A Dog’s life

I wonder what it would be like to be a dog for a day. I look at my Toby and think about how simple his life is. His needs are simple; food, walks, water, cuddles and sleep. I like to see him take pleasure in the little things, like a sock he has stolen from my radiator. He looks so peaceful when he sleeps.

Of course I would not want to have to pee outside but then he doesn’t even have to clear it up. No shoes might be an issue, especially in the cold. Yet a constant fur coat seems quite nice.

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When I take him for walks he loves to run, just to run. A pleasure I will never understand and yet love to watch. He enjoys to chase tennis balls and toys that I throw for him. Most of all he loves to cuddle up and he gives out so much love.

A human life is so complicated and we are distracted by so much. Things we need in our world; money, jobs, bills, entertainment, media, and so much more. What if we could make life a little more simple and take joy in the little things.

I try to take joy in Toby’s cuddles, laugh at his silly ways and enjoy our walks somewhere green. I smile as his dreams, his little paws moving in his sleep. I laugh as he begs for a biscuit or my pizza crusts and run off to eat it like great treasure.

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Life is complicated and we have to work and pay the bills. However we also need to find joy. Not in things but in what really matters to each of us. For me it is Toby, my friends, my nieces, my nephew, nature, travel and in teaching.

Learning what is really important to me has been hard and I have to remind myself. It is so easy to get carried away in the madness of this mental world.

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The Story of One Inspirational Woman I knew

In honour of International Women’s Day I wanted to reflect on one of the most inspirational women I have known. I know lots of fantastic women ,who battle illness and adversity in a man’s world. When I teach history I try to include all the women in history to show our important place in society. But one has always stood out to me.

From my childhood one lady was a constant inspiration to me, my Nan. She was an amazing woman and I loved to hear the stories of her life. Born in the 1920s she was the fourth of eight children. She was training to be a concert pianist until she met my Granddad and her teacher made her pick between boys and the piano. Full of teenage hormones as she was, she picked my Granddad. She always played the piano though, even in the underground stations during the Blitz. I still think of her when I hear Beethoven 5th Symphony or anything classical really. I loved to hear her play.

She remembers seeing Mahatma Ghandi when he visited London in 1931. She seemed to truly believe in equality and love. She talked about living near the Kray brothers and cycling down their street to go visit my Granddad when they were courting. She seems to have lived through so much history.

She went on to join the Women’s Army in WWII and supported a Canadian Airbase in the south of England. She stayed truthful to her engagement to my Granddad, even when Canadian soldiers proposed. She felt she needed to actually help at a time of when her country was at war.

Her family home in Lambeth was also bombed during the Blitz in London. Leaving just the porch and outside toilet, the only parts her father had built. She spoke about loosing every family photograph and her grand piano. It really helped show how material things were just that, memories and keepsakes were much more important to her.

After the war she married my Granddad and had three children of her own, although also suffering many miscarriages in the ten years between my aunts and my father’s birth. Whilst bringing up her own children she also fostered babies and toddlers. She seemed to have so much love to give. She was kind and thoughtful. She listened and cared. She was my sanctuary away from my own mother.

Although to my knowledge, she never did anything to change what my mother was doing, she helped me survive. She taught me to try to accept mum as she was. That anger only festered in myself and hurt me. That you could box up emotions and hide them away to get by. She also gave me hope that I would grow up and be able to move out and away from her one day.

When she died I was 16 to her 82 years old. I felt like my world had collapsed. I knew she had to let go, she was in so much pain from the pancreatic cancer she had to endure. Yet I felt so alone. My support, my love, my surrogate mother was gone. My heart broke and although I put on a brave face I fell into depression.

To have lived through so much change in the twentieth century. Maybe she is why I love history so much. She taught me so many lessons in life. Most importantly she taught me to be a kind and thoughtful person. I think of her everyday in this mental world.

Dream Me Worries

Last night I woke up about 4am. I had dreamt of school, specifically my GCSE students failing to understand one of our harder papers. It is all about historical interpretation. In the dream I was trying and trying to get them to understand. Trying to find new ways to explain it and help them understand.

When I woke up I then could not get back to sleep. I was worrying about if the students did understand and how I could help them. Each time I tried to clear my mind and focus on my breathing I was left with thoughts of exam skills and not being good enough at my job.

I tell myself this is not true. I am a good teacher and I care about my students. I will find a way to help them understand. However in the morning not at 4am. Yet the thoughts still came and kept me awake.

Eventually exhaustion let me sleep. However I am left with this tried and sad feeling that I am not enough. I feel the need to explore new ways and solve this problem, even though it was a dream. My students have not expressed a lack of understanding and although their exam questions are not perfect they are improving as we head toward the summer exams.

Why is dream state me so hard on me? Is it my subconscious that is truly worried? Welcome to dream me in this mental world.

Learning to be compassionate to myself

I am learning to let myself do what I want to do. It seems so strange as I have often thought this was what I was doing. I am an independent woman and am not answerable to anyone…or am I? Well, I wasn’t. I was making myself answerable to family, friends, society, charities, students, bosses, colleagues and anyone else I came into contact with.

Was an action acceptable or expected? Was it for others? Did it help someone else? I felt guilt for doing what I wanted to do. Taking time for me was a luxury I could not afford or justify. I was answerable to everyone elses needs first and all my energy went on this.

Now I can actually say I take time for me to do what I need. My pace of life seems slower and maybe even boring to some. However, I remind myself it isn’t, it is the peace and relaxation that I have needed for a long time. I feel little to no guilt for taking this time for me too. The guilt has not disappeared but it is diminishing.

Don’t get me wrong, if a friend or family member needs me I am there in a flash. I am great in an emergency. However, it is on my terms and only with people who appreciate me rather than expect it. People who I know would be there if I needed them too.

This weekend I binged watched tv, read a book, ran a few errands and chilled out. I did very little but it was great. It was what I needed. I was tired from work and needed to process some things. So, I let myself do what I needed and wanted to do.

I am looking after myself and my home more. I have the energy to tidy and clean without feeling it is just too much. I can take a bath without it feeling like I am wasting time by enjoying it.

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I can do all this without feeling lazy or selfish. My fear of being lazy or selfish has plagued me for years. Anytime I stopped for longer than a few hours that niggling feeling I was becoming lazy would slip into my mind. If I wasn’t doing something for someone else I was selfish. These thoughts are no longer there. Self-care is not being lazy or selfish. It is being compassionate to myself.

This is a huge leap forward for me. To some these things might seem trivial but accepting these new thoughts, habits and beliefs are hard work. I have lived 33 years a different way but this older dog is learning new tricks.

This does not mean I have cracked it and am cured of all my negative thoughts, but it is a step, maybe even a leap. So this blog is to remind myself of what I can do and to bring myself back to this place. I want to make positive thoughts, self-care and compassion my habits in my life in this mental world.

Mourning mistakes

When I make a mistake it feels like an avalanche. A criticism makes me feel like my heart is made of lead and dropped into my stomach. I become short of breath and I want to stay in bed away from anyone.

I know we all make mistakes, it is part of being human. I am happy to admit it and repair any mistakes. I will always do what is needed like apologise and make amends. I have no issue with all of that. Yet my brain and body seem to have an after shock it has to go through.

Maybe it is the perfectionist in me. Being my own hardest critic I need to punish myself. I need to feel bad and horrid. I don’t know how to let it go and forgive myself.

The mistake goes around and around my head. Guilt and worry chasing it in circles. I catastrophise¬†outcomes and imagine all the worst possibilities. I just can’t stop my mind, it fills cloudy and full.

I distract myself with tv, reading, meditation, errands and anything that I do not have to think about. Things that will fill my head trying to push out the negative thoughts.

I am useless, worthless and always a failure. I can hear my mother’s voice. I am a horrible person and don’t deserve to be happy. I have let everyone down.

How do you move on from it? I need to be able to accept the mistake has happened and carry on? Rather than mourn my failure and let it eat me up inside for weeks.

Even when the mistake was minor or even out of my control. I just can not help but feel all these feelings of dread in my life in this mental world.

Teetering on the edge

Sometimes I feel that I want to disappear for a while. It might be better described as wanting to hide under my duvet from the entire world. Without having to call in sick or explain my absence from life to anyone.

I think today it comes from exhaustion. It is my first week back to work after half term and I always find that first week back so tiring. I have been going to bed early and resting each evening but it just doesn’t seem to ever be enough. I am like a bath without a plug unable to fill up with water.

I think of all the things I should be doing each evening; marking papers, texting friends, walking my dog, admin for the podcast, keeping up with the news and so much more. Even writing that list feels exhausting and I remind myself it can all wait.

I am learning so take care of myself. Not to be selfish, something I get so anxious about, but to give myself what I need. To be patient with my mind and body. However it is so much easier to say or type that to actually do. I still feel guilt, shame and more guilt.

I should probably mention I also came off my fibromyalgia medication. I am currently having a better time with it and so wanted to try being off the medication. I have been slowly lowering it and last week was the last dose to stop, however that means I am also in mild withdrawal. This is probably not helping my fatigue.

I also feel on a precipice. On my tip toes on the edge of a cliff. One way is anxiety and depression and the other is peace of mind. I want to stay safe on the ground but the wind is keeping me on a teeter. Maybe my want to hide is a coping strategy to stop me falling over the cliffs edge.

I am trying to be calm. I have been meditating each day but I cannot seem to find the peace I have before, even last week. I feel like there is a laser light show in my mind, one I cannot control. Thoughts are so fast I cannot catch them so I have no idea their content. I crave an ordered filing system and receptionist to help me.

A big sigh, a long nap, a holiday from life and a large mug of tea. Is it too much to ask for?

Tomorrow is a crazy day at work too. At my school we have one day a half term set aside for the whole school to learn personal, social, emotional, and well-being topics. As prescribed by the national curriculum. This means as teachers we are given lessons and students to teach on different topics all day. In the past I have taught anything from managing money, sex education, to bereavement and so many more topics. I won’t know the students I will have until tomorrow and did not know the topics until today. My control freak brain was already struggling, maybe this is why it feels so on edge this evening in this mental world.

My current adventure

I feel I might be turning a corner. It could be the fact I have been on half term or maybe it is real. Either way I somehow feel that my depression maybe lifting. I worry this is just one good day and I need consistently good days to truly believe.

However, I also think I have been working to look after me and relieve some stresses in my life. I have reduced my stresses at work by dropping my middle leadership pastoral position. I have set a clear financial budget to help relieve the stress and anxiety money gives me, especially with the pay cut.

I have been walking, enjoying nature and meditating regularly. Trying to appreciate the beautiful world around me and inside me. I have been ‘tidying with joy’ and declaring my gratitude each day.

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I have been accepting of my emotions. I have been trying not to judge them, acknowledging them and letting them go. Writing on here to let the voices of worry, stress and processing out of my head. Blogging has helped me sleep better, alongside a mug of camomile tea each night.

This might all seem so mundane, people keep asking when and where is my next adventure. I usually have my next holiday booked but not at the moment. I love travelling and still want to go to so many places. I love exploring new countries, seeing new beautiful places and meeting new cultures.

However, at the moment my adventure is finding out more about me and exploring my mind. On the outside it might look simple and maybe even boring, but to me it is an exciting time. Sailing into the depths of my mind. Navigating this ocean of emotions and sadness in this mental world.

 

An unsent letter to my brother

Dear brother,

You will never get to read this letter but I feel I need to air some thoughts and feelings I have. Maybe I have no right to even say this as I know I am not a parent or someone’s partner. However, I was a child, I am a teacher, an active aunt and I have been a nanny. Plus I know you and your family from the outside and close proximity. Please also know this come from a sisterly place of love and concern.

I watch you as a dad and I am worried. Your parenting reminds me of how our parents took on the task. To put it bluntly; strict, controlling and unkind. You seem to need full control and anything less than absolutely unquestioning obedience will do. You make rules for arbitrary reasons, contradictory and hypocritical. Following them would be unachievable for adults let alone children, with still developing morals, character, emotions and brains.

You have three amazing children and a wonderful wife. You say you are so lucky and you are. Your eldest, a ten-year old daughter, is an amazingly inquisitive, intelligent, kind and loving young lady. However, you seem blind to this. You see a rude, disobedient, defiant young girl. Someone who should not question your commands and should just follow your rules, orders and opinions.

It seems like you are scared that if you admit a mistake you will lose control, but as a teacher you know this is not the case. Teaching children, that adults are fallible and get things wrong is an important lesson. Being willing to admit our mistake and apologise, is a lesson in itself. The damage you do in the yelling and berating is so much more long-lasting negatively.

The more worrying part is, I know you are on your best behaviour when I am there, visiting in your home. Behind the closed-door as I walk away, you will be the real You. A You I hear about but have not seen. A You that even more scary, it sounds to me very like our mother.

Undiagnosed but showing lots of narcissistic traits, she demanded to be top dog in our childhood home. Her needs, thoughts, whims and desires came first, above everything and anyone else. Her impossible expectations had to be met to prove respect and love to her. If not rage, tears, emotional blackmail, silent treatment, sulking, storing off and the expectation of an apology. Yet she believed she was always right and that she was a kind loving mother. You seem to be like this to your wife and children.

I have seen you humiliate your daughter with stories from her past, the child she was. I have seen you angry and sulky when someone disagrees or questions your absolute authority. I have seen you take your frustrations out on the children, when they have no control over the situation as they are babies and toddlers. I have seen jealousy for the attention they get from your wife, their mother.

Where does all this lead? For me it has led to therapy, depression, anxiety, migraines and possibly even my Fibromyalgia. I do not want this for your wife and children. My sister-in-law, nieces and nephew. I will show them love, kindness, understanding and hope to see them through your tyranny. I will drop little pieces of advice when I can, hoping you will take some of it on board. I will continue to help and support them. I will carry on being that person in their corner, a someone I rarely had, hopefully that will make a difference.

I do not think you or your parenting are all bad. I know you can be kind, thoughtful and loving man. I know you intend to do your best. You have been a great brother to me, at times. I just think you have gone to the parenting manual of ‘parent the way you know’. However, our parenting example, provided by our parents, was not a good one. You acknowledge this, you know how I have felt and what I went through. You know what you experienced too. Yet you seem blinkered¬†to your own behaviours as a dad.

I could never tell you all this, you would never forgive me. It would be a betrayal to you. You would never see it could save you if you acknowledged it, maybe then you could even changed it. You would make out I was choosing them over you. Yet to me blood is not thicker than water. To me love is everything in a child’s world and children come first. You might even stop me from seeing them, it is your family.

So my hope for the future is that you see yourself in the mirror for who you are before it is too late; before you lose your loving wife and children, before you hurt someone more than emotionally, before you do emotional damage and while you can be forgiven if you change.

 

Just keep breathing

Breathing is something we just do. Our brains communicate with our lungs and it just happens. It is so essential we do not have to think about it. Yet when our brains are stressed they can lose some control of how to regulate our breathing.

As a teacher my most important advice to my students preparing for exams is to breathe. When the invigilator says “Start” before you open that exam paper take two deep breaths. Steady those nerves, give your brain oxygen and calm the mind. A stressed brain is not going to remember as much as a calm one.

Thinking about how you are breathing is important, it allows us to take back control of our breathing from our brains. We can decide how our breathing will go.

I have found this increasingly key as I suffer from anxiety and depression. Overwhelming emotions can be accepted and moved on from with a few deep breaths. I feel during meditation the world seems to slow down around me, alongside my deepening breathing. I can find a calm within the storm of my emotions and stresses.

I am not saying breathing solves everything, far from it. But from someone who is a control freak, it can bring me a sense of control over something when the rest of the world seems uncontrollable. When my own emotions seem out of control taking back my breathing seems to help.

Breathing can be done anywhere, I often take a couple of deep breaths when teaching a challenging class, or when I am driving, or when my puppy will just not lay down and sleep. You do not need an app or advice on how to do it, you already know. I do use Calm to help guide my meditation but for a quick ‘gain some control breath’, it is all me.

I admit I do not do the ‘in through your nose and out through your mouth’. I just cannot seem to ever get it right and I do not like to breathe through my mouth, too noisy. However, I do not think it diminishes my own breathing practice.

Scientifically a deep breath can boost the oxygen we are being supplied and therefore has a physical heathy benefit. Yet, psychologically I think the impact is even greater.

So just breathe, give your brain time to process life in this mental world.

Feeling frustration

I am a patient person. Being a teacher and in the past a nanny, I have had to be. Having the mother I do I also had to learn patience from a young age. ‘A virtue’ my mother often said. Of course, it was only a skill for supporting others not myself.

Lately I find my patience is wearing thin. I feel the frustration boiling away under the surface. Things that I used to let go now make me feel like someone has turned up my stove to simmer.

Tiny bubbles running through my veins. Feeling like a something is crawling through the layers of my skin. My breathing grows faster and heart beats loudly. I try to push it down, like a reflex I breathe deep and try to leave the situation.

I was not allowed to be frustrated, it leads to anger and that was always forbidden. I was taught that anger leads to violence and hurting people’s feelings. Well, this is what I am trying to combat.

I got angry as a teenager. I tried to change my situation and my narcissistic mother. It never really worked and instead I was accused of bullying her. I was and am blamed for starting every family argument. My mother would cry and become hysterical. She would remind me of the bullies in her childhood, her angry mother and violent father. She would find a way to made me feel guilty. I was shamed for having my feelings and for wanting to stop the emotional abuse she was causing to me and my siblings.

I was trying to get her to change. We were all unhappy with the situation, her matriarchy of control. I was not the only one. Yet when we called our family meeting and issues were raised I was on my own. My mum said we were ganging up on her to split our united front. She told my dad that of course he would support me, as I always was a daddy’s girl. Something used against us for years. Often she stormed out, expecting my father to follow her.

Now I am in my thirties and I struggle to feel frustration let alone angry. Slowly I am allowing myself to feel it but it is hard. My body seems to have an automatic reaction to push it down. For me frustration or annoyance feels more like heartburn. I know I need to let my emotion in but it is tough to feel them and deal with them. I need to learn to allow them, accept them and then move them along in this mental world.