Festive Gratitude Moment

During the festive season there’s a lot of asking of what people want and sometimes that can feel pressured to want something more than what you have. I do it myself to other people. The main thing that I think could be rephrased at this time of year though would be to also to take a moment and be grateful for what we do have.

Often times we find ourselves so awed by advertisements and the sparkly marketing that makes you think you need that new great big shiny TV, or a new dress for each time you want to go out out, or that my life would be more fulfilling if I have this, then that then something else because the last thing didn’t live up to the promise of transforming my life into the perfect fulfilled smiley one that I had hoped for from buying that product.

Realistically I know this isn’t the case at all however, I think there is a lot of power and well-being to be had from taking a moment to be grateful and reframing how we think about what we have. So I thought that for day 2 of the Blogmas challenge I would focus on a list of festive themed gratitude.

1. I have a decent shelter over the cold months and beyond.

2. I can afford to buy enough food.

3. I can cook food in a real oven.

4. I have family to catch up with.

5. I have friends to share some festivities with.

6. I will get some down time from uni deadlines over the holidays.

7. I really enjoy a hot gingerbread latte in a warm coffee shop when it’s cold outside.

8. I’m not going to have to deal with the “it’s-too-hot-and-I-need-to-take-off-more-layers-and-I’m-already-naked” situation that comes with summer.

9. I really love all the festive puddings: bring me all the spiced raisin filled sweets!

10. Mulled wine on a long evening is delicious, and even more delicious shared with friends.

11. The festive seasons theme of good cheer always give me a kick in the right direction of catching up with old friends: and I always really enjoy that part of Christmas season.

12. I love a good sing and dance along to Christmas songs.

13. There’s nothing better than having a big nest of bedding, alone or with your closest, and hot water bottles and watching TV.

14. The sparkles of the Christmas lights really cheer up a dark and dreary night.

15. I have enough funds to give the odd donated present to charity organisations, and some food and blankets to homeless people.

16. Cheese boards and wine!

17. It’s far easier to stay inside and study when it’s cold and dark outside.

18. That I no longer have an eating disorder so I can take part and enjoy the festive foods I like.

19. I have had a good year this year and feel content with myself for the end of the year. This hasn’t happened for a long time.

20. The future is looking positive and bright for me, and I’m really excited for what is to come rather than dreading and fearing the future.

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Om The Bus with Michael Townsend Williams for Lululemon, Regent Street

img_2034.jpgOne buzz word amongst health and wellness circles that I can really get on board with is “mindfulness” and “meditation”. I think there is a lot to be harboured from the power of breath, stillness and taking time to really observe how you feel. I often use apps, however sometimes it is nice to go somewhere and immerse yourself in an environment designed for calm – that is what happened on the Meditation Bus by Lululemon in Regent Street, London this evening.

Tonight the christmas lights got switched on along Regent street and Oxford street. Lululemon had their meditation bus set up outside their Regent street store with guided meditations from one of their ambassadors Michael Townsend Williams. Michael is the founder of Breathe Sync – an app for connecting you breath and heart beat together in a meditation.

When we went on the bus we sat down and received some headphones. Michael guided a meditation in belly breathing, nasal breathing and becoming aware of how we were feeling in that moment. I noticed a lot about my current state – and that I struggled to belly breathe. This is unusual for me as I have practiced and practiced over the years of practicing mindfulness that it is unusual for me to find myself struggling to not engage my chest in my breath. I also felt consistently short of breath which is also unusual for me, and I thin this was connected to my difficulty with breathing with my belly rather than my chest. I didn’t realise how tight I was until I settled into the meditation and noticed the discomfort that I felt in my body.

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If you can attend a class by Michael Townsend Williams at all I would recommend it. I have had yoga with him before at the Lululemon Regent street store before. Both times I have come across his classes he has been very good – he has mastered the calming and relaxing vocal tone. He has mastered the pace at which to speak and intonate. He has a very calming energy about him that is very inspiring and makes you want more peace in your life and realise the power you hold in achieving this for yourself.

Here is a video by Lululemon if you feel like finding a little bit of calm right now: 

We’re Not In Control of Anything, Other Than How We Choose To Respond to Everything.

I’m working on a group project at uni at the moment. If you’ve been to uni I’m very sure you understand the pain of trying to pull people together to work on one thing who have different ideas about studying, about how to study, how close to the deadline we leave our work, if we do the work at all or try to coast through and learn from failure. We are 9 different people.

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Another group member and I were talking about the woes of our group. They expressed their frustration at people not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, about how we shouldn’t be having to nag so much and how they couldn’t bear not being able to make people do what they’re supposed to do. Donald Trump shouldn’t be president and we shouldn’t be entering an age of global nuclear threat – and we are.

However, this situation got me thinking about control. Personally, I have a very complicated relationship with control that I have had to work on over the years. I have had to take the journey from a very unhealthy relationship with control to a more balanced one. That relationship has ultimately wound up with me where I am today, in this place right here and now. I have struggled to accept that I am not 100% in control of my life. I have more autonomy now than I once did – and that boils down to having control over the only thing I have control over: myself.

I don’t even have full control over that. I can’t decide what I want to weigh and make sure that happens because my body will metabolise and respond to my diet, exercise and medications however it will. I can control my diet, but control and diet is somewhat of a complex relationship; I don’t think diet is something to “be controlled” per se so I don’t try to control it anymore. There is liberation in letting go of unnecessary grasps at control because ultimately you can’t programme your reactions or metabolism or biological processes. You can influence them, but control? Nope. Not happening. Of the things we have control of in our lives it is not entirely of ourselves and it is certainly not of others, and even more unfortunately and definitely, not of what happens to us either. What, if anything, are we in control of then?

We are in control of how we choose to respond, behave and frame our perceptions when we think and act. I say this loosely, by thinking I mean choosing acceptance, non judgmental ness and being mindful. We can choose how to respond to what happens to us and what we are confronted with in our lifetimes. Let me highlight a recent example.

At the start of this group project I was getting stressed about people not pulling their weight – I spoke to a few of my homies and they all said “take a step back, it’s not worth it”. So I did and you know what I realised? I had the power to control how much I responded to that situation, which in turn affected how much I let it affect me. I could choose to get het up and make it of high importance or I could choose to frame the situation in relation to the bigger picture – it is a first year module that only requires a pass and I am working with some people who may not even return in January. There is great power in choosing my battles when it comes to not losing my shit. Although I did need the help of my homies to help me figure this out, I still figured it out.

We do have the choice in how we respond to whatever may come our way and for as frustrating as life can be, for as frustrating as other people can be, as we can all be, we can control very little in our lives except how we choose to relate and respond to what happens to us and around us. It’s important to take ownership of that small piece of control we all have over ourselves and our lives.

So if you see someone with a pram struggling with stairs you can take the choice to walk on or stop for a moment to help. If someone is mean to you, you can take the choice to be mean back or to ignore them. If someone smiles at you in the street, you can ignore them or just smile back and let the world be working with you instead of against you. It really is a very simple idea, but admittedly sometimes very hard to implement into our mindset. It is a journey that we are all on – and we make the decision about how we respond to the lumps and bumps in the road of our journeys that defines us to the world.

If You’re Only Hitting the Gym for a Hot Body – You’ve Got The Living Thing All Wrong

I”ve been trying to get involved in helping people become more active through various projects and tasks set as part of my Nutrition BSc degree. These past 2 weeks I’ve been quite the hypocrite in terms of being as active as I would like – oh Hai again Depression. From uni projects that I’m involved with in trying to get people more active there is a heavy ideology, from numerous people, who I’m going to say have the best intentions at heart. That is that the reason we exercise is to look a certain way. Nothing more. Nothing less. This is a very big problem. This is a very big problem indeed.

They genuinely believed exercise is a means we go through in order to sculpt, change and gain a body that looks a certain way in order to find the elusive happiness and ease of life that comes with a “perfect” body. Internally I’m screaming. Internally I’m banging my head on the table top harder and harder with each time this underlying notion comes to the surface.

Looking a certain way and achieving what is “perfect” for that generation or time is not the answer to all of your questions. Trust me. I wasted 10 years believing the same thing, when I was the same age as the people I’m talking about and I look back with full eyes, shaking my head and thinking, “Shit! Something needs to change.” because it seems the pressures have gained momentum since I was that gullible girl too. Instead of just not eating, which is relatively easy when you’ve got a complicated conundrum of emotional and mental health needs underlying that behaviour. However, now, you have to eat right, ergo, eat what’s trendy and most expensive and over priced at the moment. You also have to do a million squats to get a good ‘booty’ – for who? I don’t know about you, but as I go about my day to day business I rarely even see my arse.

One notion to get people being more active – which isn’t a new one goes along the lines of this, “lets hold a competition of who can do the most activity throughout the week or month – we can use FitBits or pedometers.” We could if we want to send out the message that more is always better in terms of being active. This isn’t something I can support. I can’t get behind this.

At school when I was in Year 8 we did a similar competition, minus the technology, and do you know what it taught me? It taught me how to count calories. It taught me that in order to burn those calories I had to move more. It taught me how many calories were in a chocolate bare vs an apple. It taught me the difference between regular Coca Cola and Diet Coke. It had me reading the nutritional info label on my water bottle – don’t worry, there’s no calories there, just minerals. This was all before I knew about eating disorders. It was before I was even aware of my body shape compared to others because I was 12 – I was still a child.

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2011-12 : During Anorexia

So skipping back to modern-day when I am no longer living in the innocence of the end of childhood, do I work out because I want a Kardashian booty? No. I don’t give a shit if my arse warrants a peach emoji? Do I want a 6 pack? If I do, then shredding at the gym every day is definitely the way to go about it. What happens though once I have that 6 pack? Do I stop? Or do I keep going to maintain my 6 pack that, let’s be frank, very few people are going to give a fuck about unless they’re some shallow person who wants to shag someone with a 6 pack and be done with me. By falling into that mentality and culture you objectify yourself. You give yourself no value more than your appearance and I’m going to tell you exactly what I think about that:

I THINK IT’S BULLSHIT
BOLLOX
COMPLETE AND UTTER CRAP

You know what the peach emoji can do? It can kiss my derriére.

To put this into perspective even more, when you’re in your coffin at our funeral I very much doubt someone will utter the words, “what a shame? And she had such a good 6 pack as well?” and you know what? They won’t even see you arse because they lie you face up. I guess you could probably put a request to go in face down so everyone can see your beautiful perfectly shaped bottom in rigour mortis. That would be something to talk about to lighten the mood I suppose.

I’m not saying that body image isn’t important. It is important to not hate your body. It is also important to learn to love your body – but guess what? Your body does so much more than look a certain way. It fights injury. It fights infection. It allows you to run 5K if you so wish. It allows you to have sex. It allows you to taste and smell and experience and it lets you do the monkey bars – I mean, what’s better than being able to use your body to play and being able to. Stop wasting your health on vanity.

 

 

Apple Harvesting and Juice Making with The Orchard Project

Last week at Growhampton – a sustainable social enterprise at the university of Roehampton, we teamed up with The Orachrd Project and  harvested apples from the campus orchard. Until recent years the orchard was completely grown over and had been neglected for a period of time. One of the tasks that Growhampton and The Orchard Project undertook was to re-open up the orchard from the overgrowth and maintain it. The Orchard Project started as an urban orchard project in London and now helps maintain community orchards nationwide. The fruit of this labour, is as predicted, a variation of fresh apples growing on the healthy trees. Last year some pear trees were also planted and will come into fruition within the next 3-4 years.

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In order to harvest the apples we used a tool which was a bit like a small pond fishing net but instead of catching fish, we were catching apples. Once the apple is in the bag you position the bag so the branch goes between the teeth of the entrance to the bag and snaps the apple free from the tree. This on a really long pole, which extends to what must be ~3m in length at the maximum extension. This makes it quite hard work because when the weight of the apple drops into the bag it takes a bit of effort from your shoulder, arm and back muscles to keep control of the pole.

When harvesting we separated the apples into ones for cider and ones for juice. If they had become bruised then they went into the cider pile. On Sunday we went to the pressing site in an arch way at Herne Hill in South London. We had ~550Kg of apples to sort, crush and collect juice from. It was quite as big a task as it sounds and took a whole day of work between a team of 10 people in order to get through the yield.

The first stage was quality control. If there is a lot of bruising then the apple was discarded. If there was only a little bruising then we just cut it off. The reason for this is that when the apple bruises beneath the skin a chemical reaction occurs and the waste product of this can spoil a batch of juice. However, when fermenting for cider it is destroyed in the fermentation process – which is why apples with bruises are OK for cider and not for juice.

We washed them once in the first bucket, then again in the second before piling them into crates. From these crates the apples went into a pumped up blender that smashed the apples up into small pieces and churned them out of the bottom. Form this you make cheese – which sound odd but that’s what it is called. It doesn’t involve real cheese.

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Apples mashed up and waiting.
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Making cheese

The building cheese process involved using a square frame within which a cheese cloth fabric square was placed at a diagonal angle. The smashed apples were scooped into the frame then once the frame was full the cloth was folded over in one direction. Once the frame was removed a wooden pallete was placed on top and the process happened again until there was a pile of apple parcels stacked upon one another separated only by the wooden palletes. Once stacked as tall as it could go and still be able to fit under the press the basin rotated 180°. The machine then slowly raised the base upon which the pallettes were stacked upon. In the process all the juice was released from the apple and funnelled out through pipes in barrels of juice.

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Processed with MOLDIV
and press…

Each time apples are pressed from an Orchard the juice and cider are different because of the variety of the apples changes from orchard to orchard. This means that no two batches of juice or cider are identical.

The Orchard Project works to enable communities to conserve and utilise the natural orchards around the country and in London that may have been neglected and forgotten about. In return for the apple yield The Orchard Project give 50% of the juice yield to the orchard or organisation who maintains each orchard, and use the other 50% to bottle and sell for funds to keep The Orchard Project going.

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Source: http://www.theorchardproject.org.uk

The drinks produced by The Orchard Project in London is called Local Fox Cider and London Apple Juice – it is a dry cider with no sugars or juices added in the process. It is a completely natural process of fermentation that occurs naturally. Both products are produced only from apples harvested from the urban orchards of London. More than producing juice and cider, The Orchard Project is a community project that empowers local communities to develop community spaces and harvest.

I really enjoyed getting involved with the harvest and juice pressing with The Orchard Project. It was good fun and speaking for myself, I really enjoy getting involved in community projects like this: you tend to meet nice people, have a bit of a giggle whilst you work and in return I had some banging apples from the orchard day and a Local Fox Cider: both of which were banging by my account.

To find out more The Orchard Project and see what they’re up to in your area click here.

 

 

 

Future Self – A Letter I Wrote to My Future Me

Last year, in a bid to try and improve my life I bought The Daily Greatness Journal. I am a big fan of the self improvement trend that’s been going on because I believe that we can all always be better at something in our lives – and the tools out there for self improvement can help with reaching those goals. There is not such thing as perfection, but there is definitely always room to learn, improve and enhance our life experience.

When I did the prep activities in my Daily Greatness Journal I was quite low in mood; it took me about a month to get through all of the goal setting, action planning and writing letters of forgiveness, acceptance and missions to myself. One activity was to write a letter to yourself to open in a years time. I didn’t stick with using my Daily Greatness Journal for more than 3 months because the level of positivity in every question was too much for my winter depression brain to handle. I did however take from it that goal setting, and self reflection on a regular basis can help with achieving what we want from out lives.

I learned about self efficacy, about picking myself up after a blip, about accepting myself where I am right now in order to achieve the goals I want to, about the effect of practicing daily gratitude, daily mindfulness and the art of perseverance. I’m not saying I’ve mastered all of these qualities, and I am saying that this journal helped me focus in on my behaviours to initiate behaviour change and improve my ability to have and utilise these qualities within myself. It helped me dig deep to access my ability to achieve the goals I want.

It’s not wonder cure for a stressful life, and it is a useful tool in helping hone in to your behaviours that may be more or less efficient to change what you want to. There are plenty other tools, journals, books, apps, and sites out there with similar principles. The Daily Greatness Journal is the only one I have used so I cannot comment on comparisons of products – but there’s so much out there at the moment there is bound to be something suitable for your own style and needs if you want to find it.


Since writing down my goals in the way that The Daily Greatness Journal asked me to, I cemented them into my mind. So in this letter to myself, I wrote about what I wanted to achieve in the next year. I wrote it on the 22nd October 2016. I know yesterday was the 3rd, but the temptation grew too much seeing as I was so close to the date, but hey, it’s pretty much been a year. So here goes, here’s my Letter:

To Future Monica,

It is now late October 2016. A year ago I had big hopes for 2016 and lots of plans, but it hasn’t gone quite according to plan.

So far this year I don’t feel very accomplished, pleased or proud of myself. I am rather disappointed. My mood hasn’t levelled out as much as I’d have liked it to by now. I have better coping skills from DBT for not engaging in target behaviours but I don’t FEEL any better. Currently I am very angry and frustrated with my team and the majority of staff involved in working with me.

I have recently started university and I am finding this change difficult to cope with. I never finished my book. I didn’t go climbing much, and not at all with the club outdoors. I’ve stopped running. Exercise isn’t as much a part of my life which saddens me. I enjoyed it.

So I haven’t been admitted much. I’ve not been in contact with emergency services as much by far – and these are positives but it doesn’t mean I’m feeling or coping particularly better.

A lot of energy has gone into DBT and resisting target behaviours, and target behaviours that focus on my QUALITY of life have diminished. I want to change this within the next year, or at least move towards making this change for myself and my life. Things I would like to achieve working towards this are:

  • Exercising regularly
  • Run 10k race, maybe a half marathon
  • Climb regularly
  • Lead climb outside
  • Explore outdoors and nature more via walking, climbing, camping etc
  • Read for pleasure again
  • Keep writing
  • Have some good quality close friendships
  • Keep studying and do well at it
  • Eat healthier and cook more

and within myself:

  • Feel more stable and/or able to manage my mood better
  • Feel more energised, fit and healthy
  • Feel strong, mentally and physically
  • Believe in my own capabilities
  • Have a more positive outlook on my life and future

and finally, ENJOY myself more,

All the best,
Monica

When I read through this it helped me to reflect on a period of time that was longer than a week or day at a time – and it made me feel better about myself, and the changes that have occurred in the last year.

I have been quite aware recently that things had greatly improved. Recently, with thanks to Facebook memories and such, I can see snippets of where I was 1 and 2 years ago. I was in a very different place. 2 years ago to the day I was discharged from my longest stay in hospital at that time. I remember this as a very disturbing and quite traumatic time in my life. 1 year ago, I started University and I was trying really hard to get involved with running again with little success. I was low, and I wasn’t coping or enjoying going to uni. With help I managed to stick it out and I’m so glad that in those months of thinking I wouldn’t be able to do it that I did.

So where am I today? Today I am training for the London Marathon 2018. Today I am studying my 2nd year at university. Today I am functioning more, dressing more to my own taste and style as opposed to living in tracksuits because they’re basically pyjamas you can wear out and about. I signed up to the gym again and I actually use it. I speak to people more and have ever so slightly less anxiety about doing so. I believe that this degree if within my capabilities and I’m damn well going for it. I get up each morning and I’m able to. It’s not always easy but the main difference is that I can and I do.

I’ve achieved a lot of that list already, and perhaps some more than I ever imagined that I could back in October 2016:

  • I exercise a few times a week now. It has become a habit and when I miss to many days I miss it. At the moment, this is a definite lifestyle choice I am making and managing.
  • I’ve smashed 10k in February, a half in April, Tough Mudder Half, and I have a 10k this weekend that I’m excited for and not too nervous about.
  • I’ve been climbing more and am bordering on being better than I’ve ever been at climbing.
  • I’ve been on a few walks and outside ventures. I went to Sardinia and explored the nature in another country – and get this, I enjoyed it. I really really enjoyed it.
  • I’ve read about 6-7 books this year for pleasure.
  • I’m writing right now, so…
  • I’ve managed to make some friends and connections where I live, through running and am exposing myself to more situations where the possibilities to make friends and have human connection is more possible.
  • I’m still studying and I did well enough to feel pleased with myself in my 1st year despite the challenges I faced and the time I missed.
  • I cook every week at the moment and have been experimenting with recipes from all the books I’ve bought over the years.

and as a result:

  • I feel more able and capable of managing my mood and the associated problems
  • I feel more energised, fit and healthy. I’ve started to see muscle gains from my training too which is always a nice bonus.
  • I feel quite strong physically and stronger than I was mentally. I am more able to take the hurdles as they come and manage them more effectively than I could before.
  • I believe that I can more than I ever have.
  • My life feels very much worth living. I am making plans for the next 1-2 years and I can see myself being around to take part in those plans. For the first time in years I don’t think I won’t be around in the next 1-6 months.

I mean wow! I’m 99% sure I will be alive and well for the mid and long term of my life unless a catastrophic and freak accident happens. I’m not even praying for such an accident to happen because you know what? I am actually enjoying life at the moment – even with the ups and downs that happen to us all. It all, finally, feels very very worth it.

This exercise has been very useful for me – so I think in the next week I will write myself another one. Lets see where I am in a year’s time. Hopefully, I’m still doing well, enjoying my life, and happy to be alive. Some of it is pot luck with my illness. I doubt I will ever be free of being potentially knocked sideways by my illness – but that doesn’t mean I give up, sit around and wait for it to happen. It means instead that I try and give my life a damn good go. It means I make the most of the time that I have when I am feeling well. It means I am pro-active in creating the life I want so that when I am knocked off my feet that I have a life I love to get back to and a life I love that I feel is worth fighting for.


Why not give it a go? Write yourself a letter about where you’re at today, and in general and what you hope to achieve in the next year. They can be big or small goals, the only catch is to make them realistic. There was a set of tools that helped me reach deciding these goals, and they were focused on really answering questions to discover and realise what my values were, and what was important to me in my life. I recommend doing that so that the goals you set are really close to your heart.

Peace, love and DOMS,
Mon