Why I Therapy – Mental Health Awareness Week 2018

pexels-photo-265702.jpegIt’s Mental Health Awareness Week this week so I thought I would do a couple of blog posts along this theme, sharing my experience and knowledge of mental health and therapy.  If this isn’t your bag, feel free to ignore, but also, if you think it’s helpful, or remotely important, feel free to share with others who might feel the same.  Thanks.

There still sees to be a bit of a stigma about talking to a professional amongst certain people in the UK.  Some people seem to imply that you must be “crazy”, “a bit wrong”, have “loads of serious issues” or, that you are a bit weak, certainly weaker than them, they manage just fine without needing to talk to a stranger, thank you very much.

I call fear and nonsense and maybe an unhealthy little dose of pride.  People are often fearful of that which they do not understand.

I have integrative therapy with a lovely lady called Debby every two weeks and I have done so for almost a year now.  I just talk about whatever I want to talk about for fifty minutes and we explore why I react in a certain way, why I think or feel like that.  I am better for therapy not because anyone around me is doing anything differently but because it has furnished me with a greater understanding of my feelings and reactions to things that have happened in the past or are happening now and I can now choose to respond to them or view them in a different way.

Therapy can be hard; you are working on your understanding of yourself and changing and growing in the process.  That can be scary – self-examination leading to change and growth requires a willingness to be vulnerable, to explore parts of ourselves or experiences we might prefer to keep under wraps.

Some people seem to think that therapy is a bit self-indulgent unless you have “real issues”.  I get that.  It’s something I struggled with at the beginning, I mean, I am a very lucky, very privileged middle class white woman with no mental health diagnoses, a happy marriage that is a partnership, a loving and extremely close family and lots of friends.  What could I possibly need to go to therapy for?

That little judge-y voice in there – the way I talk to myself sometimes – that’s part of me I don’t like very much.  It is something I have explored with my therapist – why do I place such high expectations on me and my behaviour, why do I feel I need to subscribe to “should’s” that I would never prescribe to others?

Ann Voskamp writes in her book The Broken Way:

“If we all listen long enough to the voices about who we should be, we grow deaf to the beauty of who we are.”

I just adore that.  You might be telling yourself that you are defined by something that happened to you, or that you “should” feel a certain way about your experiences or your situation.  You might feel that you have expectations to uphold, a role to play.  You might feel completely unable to do that, that you are useless at the roles you are playing and you might be feeling very alone, very fearful and be believing lies about who you are and who you can be.

“Harry Potter: Professor?  Is this all real?  Or is it just happening inside my head?

Dumbledore: Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

For a long time I lived in “should”.  At first, that was fine, no real cracks were showing, I was firmly along a path in a career that was wrong for me, telling myself it was right.  As time went on that charade started to catch up with me, it’s very draining living a false life.  It lead me to become very anxious, to lose my voice, to retreat into myself as protection and to react with fear, something that was very unlike me before.

I tried to ignore and supress or swallow my “negative” feelings, not just about my career choice, but any negative feelings about any aspect of my life – I couldn’t quit, I shouldn’t be angry (ever), I always overreacted and I should never feel sad, it was all my fault, I was handling everything wrong and I just needed to TRY HARDER.

I won’t go into the grisly details of this period of my life but needless to say, I was not myself and I certainly was not living my best life, nowhere remotely close.  I became a bit of a shell of myself to be perfectly honest – putting on a brave face to acquaintances, distancing myself from all but those closest to me and never being truly honest about how I was feeling.  During this period my anxiety was at its worst: I had heart palpitations and a mild panic attack and so I went to see my GP to explain how I was feeling as a first step.

My GP was really good, I know that isn’t everyone’s experience, but they gave me time and listened and didn’t make me feel silly for crying.  The GP offered Cognitive Behavioural Therapy on the NHS – which is strategies to change the way you think and behave.  This can be really great and very helpful but for some people it may not be enough and a talking therapy either alongside or instead of CBT may be preferable.  I didn’t take up the offer; I just knew that my anxiety was largely being caused by circumstance and I needed to make some changes to improve that, which I did.  I will say though that it was the first time I had someone completely impartial listen to me say how I was feeling and they didn’t try to fix it with platitudes but accepted it and suggested some help – that for me was liberating.  I felt as though my feelings had been validated and that someone had acknowledged that the situation needed to change.

With thanks to my incredibly supportive husband (then fiancé), family and friends (shout out to the Berlin crew who were there at one of my lowest points), I was able to start to accept how unhappy and anxious I had become and make some changes (including quitting my job and starting therapy). Since that time I am so MUCH happier, more secure and less anxious and I’ve found my roar again.  I am more “me” because I have learned to feel my emotions, not supress them and because I have a greater understanding of myself.

Talking to a professional is completely different to talking to family or friends.  A good therapist helps you to see yourself more clearly, because you work towards being more you when you are with them.  Therapists listen, they do not judge and they do not give you advice.  They might provide you with tools to use or a different way of thinking about something but they do not tell you how you should think or feel (I did quite enough of that by myself).  I have found that sometimes it is so helpful to have someone completely impartial empathise with your feelings and your experience, your truth, it has certainly given me the confidence to become more accepting of myself.

If you are feeling a bit lost, a bit scared or just sad talking therapy can be really beneficial.  I would say however, that always, your starting point should be talking to your GP, they will be able to talk through options with you, and if you are asking for treatment on the NHS will be the gateway for that.

I know that therapy can be a scary and daunting world to navigate and as such I will be compiling a little blog as a “signpost” to help navigate the world of therapy a little later this week.  For now though, if you feel like you need some help, even if you’re telling yourself that you shouldn’t – please ask for it, I know it’s scary to ask for help, we live in a culture that promotes self-reliance, but as Dumbledore says to Harry:

“Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it”.

We might not be at Hogwarts (sadly) but I do believe that Dumbledore was onto something here (“Great man Dumbledore”), so always, always ask.  Please.

***

*Please note that this blog is based on my own personal experiences and any opinion is my own*

**Harry Potter quotes are from The Deathly Hallows by J.K.Rowling and in my (not so humble) opinion an awful lot of wisdom can be found in Harry Potter, so if you haven’t read it – get on with it**

 

 

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Ten Things You should Know Before You Plan Your Wedding

  1. It’s your day.  The celebration of your marrying the person you love most in the world and committing to spend your life together and the day is about both of you and your love.  It can be as big or as small as you want, traditional or less so, weird and wonderful, just as long as you love it.  That means the planning can take as little or as much of your time as you want it to.  Try not to get swept up in “what we should be doing” mentality.
  2. There is lots to do when you first start planning and then: nothing.  For a reeeaallly lllloooonnnngg time and then: Boom.  Everything needs doing in 8 weeks.  During the quiet time of planning when you have done all the big things and now can’t do any of the small things this is when people will constantly ask you how wedding planning is going and you will begin to panic that you should be doing more,  surely there’s something you can do – should you start making the edible favours now 9 months before the big day?  You shouldn’t and no.
  3. Play to your strenghts – rubbish at art?  Don’t attempt to handcraft all of your invites, place names, favours and decorations – find willing friends/family who are good at these things to take over the task whilst you supervise (winning).  Great at spreadsheets and contignecy planning?  Colour code to your hearts content, write information sheets and circulate amongst those who need to be “in the know” on the day.
  4. You don’t have to handhold your guests in their organisation if you don’t want to – we’re all adults, you’ve provided an information sheet, there is such a thing as THE INTERNET and GOOGLEMAPS.  They’ll work it out.
  5. It will cost more than you think.  Have a budget and a contingency.  Prepare to go over both.  Try to do so with a smile on your face becuase at some point, you just have to accept it!
  6. People will have an opinion on what you should do, who you should or shoudn’t invite, whether Auntie Mabel should really sit next to cousin Sarah after the “wig incident”, what your “theme”should be or the fact that you aren’t having colours or a theme (controversial!).  Most of these people will not be putting their hand in their pocket, so don’t worry too much about their opinion.  It’s your day, not theirs, do what you want.  They will get over it, I promise.  However, pick your battles.  IF it won’t make that much difference to the enjoyment of your day or your expenditure then decide if it’s worth allowing that boundary to be breached in order to make your life easier, if it’s an absolute “no”, then as carry on as you wish, firm in your “no” and your reasons.
  7. You will either love dress shopping, or hate it.  In any event try to find shops reccommended for friendly staff who will let you try on a variety of things so you get to know what you definitely don’t want and who won’t pressure you into anything and/or treat you like a time waster if you don’t love anything!
  8. Agonizing over your playlist is absolutely worth it.  Agonizing over the bridesmaid’s shoes is not.
  9. Food is important, make sure people will not be left hungry.  The more food the better, always.
  10. The same applies to booze.

Happy Planning!

2017 Books

I said I wanted to read more books in 2017, I managed 43 in 2016.  Here’s a comprehensive list of all that I read, in order.  I beat my 52 target!

  1. The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown –Love, love, love Brené Brown and her wisdom – this book is full of wisdom about living.
  1. The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch – I really enjoy the Rivers of London books – just wish he could write them quicker, I need to re-read them before the next one as I can’t remember everything that’s happened.  A great mix of humour, London life, magic and mystery.
  1. A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson – I can’t explain how good this and its sister book “Life After Life” is.  Fantastically written stories, I couldn’t put either of them down and became so invested in the characters.
  1. Dead Cold by Louise Penny (part of the Inspector Gamache series)
  2. The One-Hunded-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of The Window and Disappeard by Jonas Janasson – Everyone seemed to love this, I was a bit disappointed.  It was good, but I didn’t love it, I just didn’t feel that invested in the story or the character.
  1. The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman – This was a recommended book from our pre-marriage counselling course and it was really interesting to learn our own love languages and know how to relate to each other better.
  1. On Becoming a Person by Carl Rogers
  2. The Cruellest Month by Louise Penny (part of the Inspector Gamache series)
  3. The Manual of the Warior of Light by Paula Coelho
  4. Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory
  5. The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory
  6. The Person-Centred Counselling Primer by Pete Sands
  7. Seven by Jen Hatmaker – This made me want to simplify my life and be less wasteful.  I really enjoyed the families’ experience of cutting down in 7 areas of their lives and seeing how living more simply affected them going forward.
  1. Dibs, In Search of Self by Virginia M Axline – The best counselling book I read all year.
  1. Late Fragments by Kate Gross – This was beautiful, written by a woman who was dying for her boys.
  1. Five on Brexit Island by Enid Blyton
  2. The Integrative Counselling Primer by Richard Worsley
  3. Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon
  4. The Murder Stone by Louise Penny (part of the Inspector Gamache series)
  5. At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenrider – This was interesting – a family who travel for long periods with their kids to experience different cultures.  Perhaps it’s because we did a lot of travel as a family when I was a kid but it didn’t seem that new or unique to me!
  1. My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
  2. The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny (part of the Inspector Gamache series)
  3. Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny (part of the Inspector Gamache series)
  4. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  5. Nothing to Prove by Jennie Allen (read twice) – This really spoke to me about busyness, motivations, avoidance and living a Christ filled life.
  1. The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck by Sarah Knight
  2. The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Technically a children’s book but that has never stopped me from enjoying things and this was fantastic.  I loved it.

  1. The Road Back to You (An Enneagram Journey to Self Discovery) By Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile
  2. Play by Stuart Brown M.D – This was a fascinating read about play and how it shapes humans.
  1. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
  2. For the Love by Jen Hatmaker
  3. How the Light Gets in by Louise Penny (part of the Inspector Gamache series)
  4. The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny (part of the Inspector Gamache series)
  5. Trick of the Light by Louise Penny (part of the Inspector Gamache series)
  6. The Marriage Book by Nicky & Sila Lee – Slightly old fashioned but enjoyable and informative all the same – some good pointers.
  1. I’m Judging You by Luvvie Ajayi
  2. The Valkyries by Paulo Coelho
  3. Bittersweet by Shauna Niequest – This is a must read for anyone going through a season of loss.  I love Shauna and I find her writing so clarifying, her book Present Over Perfect was a favourite of mine in 2016.
  1. Of Mess and Moxie by Jen Hatmaker – Jen is funny and smart, I laughed my way through this.
  1. The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry – This was good – I enjoyed the story and the writing and the fact that it wasn’t all tied up with a pretty bow at the end.
  1. The Little Book of Lykke by Meik Wiking
  2. Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers
  3. Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
  4. Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
  5. Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
  6. Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
  7. Harry Potter and The Order of the Pheonix by J.K. Rowling
  8. Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
  9. Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling  – It goes without saying that I am a HUGE HP fan!
  1. Falling Upward by Richard Rhor – I have another Richard Rhor book to read this year and cannot wait. This man seems to have so much wisdom and writes beautifully about what it means to live as a Christian in the 21st centuary.
  1. Snowed in for Christmas by Claire Sandy – A rom-com for which I had low expectations.  Better than I thought although I spotted the twist but I still enjoyed it.
  1. The Enneagram by Rhor and Ebert – I really enjoyed learning about the Enneagram this year, I loved this book – I am definitely a “2” and feel the appropriate levels of shame about my number’s shadow side!  Workign on things!
  1. The Magical Wolds of Harry Potter by David Colbert
  2. Christmas at the Ragdoll Orphanage by Suzanne Lambert – Terrible.  Don’t read!
  1. The Long Way Home by Louise Penny (part of the Inspector Gamache series) – I love this series so much and would recommend to anyone – it is crime fiction set in a small fictional village in Quebec called Three Pines.  I love all of the characters but especially Gamache.  Obviously.

So, aiming for 60 books in 2018…can it be done?!

 

You are what you eat?

I like to end the year listing 10 things that I am grateful for and then set out some goals that I want to achieve in the coming twelve months.  I also usually pick a word to accompany the year – to set a theme if you will.  2017’s word was Brave, 2016’s was Committed.

I made time to sit and appreciate the year and to be thankful for it.  It was an amazing year.  It was the year that I quit my job and didn’t look back, I started the process to become a qualified therapist, I got a new job, I had my hen weekend, I went to Italy (as per) and of course it was the year that we got married (!!) and had an amazing mini moon.  I am and always will be so grateful for the opportunities, change and growth that 2017 brought about, not least, starting my own therapy which has been a game changer for me.

Therapy has made me less anxious, less tightly wound, more self-aware and more able to deal with relationships and situations that I find challenging.  It has also enabled me to own my anger and to reclaim part of myself.  I can’t recommend it enough.

Despite all the many wonderful things about my 2017there were f course some not so great parts and the end of this year seemed to sneak up on me in a fog of pain, antibiotics, chocolate and chaos.   By the end of December I just felt like a big yucky mess physically.  I had had an operation on my foot which was more invasive and painful than imagined and put me out of action for longer than I thought as I got two painful infections and had to have two courses of antibiotics.  I couldn’t walk very much for ages, let alone run or do my yoga and BBG workouts and I know that movement is massively important to my emotional wellbeing – I tend to live in my “mind” and struggle to connect with my body as much and yoga has been a huge help in re-connecting me.

I put on 7lbs in the month of December alone.  That’s a lot to put on in a short space of time.  My gut was funny and I kept getting searing pain after some meals.  My psoriasis was the worst it has been for a while, no doubt exacerbated by a combination of my consumption of chocolate coins, antibiotics x 2 and emotional stress from the year.  A very small voice was telling me that I was probably dairy intolerant and should probably lay off the sugar and gluten for a bit but chocolate is life. I also love dairy – my favourite breakfasts on the Louise Parker Methodare the smoothies and birchers made with greek yoghurt.

By the way, I still love the LP Method but I just knew I needed to try cutting out everything and re-introducing it to find out my allergies/intolerances for a while.  I love that a lot of the LP recipes are easily adaptable to Whole30 which has made it a lot easier.

So, I decided on my first goal for the year – complete a Whoe30.  I ordered the “Whole30 Day by Day” which tells you how you’re probably feeling on each day and gives you hints and tips.  It is scarily accurate.  This past weekend for example Friday – Sunday was Day 9, 10 and 11.

Day 9 “The Food Day”

“At this point in your Whole30 journey, it seems like all you’re doing is thinking about food.  Planning food.  Chopping food.  Cleaning up after food.  Looking at other people’s food.  Talking about your food.  Maybe even dreaming about food. You may be tired of what you’ve been eating (eggs on eggs on eggs).”

Check to all of those for me.

So here’s why I’m doing it, it’s quite simple: I wanted to feel better.  I wanted to stop waking up in the night from scratching my skin raw.  I wanted the dodgy tummy and the pain and the bloating and the gas to go.  I wanted to feed myself proper food for 30 days and see where I was.

It’s not a diet.  I spoke before about how I don’t believe that women need to constantly make themselves smaller.  It will hopefully, make me feel better and get my skin working better again.

Day 10 and 11 “You are most likely to quit your Whole30 on Days 10 and 11”.

Oh yes.  That anger I was supposed to feel Day 3 and 4?  It turned up this weekend and I was sick of it all.  Sick of eggs, sick of not having a chocolate biscuit with my weekend tea, sick of people eating what they want.  My husband bought me my favourite flowers because he’s good like that and I have a new non-egg breakfast recipe from my insta friend Adriana (@adriana.food.fit.fam) who is also doing Whole30 and so understands the struggle.

Now it feels better and I feel better, huge improvements in energy levels and psoriasis symptoms already and I am only just approaching the halfway mark.

So I am completing the first goal that I set myself for 2018.  I still don’t have a word for this year, but as I continue to reflect on this past year and slowly move into 2018, the word will come. We are after all only in the third week of 2018.

Some people seem to have started the year all guns blazing, with all their goals planned out and they are already ticking them off at a wonderful rate! Good for them. I’m going to ease into it and not put pressure on myself, there are another eleven months of this year in which to make a difference.

So, I’m doing one thing at a time (maybe two).  I have a couple of new goals and some continuing ones – I want to start volunteering again preferably in the sexual violence field; I want to continue to attend therapy; I want to find the next part of my course and I want to plan our big honeymoon and go on a proper adventure.  I also want to keep going with my Spiritual Direction (kind of like Christian Counselling) and pick up regular Bible Study again with a new plan.

Whatever you 2018 goals I hope that they reflect you, taking care of yourself, putting yourself first on occasion and living out your life gratefully and joyfully, even in the not so good parts.  Here’s to a happy, healthy and adventure filled 2018.

Numbing Out

“How are you?”

“Fine. Busy!  You know! How are you?”

“Same, busy, tired!”

How many of our conversations start like this?  When perhaps what you want to say is: overwhelmed/sad/frustrated/feeling taken for granted, or: generally quite content but I do get ridiculously cross when my lodger puts things in the wrong recycling receptacle – just me?

January to July I studied every Saturday, the first step toward a new pathway working in a therapeutic environment.  Learning about counselling theory and skills, but mainly learning about myself – identifying my actual emotions.  “Fine” and “Busy” are not emotions, they are things we say in order to not name our emotions.

I haven’t blogged for a long time. Nearly five months.  I could say that I have been busy which would be true; but I have managed to find time to watch five seasons of The Good Wife, almost five seasons of Parks and Recreation and all episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale.  Thank you for your understanding and non-judgment of my life.

I had a big chunk of time off in between finishing my old job (Hallelujah!) and starting my new one – five whole glorious weeks when I completed assignments for college, read, gardened and visited friends with young children.  I kept promising myself that I would finally find time to attend to neglected activities: journaling, Bible study, and writing.  I didn’t though – I felt like there was a block: there was nothing there, I couldn’t connect to anything.  I couldn’t seem to sit with stillness or quiet for long, I had to be occupied, either out and about doing things with friends or around the house, or getting lost in a different world.  So, I spent many hours binge watching episodes of The Good Wife whilst promising myself that I would get around to the most important things “later” or “tomorrow”.

I was disappointed in myself and angry that I was not utilising this precious and luxurious time nourishing my soul with the things that are important to me.

One Saturday at college we did an exercise: examining our relationships and how we form, maintain and end them.  Unless it is with my very closest people I avoid conflict; I swallow any “negative” feelings, telling myself that I “shouldn’t” feel like that.  I try to ignore and forget about my “negative” feelings which means that patterns repeat and issues are not resolved.  This leads to feelings bubbling over or getting to the point where the relationship ends because by the time I talk about how I am feeling the issues seem insurmountable or the other person is surprised by my expressing such feelings when I have seemed perfectly happy up until then.

*

I thought about my relationship with God and with myself, two relationships that often come at the bottom of my “to-do” list when they should be at the top.  I am someone who likes to help others (ENFJ, Enneagram Type 2) but this can often be at the expense of myself.  I reflected on the “shoulds” that I feel others place on me or I place on myself, in counselling terms we call these our “conditions of worth” – these are conditions that we think that we should meet in order to be worthy of love.

I realised (again) that I was exhausted and constantly doing things in order to please other people and to please God as if God was this big master Judge who is never pleased with what I do and I always must do more.  I was angry about the restrictions and expectations that I felt were placed upon me and I was resentful.  I had disconnected from myself and therefore from God; I didn’t want to get still and quiet and listen to my soul and hear what was going on.  I didn’t want to simply “be” with God or myself.  I wanted to numb and avoid feeling.

Maybe you do this too?  You disconnect from yourself when things feel overwhelming?  Shut yourself off to keep safe in some way?  Maybe that’s by not going out and seeing people or by throwing yourself in to work or like me by binge watching things on Netflix? However you do it you avoid listening to your heart and that is never good.  It will make you sad and tired and resentful.

Talking about my feelings each week made me realised that I often struggle to identify my own, but can quite easily help you out with yours.  I realise that I numb in order to avoid feeling emotions which I have decided are “bad”.  I had a long hard look at myself and started my own personal therapy.  As my acceptance of my own emotions improves (less swallowing feelings and pretending they are not there, more acknowledging and trying to deal) and my awareness of myself deepens, I have noticed that my connection with God seems to have been strengthened.  I am finding talking to God easier again and I am excited to keep nurturing my relationship with myself and with God.

There’s something there about knowing ourselves and knowing God and how the two are interconnected in a weird and wonderful way.  You need to get quiet and still to know yourself and to know God; otherwise you can’t hear that small quiet calm voice over the loud screams of all.the.things that demand your attention first.

Tuning in to our inner voice can be hard if you haven’t done it for a while.  How do you know who you really are?  Have your likes and dislikes, your wants and needs got lost somewhere on the way? Are they just a reflection of what you think you “should” like to do? In order to tune into that voice I would start by thinking about something that you loved to do as a child before you learned to grow out of it.  Maybe it was painting, or gymnastics or ballet or colouring or writing stories?  Whatever it was, start doing it again.  Does it still bring you joy?  If yes, great – keep doing it – add other things that bring you joy and make time to be quiet (however uncomfortable) with yourself.  If it doesn’t?  Stop doing it, try something else.  Maybe being by yourself in the bath listening to Rod Stewart brings you joy.  Great: do you.

When you start doing you it’s like realising you’ve been holding your breath and now you get to exhale.

*

After I wrote the first draft of this blog post I read the book Nothing to Prove by Jennie Allen which put into words better than my own everything I had been feeling.  Almost every page I turned down a corner or underlined something.  This book will remain with me for a long time.  Jennie writes:

“Time with Jesus causes us to feel secure in our identities.  By listening to his voice, we recognise the lies that promise fulfilment elsewhere.  Do you want to know what you truly believe will satisfy you?  Look at where you spend the most time.”

Food for thought indeed.

A Letter to Myself

Dear 18-year-old-self,

You are just about to head off to university to start on a new path, full of hopes and ideas and a very specific plan about how the future will be and what your life will look like when you are a proper grown up.

Firstly, you should know, you’ll always look back on this past year of your life as one of your favourites.   You met and became friends with some awesome girls and you’re not wrong in thinking they’ll still be here fourteen (fourteen?!) years later.  They are now awesome women that you continue to learn and grow from and who challenge you in all the best ways.  They are all strong, all intelligent and will be there for you more ways than you can imagine in the coming years.

It might also surprise you to know that a lot of the boys from this past year will also still be in your life too, some not as close or as much as they were at this time (one way closer ;-))  but you’ll keep in touch and watch and cheer them on from the side-lines in all their coming successes.

The thing you should know is that the plan you have in your head – your life isn’t going to work out like that.  You aren’t going to become some power-suit-with-killer-heels wearing human rights lawyer who travels the world and fights social injustice on a world scale.  You won’t meet the man you’re going to marry at university (you’ve already met him but that’s another story), you won’t get married at 28 and have your first child at thirty and you still won’t be three inches taller, have smaller teeth or have managed to stop biting your nails.

It won’t matter though.  Your life is wonderful, beautifully different and better than you could have imagined.

You won’t really enjoy your law degree and will spend the time fantasising about having done Philosophy and Ethics.  After graduation you will work in one of the most deprived boroughs of London, with the most vulnerable members of society, those living with mental health diagnosis, battling addictions, single mothers and elderly people who are lonely.  You will love the work and will it will lay a foundation for your belief in the importance of human connection, empathy, understanding and support. It is social justice on a small scale, not a grand one, there’s no real glory in serving a deprived community. You will refer to this in years’ to come as your favourite job – despite the terrible money this job made you come alive, taught you a huge amount (mostly about yourself and your capabilities).

Later, you will have the privilege of supporting women affected by domestic violence, people going through emotionally difficult times.  It will be challenging and you will become impassioned about women’s rights because you see first-hand how society ignores them too often.

All of your roles will teach you something but the most important thing that they will teach you is that just because things don’t go to plan that it doesn’t mean that you have failed.

I know you don’t like to quit.  You have not been taught to quit.  A different plan is not the same as quitting.  You have been taught to listen to your gut.  Do that more. At 18 you have this plan and path all planned out and you keep going on it even when your gut tells you that maybe, maybe you should be doing something different.  Trust your gut a little bit more.  Listen to your feelings, acknowledge them and then work out a new plan.

Your heart tells you where you should be and what you should be doing.  The things that you enjoy, that give you a sense of purpose, that make you feel that you are doing something worthwhile, the things that bring you joy and laughter these are things you should be doing, never mind the picture in your head.  The idea of “should” and the image of how it “should be” is not to be confused with what actually makes you, you.

Enjoy it when you’re in it, (you get better at this) appreciate every stage in your life, it won’t come around again.  Ignore the picture, the plan, and go with your gut, your heart, it will be better and it requires you to have a little more trust, be a little braver and to be a little more laid back, no bad things.

You have so much to look forward to.

Love, 31 year-old you.

Light and Salt, Salt and Light

The last two weeks at church the sermons have focused on Matthew 5:13 – 16 where Jesus calls his followers to both be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  Christians widely interpret this to mean that we are called to show our love of God to the rest of the world by our actions, that we will guide others by our love. I love the analogy of salt; it brings out the flavour in our meals and is used to preserve things, to keep them “good”.  It is our tears and our sweat.  If you get salt in a wound it will sting like crazy, but it will also cleanse.  No pain, no gain right?

If this is what we are called to be then we need to be the people that speak out against injustice, against hate and against inequality, against those who use their power to silence others.  We are called to do what Jesus did.  I recently watched the film Suffragette and was reminded of all the women who went before me, who sacrificed to make my position in this country a better one.  So what am I doing in today’s world, when it feels like everything is going to pot, to make others’ circumstances better?  How am I being the salt and the light?

I am speaking out, with as much love as possible, against Trump and Theresa May’s policies, I am emailing my Member of Parliament to ensure my voice is heard, I am signing the Petition to ask our Government to re consider its position on the Dubs Amendment, which gave sanctuary to unaccompanied child refugees from Syria.  I am not “deleting” friends on social media with different opinions because I don’t think echo chambers are healthy and I am trying to engage in discourse, to also listen and to challenge people to think with love.  I will not be silent.  I will try to be the salt and the light, however challenging that might be to me, a person who loathes confrontation.  Here’s the thing though, I don’t loathe it as much as I loathe injustice.

 

 

If you would like to know more about the Dubs Amendment and sign the petition you can do so here:

https://fullfact.org/immigration/ask-full-fact-dubs-and-dublin/

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/sep/05/disgrace-to-europe-former-child-refugee-lord-dubs-calais-camp

https://www.change.org/p/government-save-lone-child-refugees-in-europe?recruiter=71901527&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink

 

If you want to email your MP you can do so here:

www.writetothem.com