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.  

Resilience

waterfall with rainbow iceland

I’m writing this on Good Friday, almost three weeks into lock down, which I’ve been seeing through alone.

It has been a bizarre experience. The shock and uncertainty compounded onto a number of Life Challenges I already had on the table, and suddenly there was no room for anything other than panic.

My experience was initially very much dominated by my ego. Long before the lock down came in, I was going through a separation with a partner who I had been with for almost three years. That experience in itself was difficult, stressful and a big upheaval. In addition to that, at the end of January I put in an offer on a property that was accepted. I was obviously very excited about this but also holy moly people are not lying when they say getting on the property ladder is one of the most stressful things you can ever do.

The lock down came in just before I could reach the exchange of contracts stage of my property transaction, so everything is now on hold. It has meant that I have had to stay in the flat I’ve been gearing up to leave for three months. Luckily my ex-partner has been living at a friend’s house while I wait for the sale to go through, so we’re not in lock down together. That could have been very difficult for both of us. It also hasn’t stopped me from at times wishing they had moved back in, because at the beginning of this dealing with the fear and stress alone felt impossible.

The sudden and indefinite pause on My Big Plan felt like a personal affront at first. The universe was out to scupper my plans and to stop me from getting what I want, of course it was! Wait…

It has been frightening to accept that the process is completely out of my control. It has been hard to accept that I’ve got to now live amongst memories I am feeling ready to forget. I have had to really dig deep for some inner strength to help me endure the constant I Am Completely Alone feeling, and to accept that whilst this is uncomfortable, I can tolerate it. I’ve got to tolerate it.

Slowly, I was able to get my ego to calm down and to see things a little more clearly.

I started to focus on what I needed. Basic things like enough sleep, water and greens. Exercise; I’ve been doing a lot of yoga, a lot of pilates and getting out for a run or walk each day. That’s not driven by hoping to emerge looking like a goddess. That is simply what I need to maintain good mental health.

I’ve learned to appreciate how lucky and privileged I am. I haven’t lost my job like some people have, I’m not trapped in a dangerous situation like some people are, I have a support network, which some people don’t.

Yesterday, a friend mentioned the word ‘resilience’ to me when we were talking about the experience of lock down and it got me thinking. I don’t necessarily think that resilience is what we need in order to get through this (although it definitely helps). I think that we’ll all leave this experience with a lot more of it than we had before.

Resilience for me is a bit like core strength; it’s something you build very slowly over time and you often don’t notice any difference until years have passed.

I think some other ‘things’ we’ll gain from this after it has passed are fortitude, acceptance and tolerance. I feel this can only be a good thing and our collective behavioural norms may be a little softer and gentler when we are eventually in a position to go back to normal.

Normal; strange concept now isn’t it?

What Divoc Is Going On?

yukka plant in pot on balcony

It’s all very strange and stressful, so I am trying my best to keep good habits. I’ve been spending twenty minutes every morning doing a few yoga and pilates moves before starting work for the day, I’ve been doing my best to eat healthily (and give myself treats too) and I’ve been trying to accept that pretty much everything right now is out of my control.

Unfortunately I have no new photos right so I’m re-using this one of my yucca plant and I shall tell you for why! This yucca plant has grown so much since this photo. It’s a nice reminder that things are always changing. Either that or I’ve been in lockdown for too long.

That’s the funny thing really though; everything is always out of our control. I am in no more control right now than I was three months or even three years ago.

Anyway, I’ve had a bad day today. All of the uncertainty and fear has really gotten on top of me and I’ve felt a lot of sadness all day. So I decided to write a gratitude list, and then I thought, why not stick it on the ol’ blog.

Things I am grateful for right now:

  • My family. I’ve had daily video calls, messages, memes and a steady stream of updates on my four month old niece and it has all given me so much strength.
  • My neighbours. I’m only sorry I didn’t get to know them sooner! We’ve got a group WhatsApp thread now and are all pitching in to look out for and help each other.
  • Social media. I always knew social media would have its hey day. After many years of resolutely defending Twitter against ignorant criticism, I’m happy that, albeit under very difficult circumstances, people are finally getting to understand that social media can be a real force for good.
  • Technology. Imagine if the vast majority of us couldn’t work from home right now, if it just wasn’t possible? Thanks to technology, there is a real glimmer of hope for the economy right now.
  • Nice weather. After my pilates session and a couple of times throughout the day, I’ll take ten minutes to just stand on the balcony and soak up the sun. Really wouldn’t be anywhere near as relaxing if the weather was still doing what it did a few weeks ago.
  • Stardew Valley. I know that Animal Crossing is all the rage right now, but Stardew is the one for me. It is so relaxing and wholesome and nostalgic. Sometimes, and I’m not afraid to admit this, I just open the game and leave it on for the enjoyment of the background music.

I hope you’re all finding the inner strength and resilience needed to get through this fog of uncertainty, and I hope you’re all staying safe.