Renewable Energy

As I am sure many of us have, I have been thinking and reflecting on the circumstances I’ve been forced into this year quite a lot. I was going to say ‘quite a lot recently’, but in reality I’ve been reflecting on them constantly since March.

Life is definitely about balance. Time alone can be cherished the most when there is also time with friends and family to compare it against.

After the local restrictions came into force in the North West at the end of July, there were quite a few moments where I wasn’t actually sure how I would mentally survive. I went through a relationship break up at the start of the year, then I bought a flat and moved in during lock down, and after redecorating and furnishing the whole thing by myself, I then had to learn to live alone for the first time in my life amidst a global pandemic.

It has been really, really effing hard.

I feel like I don’t exist anymore!

This is what I cried down the phone to my mum on one particularly bad evening a few weeks ago. I got all the hurt out, then I calmed down and then it started to pass.

I had a whole week off work and did nothing but go to the gym, make stuff from clay and listen to some of my favourite podcasts, including Unexplained and Alonement.

Something slowly started to fall into place. Like a jigsaw piece that’s been put in its place slightly off kilter and has been sticking out for ages, then you notice and slowly ease it into its right spot.

Whilst I still believe that balance is key, having this much time alone has allowed me to fully push through the barrier of pain that I was caught in a few weeks ago, feeling totally ‘invalid’.

Once I was through that barrier, I was left with this big empty space that felt weird at first but I’m now learning is actually just self-awareness. I have started to become very acutely aware of how my body feels and what thoughts pop up in my mind depending on this.

I’ve noticed that when I have self-sabotaging or unhelpful thoughts, it is usually because one or more of my needs have gone unmet. This could be a basic need like I haven’t drank enough water or eaten anything in a while, but it could also be something like I haven’t congratulated myself enough for a small win or something that went well.

I’ve started to really act like my own best friend. I mean, I will actually say to myself when I hit the mid-afternoon slump:

Right, come on love, you need a brew and a snack, and then a stretch.

I even literally patted myself on the back the other day for going ahead with something that made me feel really nervous, but I did it anyway and it paid off.

I’m learning to carry myself and it’s actually not exhausting. I’m learning to really trust and act on my intuition and I’m seeing tangible benefits from doing this. I’m learning how to keep myself company, and whilst at first this felt sad, lonely and scary, it now feels freeing and powerful.

I’ve realised that in the pre-pandemic world my life was going at too fast a pace for me.

I’m extremely introverted and highly sensitive to my surroundings; it’s important for me to choose my company very carefully and to prioritise time alone, because whatever energy is around me I soak it all up like a sponge.

I kind of knew that this about myself back then, but somehow I wouldn’t meet these needs until I had no fuel left in the tank whatsoever and was running on empty.

In today’s world, it’s different. Albeit not being to have friends over to my flat is still very difficult and I am having to dig deep for resilience and inner strength.

But, I know exactly where my boundaries will lie when normality does start to come back. I’ve even start writing ‘just me’ weekends into my diary as well as planned social outings.

This new level of self-awareness and this ‘unlocking’ almost of learning (brutally!) how to be comfortable alone and keep myself company, now means that I no longer experience that empty tank feeling. My mental and physical well-being of course doesn’t feel perfect, but it actually feels sustainable now; it’s like I’m running on renewable energy.

2020: The Year I Bit Off More Than I Could Chew

‘You are being so strong’

‘You’ve got more resilience than anyone I know.’

‘It’s huge what you’ve achieved.’

These are some of the things my supportive friends have said to me recently. At the start of this year I left a relationship that I’d been in for almost three years, and then bought and moved into a flat on my own. I lightly renovated and furnished that flat alone, and am now learning to live alone for the first time in my life. Doing this in the wake of a break up and in the midst of a global pandemic has been extremely bloody hard and lonely.

I am strong, and I am resilient, and it is huge what I’ve achieved. But I’m also so tired. I found myself waking up the other morning and wishing so much that there was someone else there to make me a cup of tea that it physically hurt.

The irony is I’m not even wishing for something that I once had; in my last relationship I made the vast majority of the hot drinks.

I’m just really pining for someone to carry the burden, even just for a couple of minutes.

Back in January and in full on survival mode, I could only think as far ahead as completing on the purchase of the flat, getting in and getting started on the work that needed doing to it. Past that I couldn’t visualise what my life would be.

Now I’m at ‘past that’ and we’re under local restrictions in the North West, meaning I can’t plan in visits from friends and family each weekend and I can’t really start to rebuild my life properly. Unfortunately, that’s very much what I need right now.

Today I am tired of being strong. I am tired of being brave. I am tired of being hopeful and optimistic about the future. I am tired of still having to ‘give it time’ to heal the wounds of my break up.

With so much uncertainty floating about and with the recent news that an old colleague had died very suddenly, I have started plummeting into a very low and unhappy mood.

Oh, there was also the moths nest I found in one of my house plants. That well and truly tipped me over the edge, because I have a huge phobia of moths.

Feeling scared about experiencing this depression alone, I’ve been trying to fix it and stop it. Now, I’m slowly starting to let go and accept that this is just how I feel at the moment, and it’s okay.

It feels like I’m still in survival mode. I’m trying my best to focus on eating properly, drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, and I’m going to the gym as much as my body will physically allow me to.

I sense that my strength and resilience reserves are starting to dwindle and I keep asking myself what comes next? Who knows, more waiting probably.

One of the things I am grateful for is the decision I made in the past to really gut the flat the second I moved in. Moth invasion aside, this place feels incredibly homely now and I do not think I could cope mentally if it still looked (and smelled) anything like it did the day I first moved in.

The only thing I can control right now is how I respond to all of these external factors, circumstances and events. I’m trying to choose acceptance. I’m sad; that’s okay. I’m scared; that’s okay. I’m hoping I’ll be able to have my family and my friends over to visit again soon; that’s okay. I’m struggling to adjust to living alone more than I expected; that’s okay. I’m impatient for the life I want to create for myself; that’s okay.

Whatever it is, it is okay and it will pass.

Awareness Level Up

yorkshire dales in the snow

Recently I have been lightly nudging people towards my Kindle ebook ‘Run Away Moments’, simply because it’s a way to generate a tiny bit of passive income and I often get good feedback from people who have read it.

It is a collection of 16 non-fiction short stories of my time backpacking and living overseas. It’s far from perfect, and the last time I read it I spotted more than one spelling mistake, but it was a very enjoyable lesson in self-starting. I learnt a lot about writing and why I enjoy it, and I taught myself how to format a book for Kindle and how to market a digital product using email campaigns.

A few people have purchased it, which still gives me a delightful feeling of excitement, but it has also prompted me to remember where I was in life at the time that I wrote it.

After my visa for Australia ended, I moved back home and knew what I wanted, but I didn’t quite know how to get it. I haphazardly made my way to Sheffield, where my life became a bizarre and draining parallel of making real, tangible progress towards my professional goals and becoming truly, dangerously burnt out.

I look back on that period in my life and the internal emotional pain that I carried every single day comes flooding back. I was scared and desperate to get to where I wanted to be.

I worked 3-4 jobs at the time. Office during the week, bar at weekends, freelance proof reading and also voluntary contributions to a wide range of online magazines, events and stuff I got involved in through my blog.

I had a lot of feelings to deal with following my departure from Melbourne that instead just got pushed to one side; a break up with a boyfriend, struggling to re-connect with friends back in my home town, fear that I wouldn’t achieve my goals.

I turned into a mess, unable to think even just one clear thought for months on end. Things culminated when a friend tried to commit suicide, and the stress of life broke me. I threw my hands up in the air, dropped the many plates I was spinning and moved back in with my parents.

At the time, it felt like the ultimate failure. But now I can see that it was actually the first time since moving back to the UK that I actually listened to my own needs and did something about it.

Being at home then enabled me to focus on learning to look after myself again. I started eating properly, I started running again, I stopped doing so many different things and I just focussed on getting to the next step. My goals were to build a career in digital marketing, and within 8 months I’d finally gotten over a big hurdle in that journey; I landed a job with a marketing agency in Manchester, and braced myself for another big move.

Once in Manchester, I naively thought things from this point on would be easy. They of course were not. Agencies, as I learned first hand, are a ruthless way to learn how to survive in the corporate world, and I started to get burnt out and stressed all over again.

I started to feel so fatigued and like I just wanted someone to look after me. I started to look for an outside fix, also known as external validation. Little over a year later, I entered into a relationship and immediately started investing far too much energy into that instead.

What I didn’t realise at the time, is I thought finally ‘having someone’ would make the unbelievable amount of anxiety I experienced on a daily basis magically disappear. Of course, it didn’t. Thankfully, I made a very wise decision early on in that relationship; I started having counselling. I went sporadically and sometimes with long breaks, but I kept going. The sessions became harder and harder over time, but my awareness of who I am, what I want and what I need reached levels that I didn’t even know existed.

After three years I’d built a very strong emotional foundation, which unfortunately also revealed that I was outgrowing what had been a very unhealthy relationship from the outset. That relationship ended shortly after this realisation, which I now can see very clearly is for the best.

What I know now is that the way to not burn out and feel like life is too hard, is to learn to listen to your intuition and set boundaries with yourself and others based on what your intuition tells you.

I look back on my younger self, a very eager, very anxious, very nervous woman in her mid-twenties who, despite crippling anxiety and depression, still managed to forge ahead and write an ebook, amongst all the other things she managed to do, and I’m able to feel compassion and gratitude towards her.

She did her best with the level of awareness she had at the time, it’s not her fault that she didn’t know how to look after herself better and it’s okay that she missed a couple of spelling errors before listing the book on Amazon.

She had so much fear that things wouldn’t work out as she hoped and I sometimes wish I could go back and tell her that things work out just fine. She learns how to manage her anxiety, how to listen to herself, how to set boundaries, how to take criticism without feeling personally hurt, how to think commercially. She learns to stay level headed regardless of whether things are bad or good. She learns how to trust herself more than anyone else. She buys a property on her own; a dream that she’s had from a very young age but always secretly believed would be too hard to do.

I used to look back on younger versions of myself and feel disdain or frustration at the decisions I made, but now I focus on compassion and gratitude. That time in my life definitely wasn’t happy, but it was necessary for my growth and it got me to where I am right now.

Still

Months of organising, years of saving, a lifetime of visualising. I’m a homeowner now. I keep getting hit by waves of discomfort, triggered by the unfamiliarity of having total autonomy in my own home.

For my whole life I’ve always lived within someone else’s space, whether it’s a rented room or a joint tenancy.

My first week as a homeowner has reminded me of two very small pockets of time that I experienced whilst living in Melbourne a few years ago. On two separate occasions during my time there I looked after a friend’s cat; two different cats belonging to two different friends. Both times I lived at the respective friend’s home while they were away. Both times were until now, my only experience of living entirely alone.

I remember both of those cat sitting episodes vividly, because they were both extremely serene, peaceful and relaxing weeks. I enjoyed the freedom of pottering around at home alone, I enjoyed the silence, and I enjoyed the stillness you can sense when you wake up somewhere and know you’re the only person there.

Now in my new home living alone, that stillness is back. I had completely forgotten how wonderful it feels to me.

Peace and quiet isn’t for everyone, but it most definitely is for me. The lock down restrictions we’ve been put under have come as a hidden blessing. At first the thought of being isolated with no social contact for so long was scary, but as time passed and I got back in touch with what being alone feels like, I suddenly started to feel more and more rejuvenated with each day. Now, it’s the thought of returning to a faster pace of life that scares me!

I feel well-equipped for it though. With my own space where I know I can be still, I’ll be able to re-charge my batteries far better than ever before when life gets busy again.

It clicked on my third or fourth day here. I’m now going to be able to live out those two lovely weeks of cat-sitting indefinitely. Yes, there is unfortunately no actual cat this time, but there is endless peace, quiet and stillness. It feels incredibly liberating.

Power

“You can’t. You think you can, but you can’t. You need to step back. Stop thinking you can. Things might not just work out. You’re asking for trouble. You can’t do this.”

If the knot of fear I can feel in my chest and the weight of self-doubt in my gut could speak, this is what they would say to me in unison.

With less than a week to go before I start to pay a mortgage on my first ever home, all kinds of self-sabotaging thoughts are waltzing right out of my subconscious and to the forefront of my mind.

Buying my first home is a lifetime dream come true. It is something I have fantasised about for many years. It is a milestone that is incredibly important to me, because autonomy and independence are two things I value greatly. 

In my late twenties, my boyfriend and I agreed to save up and buy a house together. Our goals and values were aligned. Less than two years later, we both realised that our values and goals were not aligned. As my desire for a home had grown stronger, his had weakened and dimmed. Suddenly my gut instinct that something had not been right for a while made perfect sense and I didn’t feel crazy anymore. Unfortunately, feeling sane isn’t quite the release when you also feel heartbroken.

Following the feelings of shock, disappointment, betrayal, anger and despair at everything I had envisioned for our future suddenly evaporating into thin air, I somewhat impulsively made an offer on a two bedroom flat in South Manchester. The offer was accepted, and suddenly I was navigating the whirlwind of property buying on my own.

Now that has all passed and I’m a few days away from completion. There are no more admin hurdles, there is nothing left to do, there are no more chances of anything going wrong. It’s happening.

All my life, I have let fear get the better of me. I have let myself come so close to truly realising my dreams and then retreated back into my shadow at incredible speed. 

When I was 14 years old I wrote a plot synopsis and three full chapters of an action & adventure vampire novel. Both of my brothers read it and excitedly told me they couldn’t wait for more. 

Somehow that positive feedback scared me more than anything and I never touched those drafts ever again. I put them all into a plastic wallet, put that wallet into a box, and shoved the box under my bed, where it stayed for many years. Occasionally I would take it out and look over everything feeling a deep yearning to tell the rest of the story, but I never did.

At 24 years of age, I moved to the other side of the world and made a fantastic life for myself from scratch in Melbourne, Australia. I found a place to live, a job and a huge network of friends all by myself. I built a very happy life there, and nothing went wrong. Everything worked out fine.

Now here I am, in my early thirties and in Manchester, UK, feeling like moving ten minutes up the road is ridiculous, too big a dream and destined to fail.

Why don’t I think I can get what I want? Why do I think me living out my dreams and things being okay cannot co-exist? Why do I find so many things to worry about? How did I become so utterly dominated by fear?

My worries about the flat have ranged from planning in great detail what I would do if armed robbers stormed in through my front door to how I would handle it if the flat turned out to be haunted. 

Why not just let myself be at peace? Why am I so afraid of my own power?

That is what lies at the root of all this really. Power. I am powerful, beyond measure. We all are. 

I have used my power to overcome so many challenges in my life, to forge a way forward for myself, to grow and change and learn. I’ve used it to create too. My power has created the beginnings of a vampire novel, it has created a life from scratch in a faraway country and it has enabled me to walk away from a relationship that is no longer meant for me. It is not possible to do anything of those things if you are powerless. 

Now, I’m using my power to establish myself in my own home. 

And yet, I’m feeling the pull to shy away and creep back into my own shadow. Why?

I think I know why. I think it’s because the shadow is familiar. It feels safe and comfortable. I know the shadow better than I know the wide open space of fully standing on my own two feet. That wide open space makes me feel exposed and vulnerable.

I am afraid of stepping into the spotlight of my own life; I am afraid of stepping into my own power.