

It was then that I decided I needed to make some changes.  I felt like I had missed some warning signs – just in case anyone else is unclear – throwing up before you go to work every morning is definitely a warning sign that all is not quite right.

I wanted to step back, to make more time for me, to relax.  I was so tired.  Tired of being busy and doing and pleasing everybody and feeling like I was failing myself.

I decided I had to learn to say “no”.  I wanted to be more selective about where I spent my time.  I didn’t want to be rushing all the time trying to fit everybody in and making no time for me.  I wanted to do more creative things.  Mostly, though I wanted to spend more time listening to God.  Actually, learning to listen to God, discerning his will for me rather than trying to control all aspects of my life and just ask for his help when it got hard.

I wanted to know what I was being called to do.  There is a part in “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho, where the boy is being taught about the path, about how if you are on the right one then the whole universe conspires to help you and you keep seeing signs to let you know you are following your destiny.

The idea of counselling as a profession had been in my mind for a few years after a throw away comment from a friend and I hadn’t done anything about it until I signed up to an Introductory 12 week course at CityLit in January 2015.  I had really enjoyed the course but then had changed jobs and kept plugging along in “the real world” when the wheels started to come loose and I realised that actually, I couldn’t keep on.  I prayed a lot about it, and decided that I would need to get a job back in London to have any hope of being able to study part-time.

In November I put my CVs out to a few places, by December I had an interview and I was honest an open with the interviewer and she gave me some names of other places where I could apply as they were interviewing someone else.  By the first week of January I had a new job a commutable distance for part-time study.

Then the doubts came.  I wondered if this really what God was calling me to do or if I just wanted to do it because I didn’t like what I was currently doing.  I decided I would give the new place “a fair go” before making my decision.

I have been chugging along, keeping on, ticking over, I tried, I did.  But I think that that constant little nudge toward counselling in the back of my head that won’t go away is there for a reason.  I have found a part-time counselling course that I can apply for this January, it will be a big commitment – every Saturday from January to July, and it will be a scary process, going back to studying part time (at my age) and giving up some security in the job I have now, but if I have learned anything over the past year and a bit it’s that it will be worth it.  The application process for the course opens next month and closes pretty soon afterwards, they make quick decisions about who they let in it seems.

Last week I was pretty stressed with work, I guess the fact that the application process will be opening soon has also been in the back of my mind, I was working long hours again, often on my own and I experienced anxiety again, seemingly out of nowhere.  That horrible sick feeling, the feeling that I am crap at my job and making all of the wrong choices.  The feeling that everything is out of control.

I went, every day last week for 10 minutes to the church across the road.  I just wanted to sit at the feet of Jesus, and pour out my troubles to him and ask him for his peace, he doesn’t disappoint.  I had found this on Pinterest a few days before, and thought it may help those of you who also experience anxiety, as it helped me:

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The feeling passed more quickly this time, I have learned how to manage it better, how to acknowledge the feelings and I have learned that they will pass.  I have also learned that I need to have a positive attitude toward it, anxiety can suck you in and down if you let it.  This week I gave myself a stern talking to, I reminded myself that I am on the path and that it isn’t always straightforward, I have to push through and do hard things.  I can do that.  Paulo Coelho reminds us that:

“I can choose either to be a victim of the world or an adventurer in search of treasure.  It’s all a question of how I view my life.”

I am definitely choosing to be a positive thinking adventurer, one who isn’t scared to try new things and grab opportunities with both hands.  I am not going to give in to the fear or the anxiety.  I am on the path and I am trusting in God and my heart to lead me to my destiny, back to the soul of the world.