“What if…” you asked yourself a better question?

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“What if…”  Two words that are so often followed by some kind of disastrous potential scenario. I should know, I’ve asked myself those sorts of questions far more times than I care to remember. From the more mundane,

“What if we miss the plane?”

to

“What if that temperature is meningitis?”

“What if my bad back is a slipped disc and I have to have an operation?” Closely followed by “… and I for some reason I die and my kids have no mum? I can’t bear the thought of how upset they’ll be.”

To someone that’s never suffered from Anxiety (as opposed to more ‘normal’ anxiety) it must sound totally crazy. It sounds crazy to me, now.  But that kind of ‘snowball’ thinking (where your thoughts literally spiral out of control until you’re imagining the worst possible scenario) has been normal for me for too many years. It would leave me an anxious mess – until of course none of those scenarios I’d imagined ever happened.

You won’t be surprised to hear that I’ve never missed a flight, my kids’ temperatures have never been meningitis, and I didn’t need an operation on my back. Oh and I’m not dead. But would really happen if I missed a flight? Am I really likely to die from a back operation (if I even needed one) and if I did, yes, that would be pretty traumatic for all of my family, but would they be ok? Yes, of course they would, in time.  Because stuff happens all the time to people all around the world. That’s called life.  But it’s taken me a really long time, and a lot of work recently, to get to a place where I get that. And it’s still a work in progress that takes conscious effort from me – but I can now see when it’s happening and have ways to shift my perspective.

A huge part of the shift has come from one simple change – learning (from some of the amazing people I’ve been working with) to ask a better question.  And learning to ask myself “does that thought serve me? Does that help me in any way?” If the answer’s no then can I find a different thought?

As in the quote in the picture (one that I’ve always loved and was reminded of recently), instead of the “what if” being bad, we can choose to look at the amazing “what ifs”. Just as “what if I fall?” can become “what if I fly?”, so “What if I fail?” can become “What if it’s amazing and the best thing I’ve ever done?”

But even positive “what if” questions can be a bit dangerous as they can so easily be met with the opposite negative.  An even better question to ask is “How can I …?” Or “What can I do…?” because both more naturally lead to more positive answers. So for me, I’ve changed “What if I never get better (from CFS)?” to “How can I give myself the best chance of getting better?”, “What’s the best thing I can do right now?” and “What do I need to do to help my body recover?”  Or going back to worrying about making a flight – “What can I do to make sure I’m on time for my flight?” That naturally leads to thinking of solutions rather than focusing on problems and what could go wrong. And of course when you focus on solutions, things are far more likely to go well.

Probably one of the most important questions you can ever ask about a situation you’re worrying about though is “Is that within my control or outside of my control?” With the flight scenario, certain things are within your control, like leaving plenty of time. But certain things aren’t, like traffic problems – yes you can leave some extra time but you can’t control the traffic conditions. If something’s out of your control, worrying about it is totally fruitless.  If I do happen to miss the flight, only then do I need to think about that. And I can ask myself “What can I do now? Can I see if I can get the next flight?”

Believe me, I know that’s all so much easier said than done, but as I’ve started moving towards a more positive way of looking at things, I’ve found I’m naturally worrying less, because the pathways in my brain have become more used to looking at the positive instead of the negative.

Amazingly, just like a path you would walk down, the pathways that your brain uses to send messages to other parts of your brain, become wider and easier to travel down the more you use them. As an overgrown, narrow path gets used more and more, it naturally creates a more well-worn pathway.  In exactly the same way, if you practice thinking more positive thoughts, your brain makes those pathways easier and quicker to send messages along. There’s a huge amount of neuro science that backs this up – mine is an incredibly simplistic version but simple’s always good to me!

“A man can be imprisoned in a room with a door that opens inwards, as long as it never occurs to him to pull rather than push.” Ludwig Wittgenstein

It’s all about the way you look at things and what questions you ask yourself. Are you asking “What if I’m trapped in here forever?” Or “What could I do to open the door?”

Hazel X

 

Learning to be me. “If we slow down just long enough to see the beauty in a single flower, imagine what we might find in ourselves in a quiet moment.” Melanie Rogers Jimenez.

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It’s perhaps rather apt that I’ve used the quote above about the sun when I’m writing this whilst sitting in my garden on a hot English summer’s day, with the sun on my skin. It doesn’t seem long ago at all that it was Autumn and I was lying in bed, day after day, looking out of the window – which I’d always have open, whatever the temperature, to get some fresh air in.  Whilst I’m definitely a summer girl, I do love each of the seasons as they all bring something different and have a beauty of their own.

I don’t think anything in nature stays exactly the same, day after day. Plants and animals, the sea, all change over time, even just in minute ways. It’s why I love Linda Hall’s quote above so much.  It’s a reminder that the sun doesn’t go anywhere on a cloudy day, it’s still there, it’s just hidden by a layer of cloud. And at some point that cloud will part and we see the sun again.  And we are the same – the light is there within all of us, and given time, and the right conditions, it will shine again.

Over the last months I’ve been seeing the process I’ve been going through as being one of learning about myself and who I really am. But it’s come to me that it’s not quite true. Yes, I’ve been learning a huge amount, but the truth is that I’ve known all along who I am. What I’ve been learning is how to accept and embrace the person that I’ve always known was there, but was hidden.  I’m not so much discovering myself as re-discovering.

I look at my seven year old daughter now, so vibrant, and so naturally ‘her’ (actually, rather sadly I thought, she mentioned to me the other day that one of her friends is always ‘trying to be posh’ and she couldn’t understand why. But whilst my heart sank at the thought of girls so young already trying to be something they’re not, it started a conversation with my daughter about just being who we really are.) And my son, who doesn’t think about who he is, he just ‘is’.  It can be easy, over time, to lose sight of our natural selves as we try to fit in, to be the person we think other people want us to be. But that’s exhausting.

I look back now at my pre-children Public Relations career and I just think ‘what was I doing?!’. Seriously, there could not be a job I was less naturally suited to, but it sounded like the sort of job a confident, fun, outgoing person would do – and boy did I want to be that person.  For ten years I tried to play that part. But it wasn’t me. And it drained me. I constantly felt an underlying sense of anxiety as daily I put myself in a situation that I just didn’t feel at all comfortable in.  There were parts of it I enjoyed of course – it involved a lot of writing and creativity. I was in travel PR and I loved talking and writing about other places. And the people I worked with were (mostly) lovely. But it never felt right to me. I always felt that the ‘real’ me was hiding away, trying to be someone I wasn’t.  But I didn’t have the confidence to be that person – to say ‘this is me, like it or hate it.’

Meditation has been instrumental in helping me gain clarity.  Like so many other people, I used to think meditation was about trying not to think, which unsurprisingly I found impossible. So I thought I couldn’t ‘do’ meditation. But it’s not about that at all. What I’ve learned from wonderful teachers like Linda is that it’s about feeling it rather than ‘trying’ to do it.  It’s letting thoughts come and go, like clouds drifting through the blue sky, and coming down from your head into your body, usually by focusing on something like your breath. It was only when I stopped trying that I really found that peaceful place where I felt less in my head. And that really allowed those clouds to start shifting and the joy, my inner light, to start shining again. And my rather over-bearing friend anxiety has naturally calmed.

Now that the clouds are gradually parting, I can see myself again. And I’m finally starting to love the person I see. So now I’m just being perfectly imperfect me. It feels like a load has been taken off my shoulders and I feel lighter as a result. Perhaps not surprisingly I’m feeling some energy coming back, as I stop using it to fight myself, and I’m less weighed down by my own expectations of me.

If you’d like to listen to some of Linda’s wonderful meditations, you can find her on YouTube if you copy this link, or search for ‘Linda Hall’.  They’re all free to listen to. I love them.

https://m.youtube.com/channel/UCTDiRJp9MeAgZbmwmq4w4GA

Hazel x

Positive thinking or positive feeling – which are you doing?

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“Think positive.” How many times have you heard those words?  They’re always well-meant but don’t they sometimes make you want to scream? If you suffer from anxiety then you know all too well that simply ‘thinking positive’ isn’t the answer.  In fact I bet you then use those words to beat yourself up a bit – asking yourself why you can’t seem to ‘think positive’ or why trying to think positive isn’t making you feel better. It might help you for a few minutes, a few hours maybe, but all too often you then go right back to where you were before. And I also believe there’s a danger of trying to force positive thoughts in place of more challenging feelings, which only buries them, without allowing you to feel them and work through them.

The answer is in two very different words. Think. Feel. They’re worlds apart. I could also add in Know. You can ‘think’ something, you can ‘know’ something in your head (knowledge is power right? Well, no, not unless you know what to do with it!). But neither of those are any good unless you also truly ‘feel’ it. In your core. Otherwise you’re just living in your head, not your body.

I’ve ‘known’ for months that to help calm my over-active nervous system down (which, by the way, controls virtually every aspect of your body, which is why with an illness like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome you can get so many apparently unconnected symptoms, including anxiety), I need to be positive (which can be hard when life seems to be giving you plenty to feel negative about!). But there is a huge difference between thinking positive thoughts and actually believing them and feeling them. Thinking positive often means thinking something that doesn’t actually feel true.  For example I could think to myself ‘I’m going to get better.” But if I don’t really believe it, what use is it?  Ok it’s better than thinking the opposite, but when you feel it and believe it then that you’ll really feel a shift inside of you.

So how can you make that shift from thinking to feeling and believing? It’s amazingly simple yet incredibly hard sometimes.

Find the positive. The real positive.  What can you find in your situation that is really, truly positive?  There will always be something no matter how bad things seem.  As an example, I think I’ve mentioned before, that the first thing one of my amazing coaches, Raeya from CFS Health, asked me to do was write a list of all the things I CAN do. It was a short list. At the time I was housebound and in bed for much of that time. I came up with 10 things, like ‘brush my teeth’, and ‘have a bath’. She also asked me to write down everything I was doing on a daily basis to improve my health and wellbeing.  Writing these lists focused me on what positive things I was doing. I was finding the positives in my situation. And because they were true, I wasn’t trying to convince myself, which is what ‘positive thinking’ often feels like.  I’m now a few months on and decided to write another ‘what I CAN do’ list. In 10 minutes I’d written 50 things.  The increase from my initial 10 things was partly because I’m gradually becoming able to do more, but in the most part they were things I’ve always been able to do, I’d just taken them for granted. So on my list were things like I can breathe, smile, laugh, cry, listen, love, learn, be inspired, inspire, eat, think, plan dream… Suddenly I’m thinking ‘Wow look at all the things I can do!’ I’m not trying to think positive thoughts, I’m feeling positive!

Another quick example. I’ve worried at times over the past months what effect my situation is having on my two children. Well, the other day I was lying outside and my seven year old daughter asked me to play with her. When I asked what she wanted to play (expecting to have to say no as it would be something I wouldn’t have the energy to do) she said, “Let’s play relaxing. And I’ll make you a fan.”  Isn’t that awesome? I could feel bad that at the moment I can’t (please note ‘at the moment I can’t’ not just ‘I can’t’ – there’s a big difference!) play with my kids as much as I’d like to, take them out places, take them to school etc. Or I could find the positive – which is that seeing me going through a challenging time is helping them build life-skills such as empathy, kindness, resilience, independence, determination and an appreciation of life and the people in it. It also made me realise I could come up with other fun things to do with her that don’t require much energy, like painting our nails, making face packs out of mashed avocado. (My son’s harder – he mainly wants to play football so still working on that one!)

Finding the positive in things means you believe what you’re thinking and you truly feel that positivity in your heart, your core. And the more you do it, the more you’ll naturally start seeing the positives in more things. And once you’re looking at the world that way, the negative thinking will naturally diminish too.

So what have you been thinking negatively about? Can you look for a positive?   There’ll be one somewhere… and if you need help to get you started, just comment below and I’ll see if I can help!

“When life gives you a hundred reasons to break down and cry, show life that you have a thousand reasons to smile and laugh.” Power of Positivity.

Hazel x

https://m.facebook.com/findingthepositives/?tsid=0.42757148134525713&source=typeahead

“I don’t regret a single moment, no I don’t. Looking back, when I think of all those disappointments, I just laugh…” George Michael and Aretha Franklin

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Around this time a year ago I walked up my first mountain – Mount Snowdon in Wales – with the hubby.  I’d always dreamt of walking up either Mt Kilamanjaro or Mt Kinabalu in Borneo – in fact we were close to going to Borneo for our honeymoon 11 years ago.  Neither ever happened (I never put in the work to get fit enough) but my mountain dream remained so we decided to go for something a bit closer to home for our 10 year anniversary.  It was hard work – even though it was actually probably the fittest I’ve ever been, which isn’t saying much – but worth every step for the glorious views and sense of achievement.

Little did I know that three months later, after physically and emotionally exhausting myself, I would literally collapse with Chronic Fatigue and Anxiety (due to my over-stressed nervous system) which I now know I’ve had in a mild form since Glandular Fever when I was 17.  Or that a year later I would barely be able to walk down the road, let alone up a mountain.

But this year I’ve just had another ‘first’ experience. A little more sedate this time though – I spent the weekend with a group of (wonderful) people I’d never met before on a Yoga, Meditation and Shamanic Journeying retreat.  I slept on my own in an Airstream caravan under the trees in the retreat’s beautiful setting in the Kent countryside and joined in the communal meditation and as much as I could manage of the yoga sessions each morning.  It was a blissful couple of days that left me feeling inspired, more at peace with myself, full of strength and confidence and a far greater belief in myself and my ability to heal my body.  I had some real lightbulb moments as well and can hardly believe that in two days I could learn so much about myself.

Feeling a connection to the magnificence of nature, from the majesty of the Welsh mountain last year to the delicate blue mayflies dancing around Kent’s River Darent last weekend, always leaves me feeling grounded and joyful. And giving my mind the space and time to really relax allowed it to step away from the daily noise, which is when the mind can nourish itself and deeper feelings and emotions get the chance to emerge. Like the sun emerging from behind a cloud, those feelings were always there, hidden behind the constant chatter of your mind.

That’s why meditation is so powerful. And you don’t need to go on a special retreat to do it. I’ve been meditating daily for about six months now, to help calm my over-wrought nervous system and quieten my over-working mind. It’s become a part of me now.

So looking back over this last tumultuous year, would i change it if I could?  Part of me screams ‘YES! In a heartbeat’ but there’s a larger part of me now that says ‘No, I wouldn’t change a thing.’ I have learnt, and am still learning, so much about myself. I wouldn’t want to go back to the stressed out person doing everything at a hundred miles an hour. Thanks to the last nine months I’ve found out that a simpler life, that’s more true to who I really am, is what I’ve craved. I may be finding it out the hard way, but it’s true that you appreciate far more the things you’ve had to work for than those that come easily.

So if, at the moment, you feel like your life is a mountain you’ll never be able to climb, just keep putting one foot in front of the other and trust that you have it within yourself to get there, if you put in the work.

“Never regret a day in your life. Good days bring happiness, bad days bring experience, worst days bring lessons and best days give memories.”

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“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Ferris Bueller

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Let me ask you a question.  When something isn’t working right with your TV, computer, iPad or myriad of other electronic devices, how often have you tried that age-old solution ‘switch it off, then switch it back on again’?  Et voila, problem solved, working again. And how often do you recharge all those gadgets you can’t live without? Daily? Would you leave the house and go off for the day with your iPhone sitting at 10%? Or would you make sure it was fully charged, so it wouldn’t run out?  Ok, so that was five questions.

Just like our electronic gadgets, we humans run on energy.  So how come so many of us treat our gadgets better than we do ourselves? We religiously charge them, or switch them off to reset a fault, but how often do we recharge ourselves, or switch ourselves off?  Is it any wonder our poor minds and bodies struggle to cope when so often we run them down to the last few per cent but expect them to keep going?

I’m writing this from Cornwall, where I’m spending the half term holidays with the hubby and kids.  I wake up each morning and go to bed each evening with a view of the sea from my bed.  I’m not sure there’s anything more relaxing than watching and listening to the waves lapping – sometimes roaring – onto the shore of the beach.

I’ve sat on the beach meditating. I’ve watched surfers riding the waves and my kids mucking about in the shallows. I’ve felt the breeze on my face, I’ve stopped to look at the exquisite fragile beauty of wild flowers, I’ve felt the sand beneath my feet and the sea water between my toes.

And every moment I’ve felt my body, mind and soul softening and letting go, connecting to the earth and recharging through nature’s subtle but powerful energy.

It’s taken me a lifetime to learn how to really relax and recharge myself – and I’m still learning.  I have to remind myself constantly.  This week is a complete contrast to where I was mentally and physically last week.  I was emotionally drained, my head was a fog of tension and my body was exhausted.  But during the last few days I’ve felt more alive than I have in weeks. I’m still taking care of my physical energy limitations and am resting frequently but I’m also recharging my mind and soul by making sure I get outside and do the things I love.

There is far less room for my dear friend anxiety to come knocking at my door when my mind is being calmed by nature, or I’m in the flow of painting.

My wonderful meditation teacher (Linda Hall – seriously, please look her up on YouTube and try her guided meditations, they are bliss) says that we are as much a part of nature as every living thing – we’re made of the same stuff, the same minerals. But we spend so much time indoors, on our devices or locked in the busyness of our minds in this crazy world. Spending time in nature recharges us, reconnects us to what we’re made of, and takes us out of our minds and into our senses, which gives our minds space.

Give yourself permission to just stop and recharge. Yes a holiday or a day out in nature is great but find a way to build recharging yourself into your daily life. Whether it’s sitting outside for five minutes to meditate (even if you have to wrap yourself in blankets!), standing barefoot on the grass or even just stopping now and then to take a few deep breaths, there are so many ways to make looking after yourself as much a part of your daily routine as plugging in your iPhone.

So yes, it seems Ferris Bueller had it right back in the 80s (yikes how old?!). Taking time out of the busyness of life, to really appreciate it and all that we miss around us each day when we’re blindly rushing through it, is essential to living our best life.

Slow down. Look around you. Stop. Breathe. Feel your feet on the ground. Smell the roses. Your body and mind will thank you for it.

x

“Life isn’t about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself.” Buddha’s Teaching

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Who are you? Who do you want to be? Do you believe you have the power to change yourself and your experience of life or do you think you are who you are and that’s it?  Do you believe your thoughts can change your behaviours?  Could they even help change your health? Big questions.

Today has been ‘M.E / CFS Awareness Day’ and as someone recovering from CFS I’ve had a lot of stories and status updates come into my newsfeed. They fall into two very distinct camps – those that believe that there is no cure and they will suffer with the illness forever, managing their symptoms and waiting for science to find an answer, and those that believe they will recover and that they are in control of that recovery.  Did you notice the language I used at the beginning of the paragraph? One of the first things I learnt was not to use the phrase ‘I’m suffering from…’ but to use ‘I’m in recovery from…’. It’s not in the realms of possibility for me that I won’t recover. I don’t see it as an option. Ok, so I’m human, of course I have moments or days when it all gets on top of me and that dark thought ‘will I ever get better? What if I don’t?’ creeps in. But I try not to dwell there. I’ve now learnt to accept that’s how I feel in the moment and then look for ways to remind myself that recovery is possible.

Sorry if I offend anyone now (I am absolutely NOT suggesting that CFS is all psychological, I know that’s not the case) but which of the two sets of people I described do you think are more likely to recover from their illness?

The following Native American story is a perfect analogy of literally nourishing yourself with helpful thoughts rather than destructive ones:

The Two Wolves: A Native American grandfather is talking to his grandson about how he feels about a tragedy in their village. “I feel as if I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is the vengeful, angry, violent one. The other wolf is the loving, compassionate one.” The grandson asks, “Grandfather, which wolf will win the fight in your heart?” The grandfather places his hand on his heart and replies, “The one I feed.”

That’s not to deny the darker side of yourself or try to rid yourself of it. You can accept it’s there, but you don’t have to feed it.

I found myself thinking the other day “I can’t wait until I feel better and can start enjoying life again.” Thankfully I’m learning which thoughts help me and which take me to a place I don’t want to be.  I had a lightbulb moment. What am I waiting for?  What a waste of precious days or months of my life sitting waiting to ‘get better’. No. I want to find things I can enjoy right now. Ok so right now I can’t do many of the things I used to love, like being out in the countryside, walking, swimming, running) But what an opportunity to find something new!  So I tried something I’d been thinking about for a few months. I painted. I haven’t painted since I was about 13. My sister is an amazing painter (I have two of her pictures in my hallway) and always has been, so at school I did the typical sibling thing and dropped art because I wasn’t as good as her so why do it.

I picked up the brush with no expectations, really not caring about the outcome, just wanting to enjoy the process. In fact, I surprised myself, it wasn’t too bad! By no means amazing, but for a first attempt I was pretty pleased. But I wouldn’t have cared if it was rubbish, it wouldn’t have mattered. I lost myself in something for half an hour and went into that beautiful feeling of ‘flow’ that’s almost like a type of meditation, where anxiety and darkness can’t exist.

If you’re not happy with where your life is right now, you DO have the power to change it. Don’t be the person that resigns themselves to a life they don’t want. Choose which wolf you want to feed.

Here’s the beginning of my painting. The first tulip. With a few words of inspiration.

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“Optimist: someone who figures that taking a step backward after taking a step forward is not a disaster, it’s a cha-cha.” – Robert Brault

The last few months have felt like I’m in a game of snakes and ladders. No sooner do I move along a few spaces or, if I’m lucky, up a ladder, than I land on a snake and have that deflating feeling as I slither back down again. It’s less fun in real life than the board game, but if I keep in mind that being at the bottom of the snake is only temporary and I’ve progressed up the board before, then I can stay focussed on the fact that a step backwards isn’t the end of the game. I can move forward again and with perseverance I can get to the top of the board.

And unlike the board game, life isn’t just about the luck of the dice. I’m learning every day more practical ways to help me move up the board, step by step to where I want to be.

The hard part is that sometimes when you’re engulfed in one of those days where you feel hijacked by anxiety or negative thoughts, your head can feel such a jumble and so overwhelmed that it’s hard to take a step back and remember all the things that you know help you feel better.  So my advice today is to have one place to go to where you have everything written down.

I have two large notepads that I keep together in one place. One is a scrapbook where I’m gradually collating – like a Blue Peter project – pictures, photographs and quotes that I love. And things like poems my daughter’s written, cards from friends. Everything in there brings me joy, lifts my spirits and reminds me what’s important to me. It’s a great way to take me out of a negative place.

In the other book I write down things I’m learning along this journey – as suggested by my wonderful coach at the CFS Health Clinic.  Tips, thoughts, feelings, actions I can take. Over the last few days I’ve made a few important lists that again I can go to easily to help me if my head is full of negative chatter and I’m struggling to feel positive. They are:

– a list of everything that’s awesome about me. We spend far too much time criticising ourselves – we would never speak to a friend the way to speak to ourselves. So, a bit more self-love is definitely a good thing. For example, I know I’m caring, loving, kind, sensitive, determined and brave – I’ve done many things in my life that scared me like jump out of a plane, hold a tarantula, travel around Australia alone, compete in a triathlon and, of course, open up very publicly about my current recovery journey from anxiety and chronic fatigue syndrome.  Everyone will be able to make a list of things that are awesome about themselves – even if takes a real battle of wills to silence that inner critic for a while.

– a list of all the times I’ve gotten through a bad time, like I’ve survived a panic  attack or I’ve managed to do something I didn’t think I could

– everything I’m proactively doing to get better, for example feeding my body good nutritious food, using meditation to relax, learning about how else I can help myself, resting when I need to, asking for help etc.

– I also now write down every evening three things I’m grateful for. They can be as big or as small as you like. It might be as simple as being grateful that my bed is so comfy, or for my kids making me laugh because of something silly they’ve done. It could be for the fact I have hot water at the turn of a tap. Or the kindness of a friend who sent me a thoughtful card or gift.

The next list I’m planning to write is all the positive things about having to deal with anxiety and CFS. No I’m not crazy, if you look hard enough they are there.  I’m learning that I’m stronger than I ever thought. I’m receiving so much love and support and it’s bringing me closer to people because I’m opening up and others are opening up to me in response. I’m learning what’s really important in life – and what’s not.

So now any time I need a lift I have all these amazing resources to hand. And they work. Especially the more you use them – the brain is like a muscle that needs to be exercised.

So get writing. It’s amazing what you’ll come up with – and even the act of doing it is taking positive action which can help you feel more in control.

“Your mind is a garden, your thoughts are the seeds. You can grow flowers or you can grow weeds.”

Hazel x