Living a simple life: E is for Exercise

E is for… Exercise

This post is part of the 2017 A-Z Challenge. Woot! 

As a kid, I hated PE. I was the daydreamer in the corner, constantly buried in a book. By the time I was in secondary school, I used to truant from PE to play Dungeons & Dragons.

As a small kid, of course, I used to play – running around participating in some made-up game with rules that made sense back then but wouldn’t now.

These days, exercise is something I do more for my mental health than my physical health (although it is fun to feel yourself getting stronger).

In both periods of depression, it was yoga that got me moving, and that then provided a stepping stone to more energetic form of exercise. That more energetic form of exercise helped boost me – a tiny bit each time – giving me enough energy to start thinking again and then to start living again.

The exercise I enjoy includes:

  • This came up when I searched for ‘yoga drawing’ and I have no idea what it has to do with yoga. But I LOVE IT.

    Yoga. The base of my routine, and something I try and do every day, if only for five minutes. I will write more about this later (spoiler alert: probably for the letter Y).

  • Bodyweight/dumbbell strength-training. I am not a strong person, I tend towards being skinny which is great from a weight point-of-view but makes it hard to build muscle. Still, I am trying to regularly do push-ups, squats, dumbbell rows and the like. It’s hard. My body aches right now from the workout I did yesterday.
  • Pilates. A recent addition, I started doing pilates after work with a colleague. My core strength is pretty terrible.
  • Running. I am not a runner, but I started to use Zombie Run and for a while I enjoyed it. Then my shins started to ache, I realised my shoes were very old and I quit. I keep meaning to buy new shoes, but… see my previous entry about not buying anything in April.
  • Dance workouts aka Zumba and similar. I do these to YouTube videos, and they usually make me happy.
  • Walking. I have a fitbit. I enjoy long hikes in the outside world. My walking buddy and I are training for a ‘someday’ dream of walking to Machu Pichu.

The thing with exercise is I rarely want to do it, but I am always glad to have done it. Pushing through my ‘lazy’ barrier each time is hard… but I am getting better at it. These days I am managing to exercise in the morning, which is a fairly major shift. I have never been a morning person.

They say that exercise is a ‘keystone habit’ – a habit that supports other good habits. When I exercise, I feel inspired to eat more healthily, I feel more energetic, I feel better able to tackle other challenges. I am far, far less likely to spend the day vegging out in front of the TV.

Living a simple life: D is for Dressing

D is for Dressing

This post is part of the 2017 A-Z Challenge. Woot!

When I first planned out what I was going to write for each letter, D was originally for depression. I don’t really want to define myself by depression though. I’m moving forward into a calmer, happier future – not hanging on to the past.

Then I was going to write about dogs. I really love dogs. Dogs are AWESOME. Sadly, I have never had a dog. My partner has, and I get to play with an office dog three times a week. But, dogs have not been a significant part of my life thus far — though I hope they will be in the future.

So now I am going to talk about ‘dressing‘ or ‘dresses’ or ‘clothes’ (but clothes doesn’t start with a D).

My friend wrote a post about some of the perils of trying to dress yourself, which is interesting and relevant and says many things I agree with.

I have a lot of anxiety around clothes, as perhaps do many people. As a kid, I wore only second-hand clothes – cast-offs from other children a bit older than me. As such, I never really had a style, nor did I develop one.

When I got to university, I went clothes shopping with a student loan burning a hole in my back pocket. I bought my first ever ‘outfit’. I do not remember what it was. I did not really understand clothes, myself, or style.

It didn’t help that I viewed myself as, well, unattractive. Not in a particularly self-hating way, but I had bad acne and couldn’t really see any way that a particular style of dressing would make me NOT have bad acne.
So I wore baggy jumpers, jeans, walking boots. I opted for practical over pretty. That became my ‘style’, by default really.

But… every now and then I bought something. A short plaid skirt. A purple waistcoat. A tight, chinese-style dress. Clothes I bought and then… just never wore.

But I gradually realised that… I actually liked clothes.

I have a Pinterest board entirely filled with clothes.

There is clearly a style that I like. Unfortunately for me, it’s also clearly an expensive style. I like intricate patterns, colours (especially purple), high quality materials, iridescence. I have a thing about texture — I really kind of hate polyester. I like silk, satin, velvet, breezy cotton.

In short, I am secretly a clothes snob.

What does this have to do with living a simple life?

I guess it’s about paying attention to the details. I tend to just throw on whatever clothes I have. I usually take the easy option of jeans, t-shirt, jumper. But with a bit of thought, a bit of time (and maybe a bit of money) I could start dressing in a more meaningful way.

 

Living a simple life: C is for Consumer

C is for consumer (and credit cards)

This post is part of the 2017 A-Z Challenge. Woot!

Alright! We are three letters into the alphabet already, the sun is shining (it was when I drafted this post anyway), I have an enormous pot of pea soup simmering on the stove behind me… so what better time to talk about CONSUMPTION.

I have credit card debt. It’s not something I like. I have this whole plan to pay it off by the end of July. As such, I’m setting myself another April challenge (alongside blogging everyday). Namely a NO SPEND challenge.

Yes, I am buying groceries. But no take-away, no new books, no clothes, no random stuff for the house, no flowers, no over-priced cups of coffee. It means I need to plan more, think more, and oh… pay attention.

We live in a culture saturated with stuff. I do actually enjoy spending money – I love travel, I love eating out, I love new experiences. But, for April, I am going to focus on what’s free.

The #instagram life – in pursuit of perfection

I have a bit of an obsession with self-improvement, and with self-perfecting type books. I don’t watch a lot of TV, and I have an ad-blocker on my browser, so I don’t see many adverts. But I do go on instagram, I do look at the carefully curated perfect vignette, I do read ‘lifestyle’ blogs. Yeah, I am subscribed to Goop – and only partly ironically. I look at tours on Apartment Therapy. I crave the stylish, simple, super-expensive and self-described ‘minimalist’ chic.

I bought a magazine about simple living the other day, to read in a coffee shop. It was stuffed with adverts. Adverts for cute, eco-friendly, fair-trade stuff that was probably woven out of toxin-free hemp.

I want the vitamix blender, the white linens, the single vase of flowers.

I want the goddamn bullet-journal.

I want to be a different person. You know. The person who has it sorted. The person who is effortless, light, breezy and flowing. The person who only bought one thing, but that one thing was perfect.

I have yet to buy a perfect thing. I try for an organised, clean, #nofilter life, but the truth is, my whites keep going grey after I wash them a couple of times, I spilled marmalade on my floor the other day, and I killed the potted herbs I bought within about a week of buying them.

That went a bit off-piste. However, the core holds. A month without consuming extra in an effort to seek perfection that doesn’t exist. A month of enjoying what I already have. And, hopefully, a chunk of change to apply to the credit card debt.

Living a simple life: B is for Breathing

B is for… Breathing

This post is part of the 2017 A-Z Challenge. Woot!

Yesterday I posted about why I am rebooting my blog, and focusing on living a simple/happier life.

One of the ways I clawed my way out of the dark hole that is depression was with a mix of gentle yoga and meditation.

With the meditation, I started with guided meditations. With the yoga, I started with youtube videos – specifically the restful/relaxing/stretching/sleeping ones.

In both cases, there were a lot of times when they asked me to stop and focus on my breathing. To take longer, deeper breaths. To breathe into my belly.

Here’s the kicker: it worked. However agitated, miserable, angry, anxious and exhausted I felt — and trust me, I got pretty miserable — whenever I took the time to breath slowly and focus on my breath I got a tiny little mood boost. At the start that maybe only took me from ‘deeply miserable and angry’ to ‘sad and irritated’ but it was still a boost.

Breathing is a reminder that you are alive. It’s also, to me, a reminder that everything changes. Nothing is static. Even when you try and hold yourself completely still, your lungs and heart and thus your body is in motion.

A few breathing techniques

On a very basic level, slow your breathing down.

Lying on the floor feels nice. Try placing a hand on your belly and feel it rise and fall with your inhale and exhale.

Try inhaling through your nostrils for 3 seconds (count slowly), hold your breath for 2 seconds, and then exhale slowly through your mouth for 4 seconds.

Alternatively, try some yoga breathing exercises, there’s a great set of Pranayama videos to watch at Yoga with Adriene.

Relax.

Breathe.

You got this.

Living a simple life: A is for Attention

A is for Attention

This post is part of the 2017 A-Z Challenge. Woot! 

I’ve been thinking a lot about this blog, and about my life in general. Last year was a difficult one for me: I almost certainly slipped into depression, although I did not get formally diagnosed. Still, I spent a lot of time staring at the wall with my thoughts circling the drain.

Thankfully, a mix of counselling, exercise, self-reflection, omega-3 supplements, yoga and meditation has pulled me out of it.

So what is this about, and what does it have to do with the A-Z challenge?

When I first started this blog, I did so with an A-Z challenge. The posts were short and perhaps perfunctionary, and I didn’t gain any long-term readers from it (I don’t have any long-term readers!)

I’ve been blogging in one form or another for over fifteen years. But in recent years I’ve moved away from creating, writing, exploring, and toward consuming. I lost the art of long-form journal writing in favour of short Facebook updates. Facebook updates that were, at best, a highly edited, extremely bland version of me that was both Safe for Work and Safe for Extended Family.

XKCD: Fuck. That. Shit.

So – I want a reboot. Blogging is important to me. Owning my own platform, however few readers, however little attention it gets, is important to me. I’m not going to pigeon-hole myself into a particular blogging niche. This isn’t about brand, or selling myself, or monetising. It’s not about readers (though anyone who does read this, hello, good to see you around!)

A is for… Attention

Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are. –Jose Ortega y Gasset

Look: I’m easily distracted. It’s modern life. I carry a tiny-but-powerful computer around with me in my pocket. It gives me instant access to most of human knowledge, a bewildering kaleidoscope of opinions, an endless array of cute gifs, and it’s so easy to use.

So when I emerged from my depression, I found myself blinking at the endless amount of time I had wasted — apparently trying to read the entire internet.

There’s a South Park episode about weed. Somewhere during that episode, Randy says: “pot makes you feel fine with being bored, and it’s when you’re bored that you should be learning some new skill or discovering some new science or being creative. If you smoke pot you may grow up to find out that you aren’t good at anything.

I’ve never much liked weed. But I do like my smartphone, and I use it a lot. I use it multiple times a day. It’s like a tic, during any moment of quiet, any pause, any brief lull in the rhythm of the day – out comes the phone.

Endless gratification. I can post a picture to instagram and tag it with a hashtag and almost immediately get a couple of likes.

Endless entertainment. I can open a dozen websites that feed me news, opinion, how-to articles. I can graze wide and far on information, none of which I’ll retain (and much of which isn’t relevant).

Meanwhile, the seconds of my life tick away.

Calvin & Hobbes: Never not relevant

So this post is my declaration of a reboot. I am going to use this A-Z challenge to force myself to blog daily. To help me explore and figure out what’s important to me. To help me balance my consumption of content with the more creatively satisfying creation of content.

I am going to use this A-Z challenge to remind myself to pay attention.

Pea soup and kilner jars

I went to Ikea last week. I have only been to Ikea twice. I get excited about it, then I get there and I get overwhelmed.

I like to think about my house, how I want to live. I browse through Pinterest and Apartment Therapy and imagine – I want a four-poster bed, a reading nook, a grown-up tree house, colourful rugs, dozens of vibrant pot plants spilling out of the corners.

I also want the minimalist look, blank walls, scrubbed wood, a single beautiful bloom in a simple vase. It’s hard to unite these two desires. It’s hard to unite myself into a single person. I spill out over my edges, sometimes. I want everything.

It’s been a hard year, and now I’ve found this domestic happiness. I get excited about organising the kitchen cupboards. I bought kilner jars at Ikea, and then I stuck labels to them all and now my kitchen looks like an instagram post.

Except now I’m trying to make pea soup, to use up the dried split peas I had, and what do you know – they are so old that they are refusing to go smushy, but instead stay hard and slightly crunchy. It’s been cooking for hours. I gave up on it as a dinner option, and instead cooked something beige out of the freezer. I’m almost giving up hope. They feel like they are getting crunchier instead of softer.

I worry, sometimes, that my dreams have become so tiny. I used to dream about travelling the world, visiting Japan, writing a best-seller. Now I would settle for a label on a kilner jar, and some decent pea soup.

Maybe it’s not so bad though. Tiny dreams are achievable.

Getting healthy

So, as part of the whole ‘re-starting my life’ deal, I’m going to get back into the healthy habits that I lost somewhere in the past six months.

For me, getting healthy starts with food. Now, to be clear, ‘going on a diet’ is a terrible approach to getting healthy. Diets, particularly those that are restrictive — no carbs, no fats, whatever — are pretty much going to stress you out. They contribute to overall unhealthy eating patterns, and — assuming you take up a diet to ‘lose weight’ — are going to fail.

Food underpins my health, both physical and mental. Food is something to celebrate; good food brings me joy. And food connects me with friends and family. Life would be far less fun if I couldn’t share a meal out with P. or gift a friend some cupcakes.

My focus when it comes to eating well is nutrition (as opposed to weight loss/calorie restriction). I strive to eat lots of vegetables/fruit, whole-grains, and good fats. I try and eat a varied diet, throwing in random different items and trying out new recipes as much as possible.

My food challenges tend to revolve around adding things in rather than taking things away. Drink more water, eat more vegetables and so on. Focusing on adding good foods means you don’t stress about ‘forbidden items’. Drinking more water automatically means you start drinking less soda, eating more veg means you eat less junk food almost by default.

My favourite food tracker is cron-o-meter, because it lets me track nutrition. Most trackers put way too much emphasis on weight loss/calories, but cron-o-meter comes more from the nutrition/optimum health end of the spectrum.

Nutrition is interesting. I am not an expert (more curious amateur) and I have read many many articles and blogs over the years, ranging from vegan-raw-food ‘vegetables are everything’ to the club-swinging, ketogenic loving, paleo offal-is-key.

Again: I’m not prescriptive. There are many routes up the mountain, and many diets that can work to make us happy, healthy and fulfilled.

So, today kicks off day one of me trying to eat more mindfully, and to make more healthy choices. I started the day with roasted tomatoes, asparagus and a poached egg (verdict: delicious) and then made a huge batch of pea-and-vegetable soup (pork stock, dried green peas, onion, garlic, celery, carrot and celeriac) and for dinner I shall be eating some left over chicken and dumpling stew.

I did also eat a cupcake, because cupcakes are good 😉

Performing a U-Turn (pretend like you knew where you were going all along)

We all have plans.

Those plans, the big ones, become part of our identity. “I’m the science-type who’s going to make a career in bio-tech.” “I’m the self-sufficient sort who is going to build my own eco-friendly house from scratch.” or “I’m the kind of l33t player who is going to be a World Champion in World of Warcraft.”

I have wanted to move to the USA since I went there as part of a University exchange program. It didn’t matter that I went to a podunk town in the middle of rural Ohio. I loved the place. I loved the wide-open vistas, the idea that I could go into a real wilderness, the way everyone was so open and friendly, and even the food — venison, steak, ranch dressing, refried beans (not all on the same plate!).

When I met P, I fell in love and we agreed to get married. Initially, he had to come to the UK as I had a better paying job. We decided he would get his British Citizenship (two-three years) and then we would move to the USA.

For the next seven years that was the plan. We shifted priorities, but that was always the end game. I would move to the USA. We delayed it when I got my breakthrough job as Digital Communications Officer (until that point I had nothing that resembled a ‘career’), as I knew I needed at least two years experience.

But, at long last, I filled out my visa application. I let my employer know I would be leaving in a few months. And… I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Delays can mean legal immigrants (yes, even those married to an American) sit on a waiting list for months and months. In our case, I had already been separated from P  for most of the previous two years due to ‘life reasons’.

A year of waiting for the visa slipped by.

Our relationship, until that point incredibly strong, began to suffer. Both of us were ‘living in limbo’, waiting for a decision that could come at any point. Both of us were struggling alone, dealing with loneliness, the difficulty of communicating across different time-zones, and (in my case) the impossibility of planning your life when you have no idea if you’re going to be around for a week or another year.

Then I got a new job. A great job, part-time, that would give me time to write and still leave me with enough money to cover our living expenses.

Friendships I had formed in the UK were reaching ten and twenty year anniversaries. The thought of leaving them behind became devastating, especially as I leaned on them more and more in P’s absence.

But this was the plan. We had to stick to the plan. We had invested years of our lives and thousands of dollars into the plan. No matter that we were unhappy, lonely, and that I was less and less sure about the benefits of moving to a place with little work and no public transport.

Until, one day, I couldn’t take it anymore. I had a bad week. I was sick, and then I got food poisoning. As I threw up, alone, I realised I was done waiting and being alone.

The realisation was both terrifying and a relief at the same time.

The realisation that we could just stop.

Of course, it would be difficult. Giving up on anything is hard. We had spent the last couple of years ferrying suitcases of possessions across the Atlantic. P. had put a lot of work into trying to create a home for us in the USA. Our families had to be told. It was emotionally difficult.

It meant giving up on a dream we had held for a long time.

But giving up was less difficult, and less devastating, than trying to hold on.

Sometimes, you have to change direction.

Maybe that is giving up on a long-term relationship.

Maybe that is giving up on a career you’ve invested years into building but that isn’t making you happy any more.

Maybe it’s giving up on the idea of becoming a World Champion WoW player, because, hey, you need to focus on your job.

And maybe it’s giving up on the idea of living in another country.

 

Hello 2015

Happy New Year! Etc. Etc.

I already have my 40 before 40 list, so I don’t really feel the need to set myself more goals at this point in time. The only two real resolutions I have for this year are:

  1. Write *something* every single day — even if it’s just a full-stop.
  2. Complete the 100 push-up challenge.

My ability to manage my life generally is good — I eat pretty healthy, without obsessing. I exercise reasonably, without beating myself up when I miss a week or two. I have income and feel reasonably confident about the future.

My main hope for 2015 is to finally get my visa and move to the USA. But as this is somewhat out of my control, I’m not setting it as a resolution.

Farewell 2014

This has been a strange year.

  • I left my job and went to America for 3 months, where I survived on goodwill.
  • I watched my visa get further and further away.
  • I experienced an emotional roller coaster of goodbyes and hellos.
  • I made money from freelancing.
  • I wrote several flash fictions and two first drafts of novels.
  • I read 64 books.
  • I lay for hours in the sun.
  • I made new friends.
  • I lost old friends.
  • I celebrated my sixth wedding anniversary, but spent only 3 months in 2014 with my husband.
  • I waited for my life to start, and meanwhile my life kept happening all around me.

Tomorrow I will write about my hopes for 2015.