Setting Intentions

I started writing this post 10 months ago, a few weeks into the new year, that time of year when everyone is reflecting and hoping to manifest change in the coming months. I knew I wanted to invite change into my life but at that point I was too overwhelmed to think for more than a few minutes about it. I tend to start writing and soon lose interest but the reason I was drawn back to this topic was because, as the year comes to a close, I am reflecting on the intended and unintended things that I have experienced this year.

Now, ten months after I started, I am writing this from the echoey hall of a museum in Lisbon. Whatever change I had hoped to manifest I don’t think moving to Portugal was it, but I am trying to allow myself to not get bogged down in the things I can’t control or change. One thing I decided to change a few weeks ago was not to wait till the 31st December or 1st January to make a decision about how and what I wanted to change in 2020. I wanted to make changes immediately which I did but also to give myself time to really evaluate what I want and where I want to be, which I am doing.

One thing I decided to change a few weeks ago was not to wait till the 31st December or 1st January to make a decision about how and what I wanted to change in 2020.

There is something enticing about waiting till the very last moments of the year, or the first few hours of one, to announce a grand plan but in reality (for me at least) they are often too big and grand to last. My most effective intentions have always been ones which I knew I needed and would make me happy.

A few years ago, my intention was to go to the theatre more, which I did, last year I wanted to wear red make-up more which I also did. My friend told me she chooses a word she wants to define the year which I tried but have completely forgotten what word I chose! I will write it down next time. I like intentions like this, they don’t aim to completely reshape your life or demand you change your personality or body, they just gently nudge you, encouraging you to do things for yourself or commit to a theme for your year.

What I am trying to consider now is what intentions are most important to me, do I want to travel more or spend more time with my family? Do I want to continue to be impulsive and independent or do I want to commit to one person?  Will I move again or give myself more time in my new space?

I like intentions that don’t aim to completely reshape your life or demand you change your personality or body, they just gently nudge you, encouraging you to do things for yourself.

Maybe you don’t have these kind of brain scrambles when setting intentions, maybe you are one of those amazing people who sets your mind on something and just goes for it. I am one of those types who over analyses which is why when it comes to intentions it is easier for me to stick to things I want more of in my life than habits I want to pick up.

I think another part of it is being scared of setting something in stone, I have an all or nothing type attitude especially when it comes to achieving something to do with work.  Setting an intention to complete something or achieve something bigger and more life changing means you have to grapple with the fact you might not actually get it. It won’t fundamentally change my life if I stop wearing red eye shadow but if I don’t get to publish a book or buy a house then that will actually feel really crap.

In reality though these intentions don’t need to be any scarier, they just involve more flexibility and few small intentions along the way. Setting a big huge intention for 2020 is a great idea as long as you don’t expect yourself to have achieved in by the end of January 2020.

I’m still trying to work out what I want for the next year and the next decade. All I can say is that whatever I choose to work towards I won’t judge myself as harshly for not doing it perfectly. In the past my intentions have been about loosing weight, being better, making more money blah blah blah but the biggest changes happened to me when I gave myself space for them. When I let myself be slow or static and knew that was ok. Right now in this moment I am just hoping I reach 2030 with most of my teeth.

Self-care playlist November 2019

I started making playlists for myself about a year ago, every two months or so I make a new playlist of all the songs I have been listening to. Sometimes it will be old songs that I have been thinking about but usually it is new stuff that I play on repeat.

Music has such a massive impact on my mood. I always notice around 4pm if I haven’t listened to anything because I feel well agitated! So here are some of my go to songs guaranteed to lift my mood!

Bottom Bitch – Doja Cat

I only just put this on my playlist and it was a real surprise find for me. I didn’t think I liked the artist although my friends were always recommending them. This came up in a recommended playlist for me and I immediately loved it. With all the changes I have gone through, I felt like my confidence has taken a knocking and although this song has nothing to do with that it somehow gives me a little boost when I listen to it.

When I wake up feeling a little groggy or unprepared I play this while brushing my teeth, works every time!

The End (feat. Lady Zamar)

This is actually from my October/November 2018 playlist  but I stumbled across it and remembered how much I loved this song. I was in a very different mind space then but this song still chills me out. The meaning of the lyrics  change depending on my mood but it always motivates me whether I am stressed, tired or hopeless.

Joy – Bastille

When I was feeling like I wanted to scream in frustration about work or cry with hopelessness or whatever else this song saved me! I played it non-stop in between meetings at work, put it on when I was tidying up, when I needed some motivation to get out of my house, whatever mood I was in this song made it better.

Whole of the Moon – Karine Polwart

My Dad gave me a Karine Polwart album when I was fourteen. I loved her voice and her songs so much, so delicate and warm. I’ve continued to listen to that same album but when I heard this song in August 2019 it felt like it had come to me right when I needed it.

I haven’t lived in Scotland for a long time now, so it felt like a little bit of home wherever I was during a time when I was really lacking stability. The whole album is beautiful and definitely worth a few listens.

 

Emotional Change and Self-Care

This year has been incredibly intense. In just the last four months I’ve lost a job, left a very secure home, left my dearest people and started on a new and unexpected chapter. Maintaining some sense of mental stability has been incredibly difficult and one which I still don’t feel like I am successfully achieving.

This article has been brewing for quite a while. I’ve been very distracted the last few months but also afraid of actually writing. Putting my thoughts out into the world is really overwhelming and I struggle to not see it as self-indulgent and useless. What is the point when there are so many people out there who could say it better? Well for the final two months of 2019 I have decided to say fuckit. I’ve paid for the annual subscription so I may as well use it!

With so many different changes taking place in my life right now I’ve been thinking a lot about change and self-care. Change can happen in different ways obviously but how can you look after yourself and respond to change? How should your self-care and self-compassion change to support yourself through change?

I’ve been given a number of different mental health diagnosis in the past but I don’t know how much that information has really helped me look after myself. This move has made me realise the work I need to put into really understanding what I need during times of emotional change. Having a term can be useful for speaking with medical professionals or explaining things to your close ones, but ultimately you have to learn how to handle yourself.

New things will always be there to blind side you on a random Tuesday but working out healthy ways to respond to them will always be crucial. Having a regular routine is important but I’ve found that my existing routine has not only been harder to stick to (due to moving) but also didn’t work as effectively as it had before once I had kind of settled down. Changing up your self-care is intimidating and a lot of work. I definitely opted for the “ignore it and hope it goes away” route for a few weeks in the hope that I wouldn’t need to put the work in. Even after years of work on my mental health there is still that little voice encouraging me not to try, that same voice convinces me I am going to win the lottery but isn’t much use when I find myself crying in the shower and unable to stop. It takes consistent effort to combat that voice.

Don’t let yourself be convinced that you aren’t worth the effort.

Time

I’ve seen a lot of memes in the last few months along the lines of “there are only 3 months 2019 left, don’t let anyone waste your time” or “There are only two months till a new decade, make it count.” Every time I see them I think, ‘fuck you! I’ll sit on my ass and not achieve anything just to spite you are your judgey little meme’

Now that isn’t the healthiest or most rational response to an Instagram post but they do really annoy me. People are obsessed with time and achievement. From my own experience time is completely useless when thinking about mental health or self-care. I spent six months in therapy and left feeling worse than I did when I went in. Other people I know went to three sessions and felt great. When it comes to self-care, mental health and time the only thing you need to do is give yourself as much of it as you need.

Use your time wisely yes but if part of your self-care routine is coming home and watching Netflix for six hours that is perfectly valid. My critical voice is constantly telling me to be more productive but it never works. I always end up re-watching old TV shows but then just feeling shite about it, I may as well just watch series four of ER and enjoy it and appreciate the time and ability to do it.

My most recent bout of depression actually scared me, I felt so hopeless I didn’t know what would happen. Rather than continue to wallow in it I reached out for help. Having to pay for counselling was also scary, I didn’t think I should spend that much, but knowing that I was far from my usual support network I had to convince myself. Rather than dwelling on the fact I don’t have more money or trying to keep struggling on my own, I found an online counselling service that worked for me and got a small discount after explaining my financial situation.

Space

One of the lowest points in my mental health was when I was living in an utter shithole of a flat. It was cheap and I had no money but I could have made it a better space for myself. Having a sanctuary is so important when you are stressed. Making that sanctuary isn’t about getting Queer Eye in to rebuild your house and paint your walls grey and teal (though that would be pretty awesome) but about making your space nurturing in any way you can.

Make the most of what you already have. The new flat I have is far from my dream space but as soon as I moved in, I made sure to put my photos and pictures all over the walls. I’m working on the rest but the photos are the important bit for me.

Making a nurturing space isn’t about buying £35 scented candles or 100% agora blankets. Start with one area and build from there. I realised my bed isn’t doing me any favours, the pillows are uncomfortable and it doesn’t feel snug. So, I will be spending money on this area (bedsheets, pillows etc) before moving onto the bathroom, kitchen, living room etc.

Don’t Judge Yourself

Even though I thought I was doing much better in terms of self-compassion I realised that I have been incredibly hard on myself throughout this move. Telling myself I am not being productive enough, not moving fast enough, not achieving anything, basically making myself feel like shit.

It took a long time for me to realise what an absolute dick I can be to myself, even if I have improved I realise now it is still my default. I judge myself for being too tired to “do things”, I obsess over my productivity, I write to do lists and then get frustrated that I don’t finish them in an hour! I’m working towards a place where I can just be, be ok with being too tired to do much, be ok that sometimes I just want to watch TV and not read a book, be ok that I ate a lot and didn’t do a huge amount of exercise or whatever other thing I feel like I don’t deserve.

Whatever you are doing to relax or numb out for a little bit, don’t judge yourself for it, be honest about why you are doing it and why you feel like you need that thing. Reflect on it


Ultimately self-care isn’t a static thing, it needs to be flexible to meet your needs but your needs will change. When your needs change the process of working out how to respond can be really frustrating. The key thing is to be honest about what you need for yourself and don’t let yourself feel guilty about it.

Holding your ACEs

ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) refers to negative experiences children and adolescents go through such as physical abuse, neglect or household dysfunction. Since the original research was done in the late nineties further studies have been conducted showing the negative impact they can have on the adults. Unsurprisingly, for children who go through some really fucked up shit they have some problems as adults. Those with a ‘high score’ (i.e. have experienced multiple adverse childhood experiences) are more likely to suffer from chronic depression, more likely to smoke, more likely to experience sexual assault and attempt suicide, there are a whole range of increased risks which (if you are in the mood for a downer) you can read all about here.

I never really accepted that my childhood was really fucked up, I went to a school where I could hide in plain sight. I was poor but there were poorer kids. Parental separation was really common by the time I got to secondary. A lot of my friends’ parents were alcoholics, used or sold drugs and only a few people outside my immediate family knew my mum would beat us in mad rages, but I knew my friend’s parents did the same sometimes.  Being surrounded by it normalised it, I didn’t know until I was much older that these were not the experiences most children lived through. I also had nice memories from my childhood, summers spent with my cousins at the beach and sleepovers with friends. As an adult, I used these to minimise the darker aspects of my childhood, focusing on what I did have and blocking out what was too difficult to deal with. Blocking the memories didn’t stop me struggling, I just didn’t make the link between them and my poor mental health.

Now as an adult I have found myself in a sector that supports children going through even worse things than I did. It sounds strange but it wasn’t until about 12 months ago that I realised why I might have been drawn to this kind of work. It doesn’t pay well, it is really hard and it is emotionally draining, but I have always wanted to help people. The irony is I didn’t want to help myself, I never looked after myself, I didn’t think I deserved it. Being beaten and threatened scared me into silence and made me believe I was a bad person, who must have done terrible things, to be treated like that. Combined with the neglect and deprivation that I lived through I didn’t have a healthy sense of what I need and deserve.  One of the most detrimental aspects of ACES is that often those who experience them internalise them and they manifest in a lot of self-hatred.

For anyone who hasn’t experienced it, it might be hard to understand why you would hate yourself because someone else violated you. For so long I was ashamed of my upbringing, I didn’t want people to know how poor I had was and the rest of my family didn’t really know how bad it was with my mum. I felt isolated by what I had been through which meant I wasn’t able to reach out to people for the support I needed. I didn’t know what being cared for was. I was too ashamed and shut down to address it even when I found myself in therapy.

My therapist tried and failed to get me to recognise that these experiences had moulded my mental health and perspective as an adult. Being confronted so forcefully and trying to stifle the memories and emotions exacerbated my problems, I internalised the conflict and went back to the coping mechanism I had relied on as a teenager – bulimia. It was after a lot more individual therapy, that I came to family therapy with my brother, where I finally felt safe enough to speak about and accept that the stress of my childhood was not my fault but had real affects for on me now.

But now that I am working to accept and properly process what I went through I feel so much freer. More open to admitting to people how hard it was for me growing up and accepting that I need to deal with it. Different experiences will manifest themselves in different ways but holding your ACEs (whatever they were) with care and compassion can help you manage where you are now. You are still that child, you need to give yourself the love and care you were denied in the past.

So, although I am still very early into this process I have found a few things particularly useful.

  1. Read “The Body Keeps Score”

If you are like me and you love a bit of context for your mental health, then you will love this book. Not only does it outline the physical impact of a huge variety of mental illnesses it also discusses different non-traditional treatment approaches. It was incredibly informative and opened me up to different therapeutic approaches, beyond traditional therapy. Big trigger warning though, it is not an easy read, it has taken me months to finish this book. If it isn’t safe for you then you can also access author Bessel van der Kolk through interviews like this one or message me and we can discuss the treatments without the case studies

  1. Do your research and look into specific therapies

I didn’t address my childhood experiences until I got into family therapy. It was not a purposeful decision, I went into it to find a way to discuss my eating disorder with my brother but the sessions became a space for us to speak about the trauma we had experienced. We had both shut it down in different ways and this was one of the first times we could speak about it in a healthy way. Therapy is sadly still a luxury not everyone can access but doing your research can avoid you ending up with the wrong type.  If you don’t have the means or motivation to get into therapy, then you can find lots of information online on ways to resolve or heal your childhood experiences.

  1. Don’t feel guilty about avoiding/removing toxic people

Whether this is someone from your childhood who you need to shift away from or someone you have met as an adult who triggers you, don’t feel guilty about taking space from them or removing them from your life. My guilt around doing this myself still surfaces, it is natural, but ultimately it is the healthiest choice for me. If I don’t put myself first then who will?

Autobiography in Five Chapters Portia Nelson

I

I walk down the street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk

I fall in.

I am lost…

I am hopeless.

It isn’t my fault.

It takes forever to find a way out.

II

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I pretend I don’t see it.

I fall in again.

I can’t believe I’m in the same place.

But it isn’t my fault.

It still takes a long time to get out.

III

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I see it is there.

I still fall in…it’s a habit

My eyes are open; I know where I am;

It is my fault.

I get out immediately.

IV

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I walk around it.

V

I walk down another street.