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.

 

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?

rupi kaur

i made change after change

on the road to perfection

but when i finally felt beautiful enough

their definition of beauty

suddenly changed

 

what if there is no finish line

and in an attempt to keep up

i lose the gifts i was born with

for a beauty so insecure

it can commit to itself

-the lies they sell

Books and Bulimia

On Monday I got an email reminder that it was Eating Disorder Awareness Week.  I haven’t written about this before but thought this week was as good as any to give it a go.

Although, I have a lot of friends who have experienced depression or anxiety I don’t have anyone else in my life, who I know of, who has struggled with disordered eating. As a teenager and in my early twenties I felt completely alone with it, the only one who spent every day battling with my body and food. Of all the problems I have had with my mental health my experience with bulimia is still the one I struggle to speak openly about. It took years for me to feel comfortable to admit to even having a problem.  I was so ashamed of myself, angry that I couldn’t just snap out of it and scared of being judged for something I thought was disgusting and reckless.

Shame is a common emotion associated with mental health problems. For people who don’t understand them eating disorders are a skinny, teenage, white girl’s disease. These two factors make it hard for people who suffer from bulimia or binge eating disorder to seek or receive the medical support they need. Not looking completely emaciated can make it hard for people to get the help they need. Some GPs and treatment centres still use weight as a diagnostic criteria for treatment and most people will be complimented by friends or family if they lose weight. I first sought treatment when I was 19 and was seen by a counsellor who told me it seemed like I was looking for attention. I didn’t seek help again for years. By staying quiet (and not telling my doctor the counsellor was an idiot) my shame took a greater hold of me and I told myself I wasn’t strong enough or deserving enough to get better.

My route to recovery was not smooth, I had many more problematic responses from medical professionals before I found a team who supported me how I needed. I didn’t go from actively bulimic to recovery overnight and it took time for me to feel comfortable enough to speak to people about it.

Before I could speak about it, I read about it and listened to other people talking about it.  Finding other ‘normal’ people who understood the shame and isolation of an eating disorder, people who like me didn’t ‘look like they had an eating disorder’ helped me to find a way to speak about it with non-medical professionals and accept it as part of me but not a shameful defining factor.

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Eating in the Light of the Moon This book genuinely changed my life. Author Anita Johnston uses fables and fairy tales from around the world to create metaphors for disordered eating. Reading it helped me realise how isolated I was, by hiding my eating disorder I was blocking myself off and ensuring I could never overcome the shame I had about having the eating disorder in the first place. It has activities and strategies to help understand the roots of your disordered eating and how to combat them.

You can access more information on the Light of the Moon Café website, which has blog posts, resources and free books all aimed at helping you tackle your issues with food.

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Sensing the Self This book was recommended to me by a therapist. It is quite academic but hearing testimonies of women who were in the middle of or in recovery from bulimia definitely helped me feel less alone. Seeing myself in other women’s experience was so powerful, hearing their shame made mine feel less scary and it helped me visualise a place where I could be free from my eating disorder.

So the blog title says books but I am also a big radio/podcast lover and my recovery has really been boosted by shows which promote body liberation and mental health.

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Food Psyche Moving on from my eating disorder wasn’t easy and maintaining it while surrounded by messages which promoted weight loss and thinness was a real struggle. I tried a few different podcasts about eating disorder recovery, and although they had good advice, I didn’t enjoy listening to them. Food Psyche has a really diverse guest list; activists, dieticians, psychologists, yoga teachers, Instagram influencers all speaking about their relationships with food and being happy with the shape, size, abilities and colour of their bodies. I’m far from a beacon of body positivity but this podcast has really helped me feel ok with not being ok.

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Getting Curious I was already in a stable recovery when I found the beautiful sunshine that is Jonathan Van Ness but this episode fully made me cry. Hearing someone who I looked up to and admired so much speak about suffering with and recovering from bulimia was incredibly powerful. The podcast in general is fantastic, and definitely a good shout for feel good listening, but this episode was a nice reminder that eating disorders effect all sorts of different people who go on to be successful and brilliant!