What could you achieve…?

Do you take opportunities when they are presented to you?

Nine months ago an amazing project began. It has changed lives in immeasurable ways and no-one involved could have ever imagined the impact it has had. 

My husband, Ian, was chatting to his friend Rich last summer and Rich mentioned that he had had this idea to raise money for a local cancer charity, KMAC. He was going to get a group of local people together and put on a show at the local theatre. More than that, inspired by the ITV Full Monty show that had recently been on with various celebrities, it was going to be a full monty show.  Ian is very supportive, and will do anything for his friends but his reaction was “I’ll help you, but I’m not doing it!”. 
Now Ian is not just a great friend, he’s also a considerable asset on a project like this, he has so many complementary strings to his bow; videographer, graphic design, sound technician, musician and composer, journalist… He’s a very talented man. However, you could know Ian for a long time and not know any of that because he is also painfully modest and has struggled with anxiety most of his life. (I can share this because he has been very honest about it publicly recently). He is my hero and I love him very much.

Back to the story…

Over the coming months Rich managed to get a core group of people together; 9 local men and 9 local women, all of whom had been affected by cancer in some way and were prepared to perform on stage at The Gatehouse, Stafford to raise money for KMAC.  It is important to mention that although they had agreed to it, they all had very personal reasons for doing the show. Many had undergone cancer treatment, others had lost loved ones to cancer. Some were doing it to overcome body confidence issues, some to prove to themselves that they could. Ian agreed to video all the rehearsals, meetings etc as well as the final shows to create a documentary. They booked two nights at the Gatehouse and rehearsals began.  Every Sunday these amazing people gathered to learn their dance moves with local choreographer, Lucie Talbott, photographer Sam Carpenter, Alan Gee who was in charge of promotion, social media and everything no one else wanted to do, and of course Ian with his video camera. They were shy, scared and most had no dance experience at all, let alone any experience of taking their clothes off on stage!
Along the way their confidence grew. They formed friendships and became a family. Unfortunately during the six months they rehearsed several people involved had loved ones pass due to cancer, this just made them more determined to make it a success though. Their dedication to the project was inspiring and the results they each experienced could never have been predicted. By the time the big night came round they had a full night of variety planned with local singers, dancers, local bands and a comedy magician and both nights were a sell out. They had laughed, cried, confided and resigned themselves to putting on the best show they could.

But what did they achieve?

Well, before I forget the purpose of the show, they have to date raised well over £30k for KMAC which is over three times the amount they first hoped to raise. It might sound strange to say it but this was almost the least important thing they achieved looking back. More significantly confidence was restored, body image improved (not just for the performers, they have had messages from people in the audience who have been helped), marriages have been saved, fears overcome, friendships formed… and these are just the things that are coming to mind now, there has been so much to this project my head is full of stories and my heart is full of love and pride. If you want to find out more about this amazing project and follow their journey as it continues why not like their Facebook page or check out Ian’s Youtube channel to watch some of the videos he made for them.  

How does this help you?

Well, we are all presented with opportunities every day. Some big some small. How often to we grab them with both hands and throw ourselves wholeheartedly into something that scares us? If these amazing people hadn’t made the decision to overcome their fears and step out of their comfort zones they may have lived the rest of their lives feeling scared, insecure, unable to change in communal dressing rooms or talk openly to people about their feelings. They decided to get out of their own way and do something truly terrifying but the pay off has been immeasurable. There isn’t one person who has been involved in this project who wishes they hadn’t wasted their time. They have all learned and all grown and not always in the ways they might have expected.   

Next time an opportunity comes your way what choice will you make?

Is your body controlling your mood?

February has been tough.

I don’t very often moan and I want to assure you that that isn’t what I’m doing now. What I want to do is to help you see that we all struggle sometimes. 

We do, it’s inevitable. 

No-one is happy and energised all the time. 

I spend a lot of time talking about helping to improve your mood and how easy it can be to change your mindset but sometimes it feels like too many factors are conspiring against you doesn’t it? It is all just too much.

Just before Christmas I went to see the nurse about my asthma. She was lovely and a little concerned about my breathing. It had been getting more difficult, despite being really strict about my diet and she prescribed a brown inhaler to be taken morning and night.

Now, as you may know if you have read some of my other blogs, my body does not react the same way as the average body. My acromegaly means that I deal with steroids differently to most people.

I had been feeling really tired since the start of the year. I convinced myself it was because my diet had been far from perfect and I had had an incredibly busy Autumn term. It wasn’t until I went to see my consultant that I realised that there was a reason I had been feeling so incredibly tired. 

While I had been gentle with myself, allowed myself more time that usual to rest and tried to get back to healthier eating habits, unbeknown to me my body had been sabotaging my efforts. 

I have carried a steroid card since I had my pituitary surgery but with so much information to take in at the time I couldn’t remember why. When I mentioned to the consultant that I was now using a brown inhaler (which incidentally has transformed my breathing) he asked how I had been feeling. I said I was fine, still not connecting the total exhaustion with anything external. He then went on to tell me that I could experience tiredness if I use a steroid based inhaler… oh, well, that joins a few dots! So now I need to go see the nurse and see if there is an alternative.

It got me thinking though, so many of us think that our mood is something purely cerebral but the reality is that our temperament is controlled by so many things, and our body and general health is a huge factor. 

For centuries we have understood that the stomach contributes to our mental health. Ancient Greeks believed that all thinking occurred in the stomach and that the head was just for cooling the blood.

We certainly experience emotions in the stomach. When we feel anxious the first reaction we notice is in the upper stomach not in the head usually.

That sick feeling or butterflies it’s all in the stomach. Scientists now refer to the gut as the second brain. This is a great article if you would like to read more on this subject.

The world is so much bigger and more interesting than we can see with our naked eyes. If we could, we could watch cells grow, morph, and split again over and over again on the backs of our own wrists—or the billions of foreign cells living in and among our own, forming what scientists are beginning to call our “second brain.

Richard E. Cytowic

Contributor Neurologist & Author, The Huffington Post

So next time you notice your mood slipping don’t assume that the world is getting on top of you think about this little checklist:

  • Have you been eating properly?
  • Have you been getting enough sleep?
  • Have there been any changes to your medication?
  • Are you getting enough exercise?
  • Have there been any other changes to your routine which could have affected your mood?
  • Are you getting Not all changes in temperament are caused by circumstances, sometimes it is our body giving us a warning sign.

Blue Monday

Blue Monday… today is apparently “Blue Monday”. Not a day to celebrate my favourite colour but a day when statistically more people feel depressed than any other day of the year.

The sparkles and decorations have been put away, the yummy Christmas food is finished and the resolutions are in full flow. More significantly though the credit card bills are arriving, it is cold, the next pay day is still a week away and most people are skint and regretting the extravagance of the festive period.

Hmmm, when you put it like that it does sound pretty depressing doesn’t it? 

Does it have to be this way though? Do we have to be feeling fed upend full of buyers remorse?

Well, the short answer is no. 

We have the quadruple financial threat of father in law’s birthday 3 days before Christmas, Christmas then my son and my husband’s birthdays at the start of January but I’m still smiling. Am I rolling in money, no but we have budgeted and we’re feeling pretty pleased with ourselves.

Have we eaten too much over Christmas?

Yes, definitely.

Are we all starting a sensible eating regime this week now that all the treats are finished from the birthday boys? Yes, we are.

Do I regret any decisions I have made? Nope!

 Have we eaten too much over Christmas?

Yes, definitely.

Are we all starting a sensible eating regime this week now that all the treats are finished from the birthday boys? Yes, we are.

Do I regret any decisions I have made? Nope!

Times are hard

Don’t get me wrong, I fully appreciate how difficult life is for many people at the moment. Some of the stories I heard over Christmas about how some families were having to spend this “magical” time of year broke my heart. So many people are feeling the pinch. Families are spending money they don’t have to buy presents for their children that they don’t need, but everyone else has got one and they don’t want to be the only ones without the latest gadget. We see it all the time don’t we?

For many families the pressure to keep up appearances has been huge over the last few years and that is a very difficult position to be in. 

There has always been a strong correlation between financial security and stress levels but we have definitely seen this trend on a global scale over recent years. As life becomes less predictable and busier stress levels have gone through the roof. Children as young as 5 and 6 are now being diagnosed with stress and anxiety disorders.

Recent research suggests that the biggest factor in childhood stress is whether the child’s parents do a job they enjoy.

You might question the logic of this statement but if you think about it, if you don’t enjoy your job you come home tired, stressed and agitated. Who do you take it out on? Your loved ones of course. Children are amazing bundles of joy but if you are tired and stressed they can be a walking talking trigger.

Why am I talking about this? 

Well, because I truly believe that a huge factor in my January happiness is the fact that I love my job. I don’t dread going back to work after the holidays because I am fired up and ready to implement all the ideas I have had while my brain has been resting. We live a modest life compared to many families, but we are surrounded by love and happiness and that is all we need.

Is life perfect?

No of course it isn’t? It would be pretty boring if it was. But we look for the positives in everything. Every night I write down ten things I am grateful for in my Gratitude Journal and as challenging as that can feel some days I always manage at least ten.

We spend our time doing things that make us happy; going for a walk, watching a film together, eating a nice meal. None of which have to cost any money if you don’t want them to. 

Sometimes we get sucked into seeing what someone else is doing or seeing something they have and feeling envious. We’re human. But we know deep down that we are very lucky to have the life we do. We have a warm, dry home, filled with people who love us, we have food on the table (well we do now I’ve been shopping!), we have clean running water that we can drink and wash in without worrying about disease, we have clothes to keep us warm in these freezing temperatures. If that was all we had that would be more than 35% of the world’s population.

We have all that and more though! We have a car to drive to go and. buy food from the shops and money to buy it, we have schools and hospitals and friends and a job and a tv to entertain us. We have mobile phones and laptops to help us keep in touch with our loved ones and the rest of the world. 

We really are fortunate.

 

I can’t help feeling a little cynical about the labelling of this day too. My inbox today has been full of “cheer yourself up on Blue Monday” offers! In a world where consumerism is rampant, we are constantly told that we need more, that we deserve to have these luxuries and we should expect to have them. The cynic in me wonders whether the fact that spending of course drops in January as people try to recoup a little of the excess that they spent in December whether we are being manipulated again.

Could it be that making a fuss about how depressed everyone is feeling on a particular day is even designed to make us spend money? It isn’t impossible. Retailers manipulate us all the time into believing that we need more stuff. Maybe that is why they have jumped on this bandwagon?

Interestingly the doctor who first coined the phrase “Blue Monday” has since said that he “didn’t mean it to be a sad day”. 

So, instead of sitting and feeling blue this “Blue Monday” why not sit and feel blessed. Maybe we could rename it “Blessed Monday”?

What do you think? 

ADVANCE – a review

It finally arrived! We finally “ADVANCE”-d in Telford last Monday. After almost two years of planning and dreaming how this event would happen; where, when, what we would cover, it all came together beautifully.

If you have ever organised an event of this scale you will completely understand the amount of work involved in getting something like this from conception to birth but we are all on such a high because it was AMAZING!

Our incredible attendees travelled for hours, stayed over in hotels and had very long days in order to be able to join us but I know from their feedback that they are so glad they did. I think everyone is still buzzing a week on from the incredible energy in the room. We laughed, cried and shifted some big issues together… oh and also ate the best chocolate tart I think I have ever eaten (yes I know I’m not supposed to eat chocolate tart but it was my reward!).

 

We always knew that the day would be powerful (that’s power full – thank you Taz for reminding me of the difference), but I think because we each use our techniques and strategies every day and have done for years we forget the impact that they have when you first discover them.

It’s an interesting thing isn’t it knowledge?

We somehow assume that everyone has the same understanding, the same interpretation, the same talents we do. The more naturally we do something, the more it is part of our life, the more we take it for granted that “everyone does/knows that”.

So often it isn’t true.

There were some really significant light bulb moments for many of the attendees, including us! Yes, we were as excited about the event as anyone. We have known each other for years, we have attended each other’s talks and events, but we know from experience that even when we plan what we are each going to cover that there are always little alleyways from the main path, and without exception there is always a take away from these little meanderings.

Thank you!

We had so much fun and despite the stress of organising such a big event everything went pretty much without issue. This was in part due to my amazing husband, Ian, who stepped in and saved the day several times by correcting issues we were left with my the PA provider (thank goodness he had brought his sound engineer head as well as his videographer head!). Ian you are a star, thank you for all your help with the promotional videos and for coming along and filming the day for us.

An extra special “thank you” also needs to go to Asha Thornton-Clearwater, Taz’s wife, who was incredible introducing the day with style and grace, and she helped us so much with publicising the event. Thanks Asha, I don’t know where we’d be without you on Team ADVANCE.

We would also like to thank Telford Couriers who stepped in and saved the day but delivering the additional food we bought to a local homeless shelter Maninplace. When we originally planned the day we booked it for October but for personal reasons we had to move it later in the year and we knew that that would have an impact on attendance because we were getting so close to Christmas. Because we had booked for larger numbers we still had to pay for the food for the additional number, so we asked the hotel to make that food into packed lunches and Martin from Telford Couriers very kindly offered to collect the food and deliver it for us. Thank you Martin, you are a star.

The biggest thank you of the day has to go to the attendees though. Thank you for coming along, for believing in the power of three and for trusting us enough to be open and vulnerable. You are amazing and I can’t wait to watch your journey now.

It was a truly incredible day, Jo talked about how to stay calm and make sure you clean your wellies. Then I talked about staying calm like a Jedi, Taz showed us how to Unleash our Awesome and then we ended the day with one of my favourite extreme empowerment exercises… a glass walk!

All in all it was a powerful and life changing day.

Do you want to know more and make sure that you are first to find out about the three events we are already planning for 2019? Check out my ADVANCE page or sign up for my newsletter these are going to be such popular events and we’ve learned even more about how we want to make the day MORE powerful and MORE impactful. We are always striving for better and this is going to grow and grow.

Thanksgiving – a celebration for the World

Depending upon where you are when you are reading this the word “Thanksgiving” will have very different associations. 

If you are in the US you are no doubt in full flow with your preparations for Thursday; the pumpkin pies will be baking and the turkey defrosting as I type.

If though, you are elsewhere in the world, you probably see Thanksgiving as a purely American celebration, after all, what relevance does it have to you in your house in the south of France?

Well, perhaps more than you might think. Let me give you my take on this day and see if I can convince you of its relevance for everyone. 

 

What is the history of Thanksgiving?

 Well, it is fundamentally a Harvest festival. A celebration of all the food nature has provided to help us get through the cold winter months. Most cultures and religions have a variation on this festival. It is a very primitive need to be appreciative of the food we have to nourish us and of course that is much more scarce or non-existent during the winter months. So we say thank you to whatever higher power we believe in for providing for our family through those dark and cold days.

The festival celebrated in the US takes its origins from the pilgrims who landed in Plymouth in the early 17th Century and the first meal they had with the Native Americans. Families decorate the home, cook a wonderful meal and bake seasonal goodies such as pumpkin pie and minced pies.

More importantly though, families take time to think about what they are grateful for. School children do lots of work in the lead up to Thanksgiving about gratitude and often perform random acts of kindness. Families often sit round the table and each share what they are thankful for before tucking into a feast of turkey, potatoes, stuffing, vegetables, cranberry sauce… yum!

 

Sounds like a Christmas dinner to me, as a Brit, I would definitely be feeling grateful for such a delicious meal with all my family around me!

The meal may be very similar to a traditional Christmas meal but the rest of the day is very different. In many families now Christmas has become all about indulgence and presents. We often forget to be grateful for all the wonderful things we have, that we are with our loved ones, that we have food during the coldest, bleakest time of year. 

“Thanksgiving day is a jewel, to set in the hearts of honest men; but be careful that you do not take the day, and leave out the gratitude”

E P Powell

In a world where consumerism and waste seems to dominate, let’s appreciate this celebration of gratitude and family. Let’s all take time to eat together, to feel truly thankful that we have food to eat, a warm home and people who love us. Take the time to think of those who do not have all the amazing things we have. Perhaps consider doing a reverse advent calendar for a local food bank or taking a donation to a homeless shelter. Just check on an elderly relative. Think of others and help someone else feel really cared for.

That is what Thanksgiving is all about, for me anyway. What does it mean to you?

 

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