Could you be average?

I never wanted to be average and I hate the word “routine”. I used to get itchy and uncomfortable whenever I felt life was becoming ‘ordinary’. I’m a little less concerned by the words themselves now. I’m living the life that makes me happy.

It’s likely that no two lives look the same, so what is average anyway? For many the fact I’m living my life the way I am, whilst managing two disabilities already makes me pretty extraordinary. We can cast judgment about our own lifestyle and routines as much as we like, but when it comes to others we have no idea of the challenges being overcome behind closed doors. Perhaps this is what makes each of unique; comparability then is a pointless activity.

I also try and follow the suggestions in this handy lifehack infographic. Some great tips in there…

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Ideas for writing

I’ve forgotten what it’s like to have an idea for a story and then translate this to the page. I remember the painstaking effort it takes to formulate the right words to characterise the story itself, the rush of excitement when it starts to come together and the exhilaration when a draft is done. But even though I can recall these things I don’t feel capable of feeling them anew.

Perhaps I don’t have the right idea yet, or any ideas at all…Perhaps I’m not really listening to my inner muse, or maybe she’s taken a holiday without me! What I do know is that currently the urge to write is minimal and as long as it feels like a chore then I’m unlikely to enjoy it as I should. I don’t want to push myself, yet I also don’t want to lose the writing muscle I’ve built up over the last few years. Being here, on the blog, is helping. The Blog a Day in May challenge I’ve set is encouraging me to commit to writing some words each day, though I know my heart lies with fiction.

I don’t want to rely on memories to remind me what it’s like to write, nor do I want to force myself into it and build up a resentment. What I feel I need is an irresistibly alluring idea, one that will challenge me to get a pen back in my hand, ink onto the page and a story out of my mind and into the world.

So, maybe the focus needs to be less on the writing and more on the creation of ideas…?

Risks & Opportunity

Can it be true that the scarier the opportunity, the more rewarding the result? And if we never take risks does this mean we shall never experience glory?

I’ve adopted a phrase of late that has empowered me to do a lot of things I would otherwise have held back on. It’s also helped me deal with the consequences when my actions haven’t quite worked out as I’d hoped.

What’s the worst that can happen?

Usually the worst is so far fetched and unlikely that it is immediately dismissed and I feel more confident moving forward. Typically the worst doesn’t involve death or maiming, or even damages to people or property at all. So, not all that bad in the grand scheme of things.

Another quote I’ve sometimes fallen back on in times of panic or melancholy or downright fury is this:

Will you care about this in five years time? Or even in three, or one, or even a month?

How many times have I shaken my head when I have asked myself this. I couldn’t even tell you what I may have been angry about last week, never mind a year or more ago. Most of the trivial matters I deal with in my life are completely inconsequential, even to the future me who may have experienced them.

So, yes, I’m going to step into the realm of opportunity where things might be scary – but what’s the worst that could happen? I fail, or at least learn something from that failure to take forward one day. And yes, I’m going to permit myself some risk because I’m not so naive as to think that glory is an easy thing to find. I know that there will be frustrations down the road and that, although there may be moments that seem to be defining, I’m likely not going to remember them once the risk has paid off.

Adventurer or Tea-drinker?

I saw this image today and immediately loved it. I would say I want to be an adventurer, but I so do love my home comforts! That’s why I love reading so much, I can be anywhere in world whilst still sat in my chair:

“A book is a magical thing that lets you travel to far-away places without ever leaving your chair” – Katrina Mayer

Making friends

One or more of my friends and colleagues have at least once said to me how difficult it can be to make new friends in your thirties. It never occurred to me that, once you leave education, making friends becomes that little bit harder. There are fewer occasions that put you in scenarios where friendships can be formed. Of course, jobs can be an excellent place for forging new alliances, but I often find that these fade away once you are no longer working together. A shame, but not unusual in circumstances where the only things you tended to have in common were a mutual dislike of management structures and a preference for long lunches…

Strangely, as I’ve “grown up” – so to speak – I’ve managed to acquire a number of very good friends. Alongside my best friend from college, mentioned in a previous post, I’ve become close with neighbours, dog-lover and my Festival friends. All of these have all come about for reasons I can’t really explain. Although I perhaps have to admit that my inherited ‘talk-to-anyone’ attitude (thanks, Mum) has probably played a large part. As has my dislike for small talk, so I’ll always try and get straight to the juicy parts about what makes people tick. Maybe that’s the writer in me…

Consequently, I feel that I’ve made some lifelong friends in my thirties that enrich my life and genuinely contribute to my developing attitudes about myself, my work and my writing. I think I’ll always be looking out for opportunities to make new friends, however many others I have, because I like people; how they tick, why they do things; and most of all how I can help them to be their best self. After all, when I’m with my friends that’s how they make me feel.

Moments of Joy

moments of joy journalFor my birthday a friend gifted me a little book called ‘Good Things are Happening – A Journal for Tiny Moments of Joy’. I have to admit, it’s been the one constant thing I have managed this year – every single day I’ve written in this journal at bedtime, recording those little moments of joy in everyday.

I used to keep a gratitude journal, so it hasn’t been too much effort to switch into thinking about a moment or three in my day when I’ve felt joy. What it has altered is my ability to appreciate and feel the joy during the day. Now I’m actively looking out for moments that I could include in my journal and I’m finding more than just three to choose from. What’s really interesting is that the moments are often repeated: walking in the country park with Hugo, laughing with my other half, talking to a friend…small actions we might usually take for granted have become my new normal, and it’s slowly changing my whole attitude to my everyday. I’m much more mindful about taking these little moments and appreciating them, instead of dismissing or ignoring them and ending the day somewhat dissatisfied because I’ve been focusing on the wrong things. In short, it’s made me a happier person I think.

One of today’s simple moments of joy will certainly be hearing Hugo’s thundering gallop behind me as he runs to catch up on our walks, given that he’s been on lead-walks for the last ten days after his castration op! Such a wonderful sound to hear him tearing past me and see the joy on his little face.

What would your moments of joy be today?

Valuing yourself

Do you know what you values drive you, make you happy, push you to excellence?

I recently undertook a short exercise to determine my own values and what my core drivers might be, so as to better understand the work I should be doing. Over the past couple of years I’ve discovered certain tasks drain me, whilst others energise me and propel me forward with passion.

It was simple enough. I downloaded a list of options – words like; Integrity, Accountability, Commitment, Dependability, Dignity, Honesty,  Honour, Responsibility… Then I printed them out, cut them into individual slips and set about sorting through them. It was as easy as asking myself: “Is this important to me?” – one pile for ‘yes’, and another for ‘no’.

IMG_20180508_132221121_HDR.jpgOnce I had been through them all, I had a strong selection of core values that I believed were significant for me. Then I just re-arranged these: ‘Most Important’; ‘Important’; and ‘Less Important’. After this I had a list of twenty that I considered particularly relevant and I was beginning to see what matters most to me. Words like Leadership, Compassion, Ambition and Excellence all made an appearance on my ‘Very Important’ list.

Out of those twenty I decided I had to narrow it down to a maximum of five. So I did the exercise one final time, using the same headings but only with the twenty I had previously categorised as ‘Very Important’. When it came down to it I found it easier than I had thought to separate them out, leaving me with a clear set of four core values that I think honestly describe my attitude and approach to working and living. Whatever I do has to have these at the heart of it, otherwise it feels disingenuous and might not encourage me to work to excellence.  Bold was the one that surprised me the most, but given that I’m currently trying to push myself to big ambitions I suppose its appearance is apt.

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I’d recommend any one give this a go; it’s an interesting exercise and it’s really opened up my understanding of myself. If you do try it please come back and share your values. I’d love to hear what they are and if any of them surprised you!

Reading the Classics

I’m not really one for reading the classics. I once read Wuthering Heights just so I could declare a dislike for it – having given up on the novel previously because of the hatred I had for Heathcliffe, despair with Catherine, and impatience with the narration by the housekeeper.

Still, I make an effort on occasion to pick one up now and then and give it a go. This is how I came to adore Little Women, the novel that spoke to me as a teenager and simultaneously made me want to be both industrious Jo and devoted Beth; a personality mix not quite suited to the modern day, or indeed to a teenager of seventeen!

Recently I saw mention of Middlemarch as a novel recommended by another writer. I didn’t have much knowledge of this story, only really being familiar with George Eliot as a female writer in the nineteenth century. However, when next at the library I saw it out on a display and thought ‘why not?’. So, with my weekend anchored by my disability, I found myself opening up the hefty tome and beginning, despite some words of warning from others.

When I told a few from work that I was planning my attempt to read Middlemarch I received a lot of well wishes and a few shaking heads – it was not something they would ever consider. Perhaps, in part, this made me want to read it more, because I enjoy being the odd one out and accomplishing things not ordinarily done.

I began reading with some trepidation then, but found myself immediately drawn to Dorothea and her sister Celia. The wandering way that Eliot has of meandering from one character to another would usually annoy me, but I’ve settled into the rhythm of it quite well I think. So much so that within a day I’ve completed book one and am eager to begin book two tomorrow.

It’s strange how some authors speak to us more than others. I don’t think I could ever be a fan of Austen or the Brontës, yet I am taken in by Eliot’s characters even though I skim read some of the long, didactic sentences. I’m intrigued to see how Dorothea gets on in her marriage, if Sir James and Celia might make a match, how Dr Lydgate might propose marriage to Rosamond, and how poor Fred will extricate himself from the rumour mill! It is nothing but Victorian gossip-mongering, I’m sure, but it’s certainly keeping me engaged!

Be Aware of M.E.

.facebook_1525798698262.jpgMy disabilities may be hidden, but I do not keep them a secret. Myalgic Encephalomyelytis and Fibromyalgia are both a challenge to pronounce and difficult to live with. Typically shortened to M.E. and Fibro they are both conditions that have no cure and are little understood in the world of medicine. It was only recently that a paper suggesting Graded Exercise Therapy and Cognitive Behavioural Treatment as treatment for M.E were discredited, despite years of complaints from both patients and medical professionals alike.

But today, May 12th, is International Awareness Day for Chronic Immunological and Neurological Diseases (CIND) and has been since 1992. It covers conditions such as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), Fibromyalgia (FM), Gulf War Syndrome (GWS) and Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS).

Florence Nightingale was born on May 12th and was believed to have suffered from ME/CFS, alongside others such as Charles Darwin, Marie Curie, and Cher. More recently Lady Gaga has been in the press regarding her battle with Fibromyalgia, and I believe Morgan Freeman is a sufferer, amongst others. American filmmaker Jennifer Brea also created a documentary about her life with M.E. that was released to critical acclaim and is now available on Netflix in an attempt to raise awareness about this hideous illness.

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So today I had to write about this. The most challenging aspect of being a sufferer is that M.E/Fibro are fluctuating conditions with symptoms that manifest in ways that others may not be able to see. If they are visible to other people then we’re probably behind closed doors doing little other than resting and remaining quiet so that the symptoms don’t escalate into a relapse.  This can take days, weeks, months and sometimes years to recover from. You’re forced to reduce activity down to zero and build it back up to an acceptable level in very small increments. It’s a bit like Snakes & Ladders – where if you overdo it, you end up dropping way back and having to start again: not to mention we aren’t capable of climbing up the ladders. Sometimes, we may never get better – so I try and avoid a relapse at all costs.

ME/Fibro is like waking up to discover that your limbs are now sewage pipes, filled with sludge. Every morning I am sore and stiff meaning I clamber out of bed an old woman, grunts and sighs included. My hands are typically crippled first thing in the morning, more like claws with non-functional fingers unable to spread out or clasp my toothbrush. Usually I wake up fatigued, which is different to feeling tired – the main complaint of M.E that so many misinterpret. Fatigue is that feeling you get when you’ve pushed yourself to your limits and just can’t manage anymore; usually what most people feel after a busy day on the go. I wake up already at this stage and then have to push myself to go through another day of tasks and chores. It’s not so bad now; it’s my new normal, but that doesn’t mean I’m not sick.

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Of course, this is not the me that people see. I have become adept at dealing with and masking the myriad of symptoms that plague me every day. Mostly, I have lots of breaks and rests. I work part time because it’s the only way I can, and I’m luckier than many with these diseases in being able to do so. I am now healthy enough to do a 7-hr day, providing I don’t rush around too much and I can take a rest day between (though this was not the case in the beginning – then I could barely mange an hour out of bed. I was house-bound for a few months as a result).  Usually I’m fit enough to do an hour or so of Festival work or writing on days when I’m not at work. Though it should be acknowledged that I am on routine medications to help me maintain this amount of daily life.

Part of the reason why I am able to be so active – and I inwardly scoff at the word ‘active‘ to describe myself because it is so much less than I was capable of once – but the reason why is because I stick to my routine (working M/W/F with a day of rest Tu/Th and Sat/Sun) and ensure I get gentle exercise through walking my dog everyday. It’s important for me to keep moving otherwise my joints lock up and become more painful, but I have to take it steady otherwise the fatigue kicks in so badly I am unable to make it up the stairs. People don’t see me when I’m like that, because I’m hidden away behind closed doors. But it happens. More than most of my friends and family know; more than I’d like them to know. It’s no fun being the one to leave early, or decline invitations, or be unable to shop in the supermarket like everyone else.

 

Either condition I would not wish on anyone, as I had to rebuild my way of life after fatigue and pain tore it down (along with the many other symptoms that wreaked havoc on my life) . Having said that, these disabilities are now an integral part of who I am and how resilient I had to become. So, no, I will not hide them even if they themselves remain hidden on me.

millions missing

 

Reading distractions

Reading is my biggest distraction from life. No matter what else is going on around me I fall between the cracks of the words and into the page. I’m known to read books in a single sitting, if I can. Slotting a bookmark into a novel and halting the story, even if I know it cannot continue without me, I find immensely difficult.

This year I’m planning to read at least fifty-two books: that’s one a week, and it seems entirely achievable in my eyes. I’d like to aim for double that, but disappointingly I have a job and responsibilities that need tending to; not to mention a dog to walk.

So far this year I’ve read twenty-one novels meaning I’m ahead of the game. I’ve discovered a really neat way of recording my reads by taking an image of the cover on my mobile and adding it to a ‘Reading 2018’ album. This way not only can I  remember what I’ve read, but it’s easy to refer back to when I want to recommend something to a friend or colleague, as the cover and title usually jog my memory. Plus, it’s a handy way of keeping count given that the number of images equals the number of books read.

Most of my books I’m sourcing at the Library. This way not only am I supporting the local library but it’s a great way to find new reads, and tackle new and existing authors I might be unsure of. That doesn’t stop me buying books, however. I spent over £50 on novels during Huddersfield Literature Festival in March, investing in the authors I met and discovering some amazing stories in the process. Of course, I can’t afford to do this every month, which is why I find local libraries so valuable, not just for me but for those who, otherwise, may have no other means of discovering the joy of getting lost in a good book.

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A selection of my reads so far this year.