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5 tips to take you from exhausted to energised

By Wilma Macdonald @_maverickmotherhood.

“You’re a mum now, that’s just the way it is. We’re all tired.”

A note from Anna: I kind of knew it before, cognitively, but this past year it has truly sunk in that I need energy for far more than running after the kids. I need energy to laugh, to rationalise anxious thoughts, to think straight, to enjoy life. This is why I’m so excited to share Wilma’s words with you. Wilma is a nutritionist passionate about equipping fellow mothers with the energy needed to thrive in motherhood, rather than just dragging ourselves through in survival. She shares her five top tips to take you from exhausted to energised.

How many times have you heard that phrase when you’ve shared the fact that you’re so tired you can’t feel your face anymore.

Pre-pandemic, a lot of us were coasting close to our life limits. Now over, what feels like, 3000 lockdown days later, you’re feeling flat, lethargic and rundown, you’re last on the priority list (below the laundry basket) and feel like you’re holding on by your chipped fingernails most of the time.

But it doesn’t have to be this way, I promise.

I know — from real won-in-the-trenches experience — that when you feel frazzled and exhausted, the joy of motherhood is harder to find.

And you deserve joy.

I’m going to share 5 tips that’ll help take you from exhausted to energised that include pleasure and don’t eliminate fun and joy

  1. Get your iron levels tested.

1.2 billion non pregnant women, 1.5 billion pregnant women. That’s how many, worldwide, the World Health Organisation say are affected by iron deficiency.

Studies have also shown that low iron levels may be one of the key contributing factors in fatigue in women. 1, 2

Your body stores iron but growing a human, birthing them, bleeding for 6 weeks afterwards and monthly menstruation depletes them. If you’re not filling these stores back up, your body will start giving you feedback.

If you’re knackered, cold all the time, struggling to concentrate and your hair is looking frazzled, ask your GP to check your iron levels – they won’t dismiss you or think you’re over reacting.

Food sources of iron to add to your plate are red meat, chicken, spinach, tofu, seeds. Vitamin C helps absorption while dairy and tannins inhibit it, so best have some red pepper instead of a cup of milky tea with your steak.

Always get professional advice on supplements as some have a tendency to bung you up. You don’t want to have to make a choice between being tired or being constipated.

  1. Now’s the time for nourishment not deprivation

If your car runs out of fuel, you take it to the petrol station and fill its tank up because it can’t run on fumes. Neither can you, no matter how hard you try.

One of the only ways to get more energy is through the calories you eat. Not just any calories, these are keeping you fuller for longer, nutrient dense, va va voom inducing calories.

Carbohydrates are usually the first to go, they’re the tantruming toddlers of the food world – misunderstood. They are your body’s and brain’s preferred energy source.

Refined carbs – white bread, pasta, croissants — are considered a dieting disaster as they release glucose (aka sugar) quickly, whereas unrefined carbs – sweet potato, apples, bananas, lentils — release the sugar slowly.

The carb encrusted key to your energy upgrade is to include a variety of carbs eaten alongside protein and fat. This is what’ll keep you off the energy rollercoaster that crashes mid-afternoon.

  1. Get to know the 3P’s of your bodily fluids

Did you keep a pee and poop diary for your tiny ones? It’s time to do the same for yourself.

The fluids that come out of your body are a detox pathway that give you a lot of information about your health.

They can tell you if you’re dehydrated, not eaten enough, if you’re ovulating, if oestrogen levels are low, if you’re not moving enough, if you need to chew your food more, if you’re nervous/excited, if you need help breaking down fats, if you’ve had enough fibre, if you’re stressed out…

The list goes on.

The 3P’s and what to look for are:

  • Poop – Shape, consistency, frequency
  • Pee – Colour, smell, frequency
  • Period Blood – Colour, consistency, clots

The key thing is to know what’s normal for you. Get comfy checking, track them and look for patterns – for example, if you’re stressed out do you get bunged up quicker or if you eat avocadoes do things move a bit faster.

  1. Focus on quality of sleep instead of quantity

“If I go to sleep in the next 5 mins and he doesn’t wake up, then I’ll get 6 hours, 15 mins and 12 seconds sleep”.  Anyone else do that? Instead of going to sleep, we get deep into an insta scroll comparing pink tiled utility rooms and wondering if everyone is doing a garden makeover apart from you.

Sleep training it is. For you, not for tiny human.

  • Go to sleep at the same time every night, think 1030pm not midnight
  • Tryptophan converts to melatonin, your sleep hormone. Oats, nuts, seeds, milk all contain tryptophan, have a snack or milk with these if hungry before bed
  • No devices an hour before bed
  • Brain dump into a journal
  • Clear clutter from bedroom
  • No caffeine after midday
  • Have an orgasm

For tonight, let’s start with one thing, put your phone far enough away that if you wake up in the night and stretch your arms out, you can’t reach it.

  1. Keep it simple

30 different vegetables a week
An hour of exercise every day
10 minutes of mediation at 530am
2 litres of water a day
9 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night
Split your macros, count your peas, weigh your butter, lose the will

I could go on. It’s A LOT. Add some tiny humans into the mix and it’s no wonder you don’t know where to start or have the energy to find out.

Strip it back, way back……. further than that. Make it so small that you wonder if you’ve done anything.

Eat an extra portion of green vegetables
Meditate for 2 minutes
Drink one extra glass of water
Chase your toddler down the street
Go to bed 15 minutes earlier tonight
Read a page of your bonk buster before bed

Choose one of these and do it over and over again until it becomes a habit. It’s the small things we do repeatedly that build up to make a big difference

These 5 tips aren’t about supporting your health so that you can push yourself to your limits or be even more productive.

It’s about, giving yourself the same love, care and attention that you’re giving everyone else.

There’s never been a time when YOUR health needs the most love, care and attention than now.

Wilma is a nutritional therapist, mother, eBay enthusiast and founder of Maverick Motherhood where she’s on a mission to help exhausted mum’s upgrade their energy and inject vibrancy and va va voom into their lives. You can find her at maverickmotherhood.co and @_maverickmotherhood.


References:

  1. Krayenbuehl PA, Battegay E, Breymann C, Furrer J, Schulthess G, Intravenous iron for the treatment of fatigue in nonanemic, premenopausal women with low serum ferritin concentration, Blood (2011) 118 (12): 3222–3227.
  2. F Verdon, B Burnand, C-L Fallab Stubi, C Bonard, M Graff, A Michaud, T Bischoff, M de Vevey, J-P Studer, L Herzig, C Chapuis, J Tissot, A Pécoud, B Favrat Iron supplementation for unexplained fatigue in non-anaemic women: double blind randomised placebo controlled trial 2003 May 24; 326(7399)

5 things about Pelvic Health

By Clare Bourne @clarebournephysio

A note from Anna: Never had I met someone so passionate about pelvic health that they carry a model pelvis in their handbag at all times. When I first met Clare, I thought ‘wow, if she is so evangelical about the pelvic floor, perhaps I need to listen up!’ Looking after your pelvic floor doesn’t stop at squeezing whilst you brush your teeth, here she is to tell you all you need to know.

We have probably all heard about our pelvic floor at some point, but was it just a leaflet handed to us with the advice to do some squeezes? For many you may not have given it another thought, but others of you might feel plagued by symptoms or changes in your body that you have never felt confident to talk about. So much of pelvic health is still taboo: incontinence, prolapse, painful sex, periods….do any of us find these things easy to open up about? I am sure the answer from most would be no.

Let’s dive into 5 things about our pelvic health to help open up this conversation and ensure those that need it get support.

1) Pelvic floor dysfunction is common in postnatal women but does not have to be forever

    • Incontinence, prolapse, painful sex…..just a few of the symptoms mums can experience and right off as, ‘well I’ve just had a baby’….often not helped when they try to reach out and are told ‘this is just what happens’ or ‘well at least you have a healthy baby.’ I want you to hear that there is help and treatment for all of the symptoms above, that doesn’t require surgery, and you CAN struggle with how your body has changed, new symptoms AND be grateful for your baby..
    • You are not alone if this is you, these symptoms are more common that you think:
    • 1 in 3 will suffer with incontinence
    • 1 in 12 with prolapse
    • 83% of women have reported to experience painful sex after birth.

2) Pelvic floor dysfunction is associated with depression 

    • As you can imagine all of the above symptoms mentioned can impact our mental health, which has been proven in research, and often these symptoms limit the exercise we feel we can do, and we know that exercise is good for our mental health. So it can really knock us from both angles, along with the loneliness and isolation that can occur as none of these topics are easy to open up about. Opening up is definitely the first step, start with a friend, your GP or find a pelvic health physiotherapist. Pelvic floor symptoms don’t need to stop you exercising, we might need to modify for a while but exercise and movement is good for our pelvic health, and we want to get you back to what you love.

3) How to approach your postnatal recovery 

A lot of women feel that the care and support they receive during pregnancy and birth is amazing, and yet as they transition into the postnatal period they feel alone and unsupported. Often this is the time when you navigate a lot of changes in your body and you move from pregnancy, where most are amazed by what their body can do, feeling empowered by it’s ability to grow your baby, to then shocked at how your body feels, it’s struggle to function as it did before and unsure of exactly how to care for it. My top advice is to take the first 6 or so weeks slow, you don’t have anything to prove. Focus on caring for yourself, rest, good nutrition, water, fresh air and sharing how you feel. Please remember caring for yourself IS caring of your baby. It is natural for us to want to be active, but slow and steady really does win the race. In the early weeks focus on pelvic floor exercises and deep breathing and know that you are building the foundations for future activity and exercise.

4) How do you do pelvic floor exercises?

I know, I know…they are boring and dull…and yet so essential! We’ve probably all heard of them, but how do we actually do them? Just squeeze and hope for the best, imagine a lift going up and down to multiple floors…. actually for most of us it is as simple as thinking about holding in wind (and let’s be honest we’ve all done that before!!) It is often more gentle and subtle that you think, so try it now, think about holding wind and letting go. You shouldn’t be using your bottom muscles or leg muscles, but just feel a tightening around the back passage and vagina that no one else can see. They are a totally stealth exercise…which makes them brilliant and yet so easy to forget. Make sure you fully let go between each squeeze but try building a few into your day. Like so many things in life they are just an investment in our health, even if they are not that fun.   

5) How to access support and help if you are struggling

Some of you might have really tried to do pelvic floor exercises and just feel you are not getting anywhere. This could be for a number of reasons but we think around 50% of women are doing them wrong, and this is where a pelvic health physiotherapist comes in. It is our job to help you to learn how to do your pelvic floor exercises correctly and support you with your symptoms. You can get referred on the NHS via your GP for symptoms of incontinence, prolapse, painful sex, diastasis recti or pelvic pain, or you can find one privately via www.thepogp.co.uk or www.squeezyapp.com.

Clare Bourne is a pelvic health physiotherapist based in London and a Mum of 2. Her passion is to openly talk about taboo topics and help to make women feel less alone on their pelvic health journey. She is soon to launch her new ‘All About Mum’ Cards which provide all essential information for a new Mum and her postnatal recovery. You can find Clare @clarebournephysio or clare-bourne.com

Ruby in the Rubble – We shouldn’t judge what we are not, but we do.

Ruby in the Rubble submission by Lauren Kaighan

A note from Anna: Pleasing others and ensuring they think I’m a good person has been a driver for so much in my life, and also the reason I’ve held back. Address this (I’ve written a course called The People Pleasing Course to help guide you in doing so too), continues to change my life in the most healthy and freeing way! I loved reading Lauren’s reflections and realisations as she comes to terms with the fact that her needs and feelings are just as valid and valuable as those of others.

We shouldn’t judge what we are not. But we do. It’s so difficult, it’s a natural reaction to form an unconscious bias, at least. So even when we try not to judge, I’m certain that most people will do it, even if it is unconsciously and as much as we try not to. What really irks me though is when people think it’s appropriate to portray that judgement though it was fact. Or use it to try and pull down another person. Or to shame another person.

But, we do all do it, judge things that we are not, I suppose it’s a natural reaction.

‘Her house is so clean’, ‘Her house is so messy’. ‘He eats too much’, ‘He doesn’t eat enough’. ‘Did you see what so and so did/said’…

Her house might be clean because it helps with her anxiety. He might not eat enough because he has an eating disorder. There is so much judgement, more so right now.

At the beginning of the pandemic I was so guilty of it. ‘They aren’t from the same household’, ‘They shouldn’t have travelled that far’ and then one day I realised that actually they were from the same household, they just went to and from their other parents’ house (which was within the rules) and actually travelling to the countryside for a walk wasn’t a terrible breach of the rules either and something that later saved my mental health. And I also realised then, we shouldn’t judge what we are not, particularly when we don’t know the circumstances. These judgements, I realised, came from a place of fear.

I think that’s important to acknowledge that judgement does often come from a place of fear, the unknown or jealousy. In my experience anyway.

I had a baby during the pandemic, the week before the U.K. went into what we now know as ‘Lockdown 1.0’. I was petrified. For my family, the world, but most importantly my newborn baby. I spent weeks inside the house, scared to go outside, making excuses to not go for our daily walk. When I finally agreed to be dragged out for a walk, I was navigating my baby in her pram away from lampposts, cars and walls. I was that scared of touching anything around me in case I caught the virus, forgetting that actually, I could quite easily have gotten run over by a car when I was avoiding people by walking in the middle of the road. I was so focused on not getting the virus, I wasn’t enjoying my newborn baby. One night, mid breakdown, I knew I had to get better, to be better. I focused on my daily routine and the things we could do and enjoy as a family. Most importantly I stopped judging other people and what they were doing. I stopped worrying about whether people around me were following or not following the rules, that didn’t need my headspace. I needed to focus on my mental health and my family. I prioritised the things I enjoyed and switched off from the noise of the media and looked only at the facts. I also realised you have to focus on what you can control, not what you can’t and that until you know someone’s individual circumstances, have walked in their shoes, you cannot judge someone else and what they do.

It was this particular lightbulb moment for me that made me sit back and realise all of the things I’d not done for fear of judgement. The things I’d not said in case it was misconstrued or somebody didn’t agree. For some reason, I have an opinion that when I meet people that they won’t like me, and that I have to work for their approval. It’s a basic setting for me and I don’t know why. That probably will take a whole lot more than just writing to understand. But what I’ve realised is I now ask myself; ‘do I care?’ and ‘of what consequence is it?’. Am I so worried to be judged that I won’t do or say something that I want to? So, in the same way that unconsciously we may judge other people, we’ve got to accept that people may also judge us. But does it matter?

We shouldn’t judge what we don’t know. But we do. Why do we judge people on how they raise their children? Unless there is harm coming to that child, what does it have to do with us? Why do we judge people on what they do for a living? If it’s not stopping our bills getting paid, what does it have to do with us? Why do we judge people that either wear too much make up or not enough? If you were truly happy in your own skin would it bother you as much?  Why do we judge those that breastfeed, as well as those that don’t or can’t? A baby needs to be fed, no matter how you choose or need to do it. True, we all have our own opinions, and that is fine. But the minute you project that opinion to become a judgement onto a person or the minute you cast doubt over someone’s integrity with your judgement, it becomes unfair.

As I’ve said, of course, it’s natural to judge, and I’m not saying it’s wrong to have those thoughts and opinions (obviously!) but it’s just being mindful about what you put out into the world. Especially right now. It’s all such a learning curve and I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been there, I’ve done it. And I still do it. But now I’m a lot more mindful and do you know what? I actually feel like a weight has been lifted. Why should I be worrying about what other people are doing if I feel like I’m doing enough?

I’m hopeful that this realisation is helping me on my way to not caring as much as what people think about me, to an extent. I’ll always care about some things and that can be a good thing too. I guess this realisation started for me when I finally started writing my blog (thirtyandfabulous.blog) I’d wanted to do it for so long and I put it off because I worried about what people would think or say. But so what. I enjoy writing and it’s like a version of therapy for me. This realisation has evolved so much over the last year, since having a baby, your priorities change, and through lockdown I realised going forward my energy needs to only go on things that I want to do. I’ve been so focused on what other people were doing and how they were living their lives, I forgot to enjoy my own (I say enjoy lightly there – we were/are in the middle of a pandemic after all!).

I’m working on letting go of things that no longer serve me and focus on the things you can control, and that certainly isn’t how other people will judge you.

5 Things To… Improve Communication With Your Partner

 

By Catherine Topham Sly @insightandconnection

A note from Anna: Amidst the challenges of the last year, investing in our relationships with our partners may have slid down the list of priorities. In our household, we often have to remind ourselves that we are on the same team as we find ourselves bickering or feeling misunderstood. Catherine gives us some golden tips on how we can best approach these moments of tension and frustration.

We all know that communication is one of the secrets to a happy relationship. But it can be hard to know how to do it well. This is especially true when we didn’t grow up around great communicators (so that’s most of us, including me).

When you can’t get through to your partner it’s frustrating, stressful, and ultimately, miserable.

Most of the time, better communication means being a touch braver. We have to trust our partners – and ourselves – enough to take a risk and let them see a little bit more of us.

In my experience working with couples, our partners know way less about how we feel about things than we think. And stuff said in arguments usually doesn’t go in properly, because we can’t think straight when we’re angry. So if you haven’t talked about it calmly, you haven’t talked about it.

It can be scary to say how you feel, what’s worrying you, or what you need. It’s worth it though, to break those frustrating patterns of misunderstandings that only leave you feeling further apart.

1. Say how you feel (not what your partner’s doing wrong!)

Most of us here in the West were not brought up to pay much attention to our emotions. And everyone wants a partner who’s easy-going, right?

So what we tend to do is put up with things, often not fully aware we’re getting annoyed or upset. We often do this until something tips us over the edge and we blow. Sound familiar?

Then our perfectly valid complaints come out critical or blaming. And the trouble with this is that criticism just invites defensiveness.

Want to break that frustrating pattern of criticism-defence? This is how: notice and talk more about how you feel. Take the focus off what your partner has (or hasn’t) done. State the facts of the situation, as blandly as possible. Then tell them how you feel about it – using emotion words.

So instead of saying, “You never listen to me!” try, “When I’m saying something and you look at your phone, I feel rejected”.

Think they already know how you feel? Don’t be so sure. Humans are not as see-through as we think we are.

2. Share what you imagine

One of the most powerful changes you can make in your relationship is to get into the habit of saying the things you’re imagining.

Most of us do something like this. But a lot of the time they come out as accusations. So when you’re frustrated, you might say something like, “You don’t care about me at all!”

Where does this get us? More defensiveness. (Ugh.)

See if you can be brave enough to share your fears from a softer place. Try something like, “When you looked away, I imagined you weren’t interested in what I had to say… or even in me.”

Find the courage to let your partner hear about your worries. When they see your vulnerable side, they’ll feel more empathy and softness towards you. This will make them feel closer to you, and more willing to help.

3. Ask for what you need

How do you know you need to address something? An emotion tells you, whether it’s anger, frustration, sadness, or even excitement.

That’s how it works: feelings are messengers about needs.

Ask yourself, “What do I need?” whenever you feel a wave of emotion. (This will change not just your relationship with your partner but your life.)

We can’t always get all our needs met, at least at the same time. But until we acknowledge and discuss them, we’re missing opportunities to find solutions.

“I need you to give me your undivided attention for a few minutes” is a great start. “Because I need to feel like I’m important to you and you want to understand me” is even better.

It helps to follow up needs with specific requests, like “Would you be willing to…?”

If your partner isn’t used to talking like this, they might not respond how you want at first. Stay with it – a request is just the starting point of a negotiation.

4. Say ‘and’ not ‘but’

The simple habit of saying and instead of but can transform your communication. This might sound like verbal trickery. But it can actually create a genuine shift in how you and your partner look at things.

The trouble with the word but is that it often dismisses whatever came before it. And, on the other hand, is expansive.

If my partner says, “I’m exhausted” and I say, “But I need you to do this”, how will he feel? Like I completely invalidated his exhaustion.

If I say, “I know you’re exhausted, and we need to do get this done”, he’ll at least feel seen and understood.

That’s the point of a partnership, by the way: to make your partner feel loved, appreciated, understood, accepted, important, and close to you. The rest is just details.

5. Know when it’s better not to talk

You might think that a relationship therapist would recommend always talking about everything. Nope!

There are plenty of times when it’s better not to talk. If either of you is angry, hungry, exhausted, drunk, in a bad mood, or feeling insecure, or if the kids are in the room, wait.

Take a break whenever either of you feels overwhelmed by a conversation. If you keep getting wound up every time you come back to a topic, it can help to write to each other instead.

The thing about communication is that often less is more. If you bang on about things, your partner will stop listening. See if you can make your point in just a few sentences, and then leave it. Resist the urge to say it again a different way. Let it sink in.

Research has found that happy couples say five positive things to each other for every one negative. Try keeping track of your ratio. Increase the number of compliments and thanks your partner hears. See what changes.

Want to know the great thing about improving communication? Small changes can have a massive impact. Vulnerability is strength – watch what happens when you lean into yours.

I want to shout less. I want to drink less.

‘I shouted at Charlie. Like, really shouted at him. He cried. I cried, and now I feel bad’

Oh Anna, we all do that.
Don’t worry about it.
It’s tough.
Everyone loses it sometimes.
It’s not like it’s all the time.

‘I can’t remember the last day I didn’t have a drink. Just one the evening, but I need to have more booze free days’

Don’t worry about that.

Everyone is doing it.
It’s necessary, it’s needed.
You deserve it. What else do you have to look forward to?
It’s not like it’s a bottle.

I’ve uttered both of these things over the last few months, many times in varying ways. To friends on walks, on the phone.

Both are normalised, the shouting, the losing your rag. Oh those days when I gaze at the small, sleeping form of my child, stroke a cheek and promise to do better the next day. To be more present. Oh the days I climb into bed, my body softened by wine, promising to replace the next day’s pouring of a glass with the rolling out of a yoga mat.

But it’s all hard. Because it’s hard. And whilst my heart knows what I need, my mind and body are challenged by the upheaval of time, support, friendship, change in context, and adventures beyond my postcode.

So I swallow down emotions. I ignore a need for space because it’s not easy to find it, practically, logistically. I hold it all in, my edges taught and stretched like an overstuffed bin-bag. But sometimes it all comes pouring out, a broken damn, spilling everywhere, causing flood damage in its wake.

But those things require intention and intention requires discipline.
And discipline requires energy.
So I sink into habit, because it requires so little of either.
I continue. I fill up, I spill out.

Oh the release. Oh the guilt.

I flop onto the sofa. Knowing I need to talk, to be heard, to process. Knowing I need to rest, not scroll, talk not stare at yet another episode of a programme who’s plotline I have long lost. I need to wind down, to slow down, to calm my wired mind.

But those things require intention and intention requires discipline.
And discipline requires energy.
So I sink into habit, because it requires so little of either.
I pour a glass, I sigh, my shoulders drop.

Oh the release. Oh the guilt.

But in reaching out to friends, I get support. It all gets normalised. I am not alone, we are not alone. In the shouting, in the pouring of a glass. In all of the things.

Yet the guilt never softened with the utterances of ‘we’re all doing it’.

Because, underneath, whilst I know I am not alone, I also know we need to be gentle on ourselves, I am stepping beyond my own sense of what is okay for me. I do not want to let loose on my kids, I do not want to join them in their tantrums. I do not want to be reaching for daily wine as a means to a chaotic end.

In the normalising of things that deep down, I know aren’t right for me, I’m not falling to meet an unreachable bar, I’m lowering a valid one.

Sometimes, our minds want to hear ‘It’s fine’ whilst our hearts are whispering ‘will you stand with me as I seek better?’.

When we are full, and tired, and stretched and wired, it’s easier to spill out and fall into our own cracks.

I spoke to my husband about my overstuffed bin-bag. And we planned and we juggled, and I battled with the guilt that rose when he pledged to take the toddler for a daily walk so we could focus on home learning. I coach myself to accept the offer of an extra ten minutes in bed, or head up for an early night even though we’re half way through an episode.

And I fight the guilt, and do it anyway, because half an hour’s reading in bed can be the difference between having a messy meltdown, and the ability to breathe through the stress instead.

And as for the daily wine, I found a couple of friends who said ‘me too’, who echoed my ‘it’s understandable but it’s not what I want either’. And we’ve been doing a month of consistent booze free weekdays and it feels good.

But it’s a dance, a dalliance between what I want and what I need. Where compassion and care collide with, zig zag and cross over ease and gentleness. But it’s a dance I’m glad I’m dancing, all the same.

If the relief of normalising no longer hits the sweet spot that silences guilt, then perhaps your heart is whispering ‘will you stand with me as I seek better for myself?’.

Sometimes our yearning for ‘better’ isn’t driven by perfectionism.

It’s driven by a deep desire for freedom from the things that keep the flames of guilt alight
And for someone to stand beside you as you reach for it.

Ruby in the Rubble – How do you eat an elephant?

Ruby in the Rubble submission by Laura Castree

How do you eat an elephant? With a knife and fork.

A note from Anna: Perfectionism can find us inactive, halting moving forward because the cost of getting it (whatever it may be) wrong in some way, is high!  For many who struggle with procrastination, the issue is less often laziness and more often the fear of failure. A task can feel so insurmountable when the desire to do it perfectly is strong. I absolutely love Laura’s story of how a simple question has become a weapon with which she repeatedly breaks through this barrier of stifling perfectionism.

From a young age I have been aware of two warring factions within myself, which so often are forced into uncomfortable co-existence in those they afflict: ambition and perfectionism. I never wondered how exactly I inherited this particular mixture of blessing and curse; I grew up in a home which was the product and reward of my father’s incredible ambition, which was anchored by my mother’s loving perfectionism. Seeing what these two traits had done for my parents and for me meant that I never once considered that they would be difficult to manage when combined within one individual.

In reality, it has taken years for me to harness and manage these impulses. School days are, of course, the best of our lives, but for me they often proved overwhelming. I adored writing, but a word limit often stretched out before me as a seemingly insurmountable challenge. I spent evenings crafting vivid and wonderful futures for myself, and found myself horrified at the thought of the impossible feats required to achieve them. This ebb and flow of ambition, so often stalled and defeated by perfectionist anxiety, became more of a burden than a blessing.

In the height of one such episode, I remember being stopped in my tracks when some unfortunate unpaid therapist of mine posed the question that would change my life: “Look. How do you eat an elephant? With a knife and fork.” I wish I could say that I remember the date, particular meltdown and wonderful individual who gave me this gift, but unfortunately it is only the memory of this phrase which has endured. The first remarkable impact it had was to force me to pause, frown, and then laugh. I am now a teacher of secondary school children and this is still a moment I truly adore. I have deployed this phrase to pupils gulping down sobs after friendship breakdowns, hyperventilating before exams, and proclaiming that they are simply unable to process German grammar. The first gift offered by this phrase is that it forces the recipient to stop, think, and breathe, like the moment’s respite you experience when passing under a bridge in the pouring rain.

The second miracle in this simple phrase, is that it begins to transform a perilous mountain pass into a series of familiar stepping stones, and to transform our journey into a sequence of one foot after the other. I have personally never endeavoured to eat an elephant, but I am generally proficient in the use of a knife and fork, and as such already possess the tools to contemplate such a mammoth task (pun intended). When we think of overwhelming tasks we tend to envisage them in their towering, terrifying entirety, like the notion of eating an elephant in one mouthful. In reality they are so often comprised of a sequence of smaller bites which may take time and grit, but are certainly within our grasp. At one point several years ago I found myself in a position where I was simultaneously applying for teacher training programmes, selling my first home and buying another, studying an advanced French course in the evening and working full-time during the day. Whilst I wouldn’t recommend this to anybody, it was made possible by my miraculous elephant mantra; if I had taken a step back to look upon the situation I would most likely have failed, but instead I planned and lived in week-sized portions and somehow emerged victorious.

For me, the elephant has taken different forms over time. My inherited blend of ambition and perfectionism often produces elephants of my own making, as above, but it also makes our current, inescapable situation very uncomfortable. The indefinite expanse of time spent in lockdown stretching out before us is an elephant in itself; a parallel universe where ambitions are simply on pause and perfectionism is often beyond our grasp. I have friends who are home-schooling whilst breastfeeding for whom the routine of every day is an elephant, and I have family in the process of grieving who cannot even envisage the size and scope of theirs.

Whilst we are all experiencing our collective trauma very differently, what we all have in common is our knife and fork. Some days we pick them up with relish, and others with a sigh, but we pick them up nonetheless. The final gift of my lifesaving phrase is the promise it makes that you can, and will, eat your elephant. It might take months, or years, and you might throw down your knife and fork one day only to retrieve them the next, but one day you will accomplish the feat which once seemed simply too gargantuan and absurd to contemplate. How do you eat an elephant? With a knife and fork.

A different way of seeing self-care

I think I’ve changed my mind about self-care.

Self-care is not a shower. It’s not peeing when you need to. It’s not hydrating or going to bed instead of doing another load of washing.

That is self-respect.

Does my husband think he’s engaging in ‘a little self care’ when he hops into the shower to wash the day away? Or pours a quenching glass of tap water? (I can’t imagine that the thought even passes his mind to de-prioritise those basic rights anyway).

Yet we approach them with the indulgence and logistics of a spa-day.

Self-respect is meeting your basic needs.

They bring me to some kind of base level.

The over-and-above are the things that are more likely to relieve us from teetering on the edge of overwhelm. The extra. The things that bring us back to ourselves.

It’s not the speedy shower, but the long bath with a page-turner novel

It’s not the gulped down cuppa, but the coffee catching up with a friend

It’s not the ‘gimme a minute’ it’s the ‘please help me work out how I can get an hour or two’

It’s not the message reply ‘yeah I’m having a hard time’, it’s the ‘can we talk?’

It’s not the grab’ n go lunch but the one prepared and enjoyed sat down.

But perhaps we can find small ways to offer ourselves more than just the bare minimum. Upping our standards for what we deem a treat.

If I promised my kids a special day out and took them to the supermarket, they’d be solely disappointed.

If we pledge to work on our sense of worth and then ‘treat’ ourselves with a glass of water or a wee, then….some part of us learns to believe that‘a the limit of our deservedness, and that everything else is a guilt-ridden indulgence.

Self-respect should be the very basic, non negotiable level. And then everything else goes on top, the extras, the nice stuff. Because….*sits on hands trying not to type ‘you’re worth it*….well, because.

Just a thought.

5 things to…stop people pleasing

Stop people pleasing getting in the way of your dreams

5 Things Guest Submission by Joy Jewell @self.hood

A note from Anna: As someone who has struggled under the immense and relentless pressure of pleasing others, I am incredibly passionate about encouraging people to address this as a gift for themselves. Joy brings us some salient tips so that we can find our voice and claim our space as someone equally deserving of having our needs and feelings validated!

For generations women have been raised to give it all up for their family, to be the supportive wife and mother who puts everyone else first, saying yes to everything in a desperate plight to keep them happy. We’ve been moulded into people pleasers, dropping everything to support not just our family, but anyone around us.

Being a people pleaser is a tough gig because it’s a life of sacrifice. You can’t spend your days fulfilling the wishes and desires of others without giving up your own. In order to give someone time and energy you have to take them out of your own resources; once they are handed over they can’t be taken back.

As a result, you feel unfulfilled. You are so busy looking after everyone else’s wellbeing and supporting your loved ones in pursuing their dreams, you let your own dreams become dormant.

You tell yourself  ‘one day’.

When the kids start school or leave home, or your partner gets that promotion, or you retire… one day gets pushed back again and again.

People pleasing is a huge obstacle to personal fulfillment because it gets in the way of doing things for yourself – whether it’s spending some time alone to relax, or pursuing much bigger life goals.

Something has to give. It’s time to stop filling everyone else’s cup and start pouring into your own. Here’s how to start breaking free from people pleasing so that you can stop minimising yourself and live the life you deserve.

    1. Learn How to Say No
      Saying no lowers stress levels and frees up time, but the mere thought of it can create anxiety. Saying no does not equate to being unlikeable. It’s ok to turn things down. It doesn’t make you a bad person.If a straight ‘no’ feels uncomfortable, try these:Delay: On the verge of a panicked yes? Buy time with ‘I’ll have to get back to you’. This lets you come back with a considered ‘no’ when you’re less pressured.Gratitude: If you can’t yet separate saying no with being rude, start with gratitude. ‘Oh thank you for thinking of me, I’m afraid I’ll have to decline this time’ is to the point and kind.

      Alternative: It is possible to say no and still be helpful. Simply provide an alternative. Refer them to someone else, suggest another time in the future, or offer more hands off support.

    1. Turn ‘Should’ into ‘Could’
      We have a habit of filling our world with ‘shoulds’. ‘I should take the kids to the park, I should drink more water, I should do more exercise, I should be more productive’.Should is loaded with pressure. It’s demanding, overbearing… a burden. The ‘shoulds’ are always in the background convincing you that you aren’t doing enough. It’s exhausting.What if we replace ‘should’ with ‘could’? Suddenly, the pressure is lifted. We no longer feel like we are behind, frantically trying to catch up. ‘Could’ turns ‘should’ into an opportunity, not a demand. Where ‘should’ is asking for an end goal, ‘could’ gives you options.For a people pleaser, who often feels burdened by the things they think they have to do, this is an important and liberating shift. It allows you to pick and choose between the tasks that serve you, and those that don’t.
    1. Budget your Time and Pay Yourself First
      Picture each hour of the day as a coin. You start out with 24, just like everyone else. Several coins are spent straight away on sleep, then there are the non-negotiables like eating, cooking and basic hygiene. It’s up to you where to spend what’s left, but a people pleaser will give away their coins without hesitation, to anyone who asks for it. At the end of the day, there’s nothing left in the pot for you and you may feel taken advantage of.Time is a precious non-renewable resource, and life is short. We never know when our time is going to run out. Just like you would budget 24 coins, thinking carefully about how to spend them, get into the habit of budgeting your time too, always earmarking some for yourself every day. Pay yourself first, make it a daily priority.
    1. The 3 Ds
      People pleasers often think they need to do more, or do better. You take on all the responsibility for tasks, forcing a smile as you do so, but you are left feeling like you are drowning in your to-do list and don’t know how to come up for air.Feeling like you can’t cope is promptly followed by feelings of failure. Here’s the thing: you are allowed to ask for help, you are allowed to let things go, you are allowed to save things for another day. It doesn’t mean failing.Next time overwhelm creeps in remember the 3 Ds: delegate, delete, delay. Get all the tasks that you feel swamped by into a list and decide which can be delegated to someone else, deleted completely, or delayed to another time. Not only does this help beat overwhelm, it creates time for things which truly serve you.
    1. Celebrate your Own Achievements, Daily
      Do you need validation in order to feel good about yourself? Years of putting all your focus on other people can leave you unsure of yourself, so you look for approval from those around you.It is possible to appreciate your worth without looking to other people to reinforce it.Start celebrating your wins, especially the small ones. Going for a walk when the sofa was more inviting, making time to meditate, reading a chapter of your book, saying no instead of a knee-jerk yes… celebrating these daily achievements will help you raise your self esteem by getting you into the habit of thinking about yourself in a more positive way.

By following these five tips, you can break out of the people pleaser trap and start shining a light on the hopes and ambitions you have for your own life, gloriously guilt free.

Maybe it’s hard because it’s hard

If you’re finding life, the struggle with the juggle, the rollercoaster… hard, it’s so easy to slip into a feeling of failure. To be blaming yourself for not keeping all of the balls in the air, shaming yourself for finding it tough when in many ways you feel very lucky.

I wanted to share with you a lightbulb moment (you know I love a lightbulb moment) I had at the beginning of the first UK pandemic lockdown in March 2020. It feels so relevant, and is something I keep returning to:

Something clicked last night. I cried tears that I knew would sting in the morning. Trying to work out why even though my home is FULL of the things I love, my family, my job, I felt so…needing.

Life has become stripped back. What has remained here, in my home is my family and my work.

Both require me. Lots of me. All the time.

I look into their faces and I want to see them, to hear them. But it’s like wearing headphones with the radio stuck on. My mind is busy and fast, and loud. I’m there but I’m not.

I answer questions on autopilot. Realising seconds later that I’ve agreed to chocolate as I serve dinner. Charlie, my son, calls my name 5 times. I hear him but I don’t.

I want to be here, yet my mind leaps like a confused frog, from present to future. The weight of the to-do list, food shopping, emails, people I need to check in on, sits on my shoulders and in my heart.

And then I realised what I was hungry for. Lazy discussion about everything and nothing. Being with those who don’t care whether or not you provide a snack or an email.

I miss the 23-second conversations had whilst leaning against a friend’s washing machine, interrupted by fights over toys. I miss the presence of a friend.

I know we have phones and zoom. It’s something. But it’s like being served a softening poppadum when you’re hungry for the full curry shebang.

I miss just BEING with. Just being me, with no expectation, request or agenda.

Those playdate half-conversations never felt long enough. The kid free supermarket dashes never felt quite enough space. But they clearly gave me more than I realised. And I miss them. Little mini respites from the intensity. Little things that fuelled and refilled us more than we knew at the time.

 I took a lone walk, called a couple of friends, and came home feeling so refreshed, and known. It helps.

Maybe it’s just hard because it’s hard. I know some people have it ‘harder’. But this is MY hard’

If this feeling resonates, here are some tips that might help:

  • Make time for yourself. Be it a snatched ten minutes here, an early retreat to bed with a book instead of a phone, a bath over a speedy shower. You might have to fiddle with logistics, to ask for support in facilitating those moments of space, but prioritise them as if your family depend on you being refilled and refuelled.
  • Try to avoid the temptation to invalidate your feelings with gratitude and positivity. They are powerful tools, but ensure that you’re bringing them ALONGSIDE your feelings, rather than forcing yourself to feel grateful INSTEAD of overwhelmed. You can feel both.
  • Breathe. Literally. When we are stressed, we our breath is impacted. You might breathe more shallower, higher in your chest, you might clench your jaw or skip a breath all together. Become mindful of your breath, slow it down and deepen it. It helps calm your nervous system.
  • Bin all the ‘should’s right now. I ‘should’ be doing more, I ‘should’ be better. Right now the focus needs to be on surviving and nurturing your mental health.
  • Adopt a mantra to help ground you. When I realise I’m slipping into a sense of failure I repeat ‘It’s hard because it’s hard’. It introduces a little compassion into my mindset! We all need more of that.
  • Seek support in whatever way you can. I spent many years of life fearing being a burden, but I’m realising that sharing the burden with the right people doesn’t mean I am one.
  • Work on your self-esteem. Often the reasons we find it so challenging to reprioritise ourselves is because, deep down, we don’t believe we are worthy of kindness, from ourselves or from others. Have a look at my Week on Worth Course as a great first step into sending your self-esteem on an upward spiral.
  • Check your inner dialogue. If you’re critical and bullying, try and imagine what a kind, compassionate friend would say. Introduce a kinder voice where you can to counteract the critic.

 

Ruby in the Rubble – Love Sweat and Tees

Ruby in the Rubble submission by @lovesweatandtees

A note from Anna: As someone who’s world has been changed by a cancer diagnosis (of my Sister), I know how it can shake the very foundations we stand upon. Hayley brings us her ‘Ruby in The Rubble’ story. Her husband’s cancer diagnosis bought with it a reason to jump into some of the things that had only until then, existed as dreams. Be encouraged and inspired as you read her words, and then enjoy a browse of Love Sweat and Tees, her business that was birthed from a tough time!

“Just bad luck”. That was the explanation provided by my husband’s wonderful surgeon when we asked how it was possible that a sporty, fit, healthy 40-year-old could have been diagnosed with Stage 3 bowel cancer. It was April 2017. My husband Ben had been feeling unwell for around six months. He was passing blood in his poo, had stomach pains and night sweats. Many visits to the GP and a couple of blood tests during that period had seen him diagnosed with nothing more severe than a urine infection and piles but after insisting, he was finally referred for a colonoscopy to enable a camera to take a closer look at the inside of his bowel. The colonoscopy identified a 5cm tumour in his lower intestine that we were soon after told was cancerous and had spread to his lymph nodes.

The initial diagnosis left us in total shock. Ben was super sporty; you name it he could play it, from tennis to rugby. He didn’t smoke, wasn’t a big drinker and ate well. Not a normal profile for bowel cancer. Until then we had both led very happy, healthy lives with few bumps in the road that we hadn’t been able to overcome with hard work and the support of those around us. We’d both grown up with wonderful families and a close knit group of friends. The two of us had become friends at university, stayed in occasional contact as we both lived in London and got together in 2003 in our mid-twenties. We moved in together after six months, got married a few years later, moved out to the leafy suburbs of Buckinghamshire and had two wonderful happy, healthy children, Max and Arthur.

To be faced with something so totally unexpected that could not be solved through trying / training / working hard, and that was totally out of our control was devastating for both of us. It turned our lives upside down. It felt bigger than the diagnosis itself – it took away the certainty that we’d both taken for granted until then that life would be OK, that anything was surmountable, that we would bring our children up as a happy unit of four.

Our children were 9 and 6 years old at the time. Ben was a very hands-on daddy. While we both worked long hours during the week, our family time generally revolved around sport, largely led by Ben. He coached our 6-year old’s football team. He’d spend hours with the boys teaching them how to pass a rugby ball or bowl a cricket ball (and teaching me too!). He was the centre of our world. Trying to explain to the that daddy had cancer, that he’d need a big operation and medicine called chemotherapy and that he would be feeling very poorly was the hardest thing we’ve ever had to do.

Just three weeks after his diagnosis, Ben underwent a bowel resection. The tumour and lymph nodes were removed and Ben spent the following three weeks in hospital recovering from surgery. The children were desperate to see him but seeing him with many tubes, attached to monitors and often semi-conscious due to the pain medication left the children worried and confused. The worry about Ben and about the impact on the children as well as the practicalities of lone parenting, visiting, organising left me exhausted with little time or emotional energy to do much more than just keep going, let alone really process anything that was happening.

In the months that followed, Ben underwent chemotherapy that left him weak and sick. He did what he could when he could but was often unable to do more than lie on the sofa. A short walk each day left him exhausted. He was thin and weak and often looked a worrying pale yellow-grey colour. On top of the physical stress was the worry that the chemo wouldn’t work, that the cancer would come back and that he wouldn’t see the boys grow up.

Before Ben’s cancer diagnosis, our lives had followed a steady, tradition path: university, stable jobs, marriage, children, suburbia. We were conservative with money – always saving for the future when we thought we’d do something more fun, more meaningful that the steady 9-5. We had often talked about what we’d do when we had the money, the time, the freedom from mortgage payments and expectations about our careers. We often used the phrase “this time next year Rodney” – a phrase from Only Fools and Horses that basically referenced the fact that things would be different “next year”, “in a few years” “at some point in the future”. I had always dreamt of running my own business. We’d always planned to run the London Marathon. Our holidays had generally been UK-based to conserve money “for the future” but we dreamt of travelling with the boys. Until Ben’s diagnosis we’d always felt comfortable in the knowledge that we could do all of these things when the time was right. Cancer changed all of that. It took away the certainty of a future. “This time next year” might never arrive. But among all of those feelings was something positive – our ruby in the rubble. It was the sense that life is short and it’s for living now and despite the exhaustion for both of us it drove us to do more with 2017 than we could have ever imagined possible.

Fast forward to April 2018, just six months after Ben finished chemotherapy and Ben I found ourselves on the starting line for the London Marathon, having raised over £10K in sponsorship for Bowel Cancer UK, a charity that offered us support and advice throughout Ben’s treatment. I trained from June 2017, throughout Ben’s treatment. Ben started training in November 2017, just after his last course of chemo. He ran it in just under four hours. I took slightly (a lot) longer. He always was annoyingly good at sport. Had it not been for Ben’s cancer diagnosis that would have been a dream, something on our “this time next year Rodney list” even now.

The bigger ruby in the rubble for me was the launch of my business, Love Sweat + Tees. It had always been my dream to run my own business. I had worked in fashion retail for many years and I knew a thing or two about the power of a good outfit as confidence-giving, mood-changing expression of self-worth and self-care. When I had children I increasingly found that, while my work wardrobe expressed me and my sense of style, I relied on the same couple of pairs of jeans and plain hoodies whilst running around with the kids. A rare night out required serious thought to find an outfit that ticked the “cool, stylish but not overdressed box”. There were no effortlessly stylish outfits to hand. Growing ever more frustrated with the lack of good quality, hardworking “forever” pieces in my day to day wardrobe that expressed my sense of style outside of work, I dreamt of one day creating my own independent brand. I had business plans and roadmaps but it never felt like quite the right time to make that jump. Ben’s diagnosis gave me that push.

Despite a juggling a full time job, caring for two young children and a poorly husband, managing the cooking and cleaning solo, I decided that 2017 was the time to go ahead and start my business. I started Love Sweat and Tees in October 2017, after months of researching ethical production, testing the quality of sweats, poring over colour charts and learning about printing techniques. I launched with a small collection of six sweaters. Looking back, it was total madness to try to do this while Ben was ill and I don’t know what I was thinking. But Love Sweat + Tees has gone from strength to strength. I now have a collection of over fifty products, a huge number of wonderfully loyal customers and sell to eighteen wholesale boutiques. I still run the business alongside a full time job and plenty of games of football with a (now healthy) Ben and (now slightly older and more boisterous) boys. It took Ben’s diagnosis to make it all feel not only possible but necessary to get on and do the things that we knew would make our lives happier and more fulfilling.

That’s not to say that we don’t still have dreams that we put off, that now that Ben has fully recovered we don’t find it easier to add things to our list than to live in the moment. I think that most of us are like that. But I think the change of perspective that cancer brought with it will forever give us a little push whenever we get to comfortable with putting things off until “this time next year, Rodney”.


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