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Body Confidence – We’re all on a journey

Body Confidence is a huge issue.

We live in a world obsessed with appearance. A world where teenagers believe they need a Snapchat filter to be presentable to the world. We are meant to exude confidence. Yet everywhere we look we are shown images of photoshopped people and told what we need to do to get that perfect beach body.

Striving for artificial beauty. Pressurised to not just look a certain way, but show the world how you look on Instagram or Tiktok.

In reality, of course, beauty isn’t a real thing. 

There are of course many things which the majority of people believe to be beautiful; a perfect rose or a perfectly symmetrical face. But there will always be someone who doesn’t find that beautiful at all. 

I can’t believe I am subjecting you to this photo again but it seemed like an appropriate photo to share given the title photo. This is me in all my bravery in Rome last year. I was on holiday with my husband. I was 42 years old and a size 16.

Do I think I look beautiful?

Honestly no, not beautiful. Does my husband think I look beautiful? Hell yes! He told me so many times how gorgeous I looked that day. It was the first time I had worn a bikini in 12 years because I felt so self conscious not even slightly confident.

My body has undergone a lot of changes. I have acromegaly so where as most people’s stop changing and growing, apart from maybe putting on or losing a few pounds, in their teens, mine changed dramatically in my late twenties and early thirties.

This has taken its toll on my confidence.  

On the one hand I LOVE my body. I am grateful every day that it doesn’t hurt as much as it did before my surgery and that I am able to do all the things I can do. On the other hand I get frustrated that there are other things that I can’t do easily any more, and that I know it doesn’t look the way it would have without this illness. 

There have been other dramatic changes in my adult life which have changed my body though, like two pregnancies. Both resulted in caesarians so I have a lovely “mum tum” and scar on my stomach. Then there are my tiger scars on my stomach (stretch marks to you!). I actually don’t have an issue with any of this at all because they are proof that I grew, carried and cared for my babies and successfully brought them into this world. I am almost proud of them… on the right day.  

On another day though, they are ugly and I hate that my belly wobbles and I totally lack confidence.  I may have believed I had many flaws with my body when I was younger but my stomach was always flat and toned. 

Why am I sharing all this? 

Well, at the moment, I am rehearsing for The Real Full Monty in Stafford. Yes I am stripping off down to my pants in the local theatre in front of over 1500 people. I will be joined on stage by 13 courageous women and 14 brave men. We will all be getting way outside our comfort zones and challenging ourr body confidence issues for some amazing local charities. Over the last 4 weeks I have got to know the other women and we are already an incredibly supportive group of sisters. We have every age, shape, cup size, height and personality represented on that stage. I am so proud to be dancing along side them.  

Are we ever happy with our bodies?

What upsets me a little though, and I am as guilty as anyone, is that every single woman on that stage is lacking body confidence. No-one feels confident about this process. We all feel as though everyone else looks beautiful and we are the ones that the audience will be repulsed by. The women who are a size 8 with an AA cup are worried that they look too thin, that the audience will be disappointed because they haven’t got anything to show. Our plus sized women are worried that they are too wobbly and no-one wants to see their tummies. The tall girls are worried that they stand out too much, and the short girls that they will be mistaken for teenagers.  

I could write a whole blog just with the comments I have heard over the first four rehearsals. We are all feeling self conscious. Some of us deal with it by making jokes and being as brave as we can. Others are hiding in the background and hoping it never happens.

Despite all our fears and beliefs about our bodies though, at only the fourth rehearsal 8 out of the 12 girls who made the rehearsal stripped down to bra and leggings during the rehearsal, even in front of the boys group. 

 

We weren’t even a little bit confident, some of us are still shaking now!

I would love to tell you that I have battled my body confidence demon and am now totally in love with my body 24/7! But in reality I have days when I am so grateful that I am alive and that I have managed to maintain a reasonable body weight despite growth hormone challenges.

“Body Confidence doesn’t come from having the perfect body, it comes from learning to love the one you have”

But I would be lying if I said that there aren’t days when I get out of the bath because I don’t want to look at myself any longer. I’m definitely not finding revealing my body to a room full of people, and eventually a theatre full of people, easy. I’ll do it and I can do it because I have decided I will. I want to raise awareness of my condition. Want to show people that even if you don’t feel confident in your body you are still beautiful and you have a right to be seen. 

I am battling my inner demons and even finding new ones.

It’s hard to believe that you are sexy and confident as a woman, when you have to buy shoes made for transvestites to do it.  

When you spent years looking in the mirror and seeing someone else looking back it’s hard to even look in the mirror again, let alone without clothes on.  

Importantly though, I am finding the strength to overcome those inner voices and learning to love my physical form  and feeling truly confident for the first time in my life.  

It isn’t an overnight process. 

I had a major wibble yesterday, it felt like a big step. It took all my courage to wear that bikini in Rome and no-one knew me there, these were friends and some people I have known for years, others I had only met yesterday, but I have to see them again. It was very emotional. Realising that I wanted to take this next step. That I needed to. It was even more emotional when we got through it and we were all hugging and congratulating each other. Compliments are something I have always struggled with, I have taught myself to be gracious and accept them in most scenarios but accepting complements about my physical appearance graciously is going to take some more working on! 

 

The whole process is emotional and a little overwhelming. I am crying a lot and very, very grateful for:

  • the opportunity to go on this journey
  • the amazingly supportive people I am sharing it with
  • my strength of character to even consider stepping onto a stage and making myself this vulnerable

Most of all I am grateful for my body. Scars, wobbles, creaky joints and all.

It is coping with rehearsals, it is coping with wearing heels. It may not be a magazine’s version of beautiful. But I only need to look at the pride in my husband’s face, when he watches us rehearse, to know that he thinks I’m beautiful and that’s good enough for me. 

Beautiful Amazonian 

My friend and fellow dancer, Jacqui, keeps telling me I am “a beautiful Amazonian”. I honestly think that in a few weeks time, I may begin to believe it.  

Whatever we have been through in our lives; illness, mental illness, abuse, eating disorders, neglect, bullying… Experiences we have and things others have said can make us hide away and not want to be seen. Make us believe we don’t deserve to be seen even. Feed us lies that others are judging us. In reality, most people are too busy worrying about their own issues to notice other people. Those that do see you are more than likely marvelling at your strength, your beauty (inside and out) and even wondering how they can be more like you.  

If you don’t have a group of friends who build you up and make you feel beautiful and capable of anything, get in touch with me and I will be your cheerleader. We all need one sometimes. Better still, confront all your deepest fears and learn to be your own cheerleader. You don’t have to take your clothes off but find a way to fall deeply in love with your own body again. You owe it to yourself to love yourself. Not just some bits, all of you.  

 

“Remember, you have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.”

Louise Hay

Author , Hayhouse

Introducing my hero… my Gran

Why am I talking about my Gran?  Well, I believe it helps you to be your own hero, if we highlight the amazing every day heroes in the world. I will be writing about some of my heroes over the coming months, and also inviting guest authors to share their stories. These will either be their own story, which I believe to be truly heroic, or stories of their own heroes.

Choosing one person to write about is very difficult because I have many many heroes in my life, but perhaps the most constant was my Gran. 

My Gran was my best friend, my confidante, an amazing role model and my soul sister. We enjoyed doing the same things, we both had a silly sense of humour and loved to laugh and we both loved clothes shopping.

As a child she was always there with a treat or a cuddle to cheer me up. When I was a teenager she shared stories from her own youth to help me see that everything would be ok and what I was experiencing was normal. She was my number one fan whether I was singing, acting, speaking or just taking on a new role. When I became a wife and mother she shared her wisdom and whatever crazy decision I made she was always in my corner.

I’m sure many of you are thinking, “yes, my Grandma was the same”. That’s the magic. Many of us are blessed to have such incredible grandparents, I know my children are. 

Gran was a magical lady

Gran, as she liked to be called, had a real name. It was Betty. Which she hated because she felt it wasn’t a real name. She spent her whole life wondering why her parents hadn’t called her Elizabeth so she could choose to shorten it or not. it was also an issue that  both her siblings had middle names and she didn’t. She was genuinely put out by it (but in a good natured way!). The only other thing that annoyed her (apart from someone upsetting her family!) was Margaret Thatcher. She would practically throw her slippers at the tele whenever she came on!

She was calm, patient, loving and endlessly positive, on the outside. Internally she struggling with depression and anxiety most of her life, as her mother had before her. Very few people would have known that though. 

Small gestures, big impact

 I don’t think I realised the full impact she had had on the world until her funeral. She was 95 when she died and often when people reach such a good age their funeral can be quite an intimate occasion. Not Gran’s. The crematorium was packed and everyone went back to the Baptist church she attended afterwards for a celebration of her life. We had tea and cake (her favourite thing) and all talked about her and the impact she had had on our lives. Hearing people from the chapel community talking about how she always said something lovely and it would made their day. One lady said to me, “No-one every comments on my appearance, I’m not a very fashionable or glamorous person, but your Gran always commented on something I was wearing or if I had had my hair cut, it made my day”. 

Such a simple thing, but that lady will remember that forever I feel sure.

Gran always made everyone feel special. It was a real gift. 

I feel the need to qualify her attendance of the Baptist church. She wasn’t a religious person. When she started going to the chapel it was to help out with social events and while she could, she did attend the services, but it was for the community not for the religious content. We had many very long conversations about religion and the jury was definitely out. She believed, as I do, that if you are a good person and you are kind and thoughtful that whatever there is when we leave this world won’t judge you harshly for not making a decision about which building to pray in. 

 Gran was ahead of her time in many ways. I remember talking to her about marriage vows before I married Ian and she was very clear that I must not say “love, honour and obey”. Love and honour yes, but obey? Absolutely not! She married my Grandad (also a special person but that’s for another day!) in 1948 and refused to “obey” him in their vows. She thought it was awful! After my Grandad died in 1994 she struggled. He was her whole world. They rarely went anything alone after he retired. They were soul mates and she missed him terribly. But we kept giving her little reasons to keep going; weddings, great grandchildren, events… 

She had an inner strength and determination I have rarely seen.

She could be really tired and fed up in her later years but if she saw one of us struggling she would rally round and support us. It really was incredible to see, especially towards the end. She looked so frail and tired, but the minute she saw that one of us was feeling sorry for ourselves she would dig deep and perk up. 

 

When my parents went to America in 2014 I stayed with Gran for two weeks and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. We talked, I hired a wheelchair and we managed some days out, including a trip to Leeds. We covered all the places she had worked and went to see all the sights she hadn’t seen for years. New shopping centres, statues and of course we drank tea and ate cake!  I missed my little family like mad but it was worth it. So many amazing memories. 

I was blessed to have Gran in my life until I was 40. I’m lucky to have so many memories of her, it is impossible to even recall them all. I miss her every day and wear the ring she left me so that she is always with me. I have lots of silly momentos too but it is my memories that are truly precious. Thinking of her sliding up the supermarket aisles on the back of the trolley with her legs swinging. Her cheeky face when she told us we could have another cake, or to get the chocolate biscuit barrel down. 

The look of glee in her face when she would come shopping with me to Top Shop and Miss Selfridges when I was a teenager (she didn’t think she could go in and look by herself cause she was “too old”!). Trying on glasses and pulling silly faces together in The White Rose when I took her for her eye test. 

Lasting impact

More than anything else though, I get a feeling when I think about her. I know she is always with me. I have a notebook where I write to her when there are things I really need to tell her. If you had asked her she would have said that she wasn’t anything remarkable.

Just a girl from Leeds who did what everyone else did of her generation; went to school, cared for her siblings, went to work at 14 in the laundry, joined the WAF, got married, had a child, kept a home, went to work and retired at 60 and spent the rest of her life doting on her grandchildren and helping others in the local community. But the impact she had on so many lives was immense.

Although she may have had a tendency to wear too much grey later in life, she certainly was not in any way grey. She was vibrant. Full of so much love it practically burst out. She always had time for everyone and never moaned about helping anyone. 

I like to think I inherited more than just her nice nails and thick calves and that we are quite alike, but only time will tell I suppose. One things for certain, I couldn’t have had a better role model. Love you Gran x

I wrote a blog about role models a few years ago that ties nicely with this post so if you would like to have a read you can find it here.

Hero or Shero

I keep hearing people talking about  being a hero or shero. I had never heard the word hero until a few months ago. Is it a necessary word?

Before I start this blog I want to make it clear that I believe in equality. I believe men and women are equal, that they have strengths and weaknesses and that for the most part they complement each other. I also believe that throughout time women have been dominated by the patriarchy. Intelligent, opinionated women have been branded as witches, crazy and trouble causers. 

History really has been His-story. 

 

When we think about the key characters from the past there are very few women.

As a teacher I loved to highlight women in history but they weren’t included in the curriculum when I was teaching.

I have been trying to think how many women I learned about at school, or indeed taught about at school, this is the list I could recall: Boudica, Florence Nightingale, Cleopatra, Elizabeth I, Anne Frank and the wives of Henry VIII (who, as anyone who has seen the musical SIX will know, are only famous for being married to a king and we know very little about as women).

I can’t even begin to list all the men we learn about.

Does this mean that women haven’t contributed anything to our advancement? 

Absolutely not. 

The woman pictured above is Hedy Lamarr. She was a beautiful actress. She was also an incredible scientist who developed a radio guidance system without which we may never have developed bluetooth or wifi technologies. She died in 2000 and wasn’t recognised for her contributions to science until she was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014.

The film “Hidden Figures” highlighted the story of the the female mathematicians and engineers working at NASA in the 1960s without whom the moon landing may never have happened. 

There are countless examples of women having a massive impact but many we are only just learning about now as people sign deep into history to unearth these amazing contributors.

We need to be teaching our children and ourselves, about these key female figures. Young girls need to be shown these role models to help them to see that they can achieve anything boys can. This article from The Guardian in 2017 shows that we may be making headway in the equality stakes but we still have a long way to go. 

We have to show our girls and young women that they have just as many opportunities and they are equal to their male counterparts. However, equality is what I would love to see achieved. I don’t want women to have a greater chance of getting a job, being paid more etc, just to be given the same chances a man would.

Equally I don’t feel that words which are coming into common usage such as “Shero” and “Herstory” are necessary.  I can see how the words hero and history can be seen to be male focused but creating another feminine equivalent seems unnecessary. Let’s just claim the words as our own. The same way we now have actors rather than actors and actresses. Let’s just have heroes and know that women can definitely be heroes. Let’s start discovering more women who had an impact historically. Let’s learn more about people like Anne Boleyn and make them real women with personalities, hopes and dreams, not just “wife of Henry VIII”.

Most importantly, let’s make sure that future history books are filled with women doing amazing things. Women inventing things, changing the world for the better. 

We don’t need men to stop achieving, to step back. We have always been equal in reality. Working together is the answer. Helping each other, supporting each other. Men and women can change the world for the better, together. They can be paid the same amount for doing the same job. They can be given equal opportunities, equal benefits. Men should be able to take extended paternity leave, they should be able to go home if their kids are sent home from school ill, just as women do. It should be up to the individual family to decide who takes on these roles, not some ancient belief. 

The right to choose

It is all about choice. We have to stop shaming women for not being ambitious too. Choosing to stay at home and care for your children is just as challenging and valuable as going out and earning a fortune or inventing something life changing. We all deserve to be happy. To make our own decisions. All we need is for the world to provide equal opportunities for everyone; male, female, old, young, black, white, artistic, scientific…

We are all people. We all have a role to play. We change the world every single day, just by being in it. We impact others every day.

Whether we are heroes because we visit an elderly neighbour, or because we discover a cure to a terrible disease, we are all heroes. Whether you are happy with being a hero or shero. If you like to be an entrepreneur or a mumpreneur. Whether you are happier reading History or Herstory.

Be yourself.

Be the best you that you can be.

Be your own hero or shero but be happy.

 

The Benefits of Singing

Singing is good for you. 

 I know, it might sound ridiculous but when I read a study a few years ago that actually stated that singing can even prolong your life, I wasn’t even a little surprised. 

I have been singing all my life. I could have written the Abba song “Thank you for the Music” I think I was singing before I could talk. I love it. As a child I sang all the time. As a teenager I sang to pop songs, I was in the choir at school and I was always in the school productions (which at our school were always musicals). 

If I was happy I sang, if I was stressed I sang, feeling lonely, sing and I never get on a dance floor without singing along to whatever I’m dancing to. I’ve even been known to sing along to theatre shows! 

 

Why is it so good for you?

Well, there are many biological factors at play. We know that one of the best ways to calm our nervous system is to control our breathing, this reduces the production of cortisol and calms us down. In order to sing we have to regulate our breathing, even slow it down. So it is physically very calming.

It is an incredibly mindful activity. It is very difficult to sing and be thinking about other things. We have to be completely present and concentrate on the words and tune we are singing.

Socially it lifts our spirits to sing with other people. It builds a sense of community and belonging. We even synchronise our heartbeats with others when we sing together. It builds our confidence. When we sing we release endorphins that help us feel positive and boosts our energy levels. The more we sing the more we want to sing. 

Singing even boosts your immune system!

By calming our body through singing we strengthen our immunity and we are less likely to become ill. Not just that but it reduces pain. 

By singing regularly you not only strengthen your lungs but also your heart health is improved. This is another reason I have always done a lot of singing because I am asthmatic and it really helps by breathing. 

There has even been research done which proves that people who sing regularly have better balance and posture! 

 

Are you starting to see how dramatically singing could change your life?

In studies conducted with people suffering chronic pain, singing has been shown to alleviate the pain symptoms for not just immediately afterward but for up to 6 months later. The studies have also shown that singing could have a real impact on the amount of pain relief medication used by participants.

Sing Up Foundation

Singing has been shown to be really beneficial for people with alzheimers. It improves your circulation, increases the amount of oxygen in your blood and improves your mental alertness, concentration and memory. 

 

But I can’t sing! 

 

Who cares? I know it’s easy for me to say. I’m not even going to pretend that I can’t sing, I have done a lot of singing in my life, and people seem to quite like listening to me for the most part. I feel very fortunate but I have had my own struggles though. My acromegaly means that my throat tissues can become enlarged and when I was really ill before my surgery I couldn’t sing and it made me really depressed. When I say I couldn’t sing, I don’t mean it wasn’t good, I mean it was physically difficult. But it isn’t about performing. It isn’t about being a singer. It is about singing for health and enjoyment. You don’t look beautiful and composed when you go to the gym or take part in sport, but you feel better afterwards and your body and mind are healthier. It’s time to start seeing singing the same way.

 

There are lots of opportunities to sing whether you believe you can sing or not. You don’t have to join a choir or singing group (although if you can I can highly recommend it!). Why not sing in the car when you are traveling alone?  Sing in the shower, while you are cooking, put the radio on and sing while you are cleaning. I sing while I work in my office a lot (apart from when I’m writing because then I write what I’m singing instead of what I should be writing!). I also sing while I’m on my rowing machine. It passes the time and that way I am getting even more exercise.

 If you don’t like listening to yourself sing turn the music right up. But I’m fairly certain that your singing is no where near as bad as you believe it is! 

 

In summary

 

Singing is good for you because it:

 

  • calms you down  

 

  • boosts your immune system 

 

  • improves your memory  

 

  • benefits your heart and lung health increases your confidence  

 

  • can help with alzheimers

 

  • improves balance and posture 

 

  • reduces pain

 

  • helps you to be more mindful

 

 I’m even going to be brave and upload a song I have sang at weddings recently. I believe in walking my talk and if I am going to encourage you to sing, I should be brave enough to let you hear me sing. I would love to hear your singing and your stories about how singing has helped you. 

 

Be the change

As the new year approaches it is always good to take time to reflect on the change in your life over the previous year. Every new year brings change and we all start to focus on the what we would like to have achieved by the end of the coming year.

There is something in the air as we approach the new year, we are all filled with hope that any challenges we have faced during the previous year will pass and better things lie ahead. It is the perfect time to sit and take stock and check in with our progress towards our dreams and make sure we are still on track.

Those of you who know me will know that I LOVE planning. I love everything about it; the dreaming, the possibilities, the challenge and of course the stationery! But this year I am planning big changes.

When it comes to planning I’m old school. 

I like a notebook and pen. I use an electronic diary so that I can sync my diary with my husband. He is also self employed so work routine is not something we understand! Everything else is done on paper. 

I know it’s old school but there is solid scientific evidence that our brains process writing and work on paper differently to the way it processes screens, and it works so much better for me, it’s so much more flexible. Paper also allows your mind to wander and it lets you tap into your unconscious more I find. 

At this time of year I use dotted paper and various pencils and pens to plan. I plan everything I intend to create and achieve in the coming year. I sit and reflect, I breathe deeply and allow my intuition to take over and make sure that everything I plan feels right. It is so important that everything we do adds to our happiness and contentment. If something doesn’t feel right then there is a reason for that. It doesn’t mean that it isn’t a worthy cause, it  certainly doesn’t mean that it is something that shouldn’t be done, but maybe someone else needs to do it. We can’t do everything after all.

 I also like to take the time to look back on everything I have created and achieved over the previous year. This year however, I went a step further and looked back over everything I have achieved over the last 10 years.   

Wow! What a change!    

In 2009 I had a newborn, I was just doing all my Reiki training, I had been self employed as a childminder but hadn’t started any of the work I am doing now. When I stop and look at all the work I have done, both with individuals and schools over the last decade I am genuinely shocked. When 2010 started only a couple of years had passed since my tumour surgery, I was just starting having my injections to control my acromegaly and I had spent most of my recovery pregnant and caring for a baby. I wasn’t even sure I would be able to function fully as a mum let alone run two businesses. 

Why not take a few minutes to think about everything you have achieved over the last decade?  

Grab a notebook or piece of paper and write down everything you have done, holidays you have had, friends you have made, all your professional achievements, all your personal achievements… You will be amazed at everything that has changed over the last decade.  

One thing is for sure. The coming year, and indeed decade, have the power to be whatever you make them. We can decide that this is going to be our best year ever. Why wouldn’t it be? We can get up every morning determined to make the most of every minute. Choose to be kind and thoughtful. Be dedicated to making the world we live in a better place in whatever small way we can. You don’t need to have money to change the world. Maybe you help someone out, pay someone a compliment or just smile at them.

Your success and happiness lies in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.

Helen Keller

It is so easy to think that it is someone else’s job to make a difference. That someone else will step up.

Why not you? 

Why wait for someone else?

Get out there and do what you have seen needs to be done. If you can’t physically do it yourself raise awareness and encourage others to come together and do it. 

Life is amazing. Make sure you are living every moment. 

 That doesn’t mean that you aren’t allowed to have a pj day under a blanket watching Christmas films, of course you can. No-one can be on duty all the time, even heroes need a day off to recharge their batteries, but I implore you, stop and think about what you can do to make a positive impact on the world this year.

There is so much negativity in the world at the moment, lots of people despairing about decisions that are being made and the way things are being handled by those in power but we need to come together and create a movement of light and positivity. If we do then we are unbeatable. Are you ready to “be the change that you wish to see in the world”(Gandhi)?

If not now then when?

 Write down all the things you would like to change this year in your notebook or on your paper. Whether it is getting more fit, decorating your bedroom, sorting out your finances, maybe volunteering for a local good cause, whatever it is you want to change, write it down and commit to it now!

As another decade passes and I am reminded how much my life has changed, I can only imagine what the next decade will bring.  Honestly, I don’t like looking too far forward. I’m very much a “live in the moment” person. Just knowing that my children will be adults and I will be in my fifties makes me realise that I don’t have time to mess about. This year I am going to make big changes so that I am firmly on the right track for the rest of the decade and I cannot recommend enough that you do too.

Be the hero of your own story

Many years ago now I remember reading the Joseph Campbell quote “You are the hero of your own story” and I remember thinking “wow, yes, of course I am. Who else could be the hero of my story?”. 

Of course back then I was a naive 20 year old who had had a relatively sheltered life. Now as a more worldly forty something I apprecaite how easy it is to sit back and let someone else take the lead. 

It is easy to decide that you have nothing to contribute, that you aren’t good enough or that someone else is more important than you. 

 

Rubbish! 

In your heart there is a song that needs to be sung. There is a passion that needs to be expressed, an adventure that needs to begin or a journey that needs to be taken. Perhaps a project that has been waving at you in the distance for many years. Whatever it is, only you can make it happen. 

The world needs to hear that song, feel that passion, share that adventure or benefit from that project. As Marie Forleo would say “the world needs that special gift that only you have”.   

Don’t believe me? 

 What if the great inventors and influencers of all time had sat at home and played it small? 

 What if Isaac Newton, Einstein, Marie Curie, Brene Brown, Mozart, Ronaldo or Malala Yousafzai had just sat back and waited for someone else to take action? These are just the first names that came into my head but there are so many more. 

 Take a moment to think about all the people who have impacted your life; the teachers, coaches, authors, film makers, athletes, musicians, doctors… the list is endless. Think how much poorer you would be had those people not made the effort and put themselves out there. 

I can practically hear you screaming at your screen: “but I have nothing to contribute to the world, those people were like a different species to me, they are geniuses and I am a mere mortal”. Well, maybe that’s not exactly what you were thinking but I know I have thought similar things over the years.

You have a lot to contribute to the world. 

There are people who you have influenced more than you will ever know. Lives you have changed with a comment or a helping hand. You don’t have to be a celebrity, have given a TED talk or written a book to have made an impact on the world.

Perhaps you said something kind to a girl at school when you were 12 years old and because of that her self esteem was restored and she went on to invent something amazing. Everything you do, every day, makes changes the world in a small way. 

What sort of story will you be the hero of? 

If you don’t feel like life is going quite the way you expected it to, perhaps you are a hero stuck in the wrong story? The Hulk probably wouldn’t have been a hero if he had landed in Oz, equally Dorothy would be pretty useless when up against Abomination.

Are you following your bliss? 

If not you might want to take a moment to work out what your story is supposed to be. 

What sort of hero are you?

 When you find the right story things will start to click into place. This quote from Joseph Campbell sums it up perfectly.

I have had several instances in my life when I have made a decision, sometimes one that felt a little crazy, and suddenly everything aligns to make it happen. That is when you know that you are on the right path.  

I have literally been picked up and put onto the right path a couple of times in my life. The most significant time though was just after I had my son. I had been pregnant or ill for 5 years and felt like I had lost who I was and what I was supposed to be doing. I had been reading lots of “self help” books (I hate that phrase) and I sat down one day and decided that I needed to make a change. 

“Follow your bliss.
If you do follow your bliss,
you put yourself on a kind of track
that has been there all the while waiting for you,
and the life you ought to be living
is the one you are living.
When you can see that,
you begin to meet people
who are in the field of your bliss,
and they open the doors to you.
I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid,
and doors will open
where you didn’t know they were going to be.
If you follow your bliss,
doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else.”
Joseph Campbell

Joseph Campbell

Author, The Power of Myth

I sat at my computer and typed “distant learning course” into Google and the top course was from the Institute of Counselling. It was a course called “Certificate in Spiritual Care”. I took a look and it was as though the course had been created for me. I had no intention of it leading to a career change, I just wanted to get my brain working again and feel like I had achieved something. Little did I know that that one decision would lead to me doing my Reiki attunements, getting back in touch with my spiritual side, doing qualifications in mindfulness and creating two amazing businesses. It was magic. I trusted the universe (or whatever force you believe in) to point me in the right direction and it really did.  

I have been trusting my intuition and the universe to point me in the right direction ever since. I pay attention to every sign and comment. If someone mentions a person, technique, book, event… and it comes up a few times in quick succession, I look it up and find out more. If I am feeling a little lost I take time to meditate or read or even just have a bath and try to work out where I need to go next. I know that if I am having to force something it isn’t right. 

Are the hero of your story? 

Why not let me know your story in the comments below?

Have Yourself a Mindful Little Christmas

Could having a mindful Christmas really be the answer to holiday stress? 

Christmas time can be so stressful. There are food preparations, gifts to wrap, cards to write, social occasions, friends to visit, family to visit, traditions to be remembered, the list seems endless. 

Add to that the pressure for everything to be “perfect” and it can be a really toxic combination or stress, guilt, financial worries and emotional exhaustion. We all want magical memories of Christmas, particularly for our loved ones, but all too often we are too stressed and exhausted to be able to remember anything let alone enjoy it. 

How can mindfulness help?

I’m sure many of you are nodding with a deep understanding about the stresses of Christmas. How can mindfulness help though? 

Well, by staying calm and in the present it can help you to lower your physical stress levels as well as feeling more present and organised.

When we are busy and there are lots of things to think about it is easy to be constantly living in our heads. Constant streams of; “I must remember to…” can be distracting and not always as productive as we might try to convince ourselves. 

 

My top mindfulness tips for a calm and happy Christmas  

Be organised   

When we are organised and feel on top of things we always feel more calm. Deal with things as soon as you can and make lists for everything to make sure you don’t forget everything. By writing them down you don’t have to keep them going round and round in your head. 

Preparation is key   

Do as much in advance as you can. There are so many things you can get done really early so that you aren’t dashing round at last minute. Get your veggies parboiled and in the freezer. Wrap your presents as soon as you can. Whatever you need to get done do it as soon as possible.

Let go of the myth of perfection 

We all want our memories of Christmas to be greeting card perfection but in reality we are all just human. Often it is the imperfect that makes the day special. You don’t have to have an instagram worthy breakfast, have some toast so you can sit and enjoy watching your children open their presents. Realistically something will happen that will ruffle your feathers; you will forget one of the veg, misplace a present, drop the Christmas pudding, whatever it is you will survive.  

 

Breathe

It doesn’t matter what I am talking about, when it comes to feeling in control and calm breathing properly is always my top tip! When you breathe slowly and in a controlled way your brain knows that there is no need to worry and it begins to calm your whole body.  Even just a couple of minutes breathing in time to this little video is enough to calm your mind and body. 

Mindful Drinking

Why not try making a hot drink and really taking the time to explore all the effects it has on your senses? Watch as the hot water mixes with the dry ingredients. See the steam swirl out of the mug. Smell the aroma. Feel the steam hit your face. Then take a sip and really taste it. Feel how warm and comforting it is as it flows down your throat and into your stomach. Really take the time to savour each mouthful and enjoy some quiet time. 

Quiet moments

During the big day, try to find little pockets of calm. Even if it is just stirring the custard or making a coffee. If you can manage a quiet half hour with a book or a quiet walk with the dog, even better.

Remember, these festive days are for everyone to enjoy. You are allowed to relax and enjoy the day too. 

If you want to learn more mindful tricks to help you have a wonderfully mindful Christmas why not sign up for my Mindful Advent Calendar? It’s completely free and you will learn so many amazing mindfulness strategies in just 5 minutes a day.

 

Mindful Advent Calendar

Do you always feel stressed and exhausted by the time Christmas arrives?

Sign up for my FREE Mindful Advent Calendar and ensure you have a calm and happy Christmas.

If you need someone to talk to over Christmas please know that there is always a listening ear at the Samaritans they do incredible work. You are never alone. I may not check my emails as often over the holidays but I do check them every day and will always be there for  anyone who needs a listening ear.

Other blogs you may find interesting:

Time for a change

Why you need to start practising mindfulness

It’s a Wonderful Life

Life is wonderful! 

Don’t panic, this is not a blog about the ‘C’ word, not this early in the year. As much as I love Christmas, the start of November is all about fireworks, bonfires and toffee apples, not fir trees and baubles.  

The reason I have used this title for my latest musings is because this is not only one of my favourite festive films, it is also the phrase and the story I think of when I think of gratitude and being grateful for everything you have in your life.  

This week was an interesting week for me. Within three days I had to face the third anniversary of my beloved Grandma’s passing, face some personal fears and contemplate the 12th anniversary of my surgery and what would have been my other Grandma’s 99th Birthday.

Those are some hefty emotions to deal with in the space of 72 hours!

I’m not even going to pretend that it has been easy. There have been tears, even some anger (which isn’t like me at all!). I have journalled, meditated, talked to friends and loved ones, and emerged in one piece – just about!

I miss my Grandmas, very much. Particularly my Grandma Smith, the lovely lady shown above. We were kindred spirits, partners in crime and best friends, all my life. Despite missing them, I don’t feel sad that they are no longer here. I was blessed to have all four grandparents until I was 18 years old. I then had my remaining three grandparents until I was 33 years old! My precious Grandma Smith died a few months after my 40th birthday. They had truly wonderful lives. I can’t be certain but I don’t think any of my grandparents would have had an regrets. They loved and lived life to the max. They taught me so much. This fact combined with my joy and delight at being alive, and relatively uninhibited by my condition 12 years after my surgery,  reminds me that it truly is a wonderful life.

Terrible Titties and Other Bitties 

Just to remind me a little more how blessed I am I was asked to talk at a local support group last night; The Terrible Titties and Other Bitties. They are an incredible charity, based in Stafford, who support people going through, who have been through or who love someone affected by, cancer. 

I got a message at 3pm asking if I could do a 30min talk at the meeting because their speaker was ill. I had an hour and a half to think about what I could say. I grabbed a notebook and scribbled a few notes down so I had a rough structure but apparently that wasn’t what I was supposed to say!

Off script as usual 

 

As is often the case for me when it comes to public speaking, my higher self knew what I was supposed to be saying any of the things I had in my notes. Instead I found myself talking about the importance of self care and positive thinking. Just what I needed to say as it turned out.  

I find it very easy to talk about positivity because I am naturally a very positive person. I also have the advantage of having some pretty huge reasons to be grateful. I may not have had cancer, but I have supported loved ones on their cancer journey and I have experienced the fear of having a potentially life limiting illness. I know how it feels to enter an operating theatre and wonder if I will ever see my loved ones again. I could relate to the amazing women in that room, and they opened their arms and welcomed me in.  

Most of the women there were on a personal journey with cancer. They were mostly incredible positive and smiley, but it was interesting to talk to them about their experiences of how it had changed them in a much deeper way than the physical scars – something else I can relate to. 

 

Don’t judge a book by its cover 

I talked to many people, who all looked fit and well from their appearance alone, but once you dug deeper many were still living with treatment and hidden conditions; brain tumours, breast cancer, MS…

One thing I am really passionate about is raising awareness of the many invisible but life changing conditions that people are coping with every day. That’s a big part of the reason I am taking part in The Real Full Monty next year. So many people you meet are fighting issues you may never know about; illness, mental health struggles, caring for a loved one, financial difficulties… It is so important to be patient and kind when we are dealing with others, no matter how well you may think you know someone you will never know everything they are experiencing. 

As we approach the festive time, we can all make a difference to someone. Whether it is checking on an elderly relative or neighbour and making sure they won’t be alone this Christmas, donating to a charity, taking some donations to a food bank or donating gifts to a children’s hospital you can make someone very happy this year. 

Have a look at all the amazing things my little friend Noah has been doing! 

Noah saves his pocket money every year and then gets donations from companies and shops and delivers hundreds of Christmas presents to children’s wards every Christmas. He has been on the tv this week for his amazing work. If you don’t know about this amazing little boy please do take the time to read about his life. I first met Noah before he was born, when I was sending healing to his Mum, Michelle. At that point she had been told that Noah wasn’t going to survive and between the emotional upset and the impact of pregnancy on her body she had asked me to help her. I knew from the first moment I felt him that he was a fighter and an amazing little boy and I haven’t been wrong so far. 

Born with only 2% of his brain and so many complications it is just untrue, he is know 7 years old and living his own wonderful life. I am so happy and proud to know this family, they inspire me every day.

Pause and appreciate

When you are doubting that your life is wonderful, stop and take stock. I write a list of ten things I am grateful for every night and it really helps me to get my life into perspective. With Thanksgiving at the end of the month it’s the perfect month to remind ourselves that yes it might be getting colder and darker here in the northern hemisphere, but we have so much to be grateful for. 

What is making your life wonderful today?

 

Thriving not Surviving

On the 7th November 2007 my life changed.  

I have always been a fighter, and most people wouldn’t have known that there was anything wrong with me at the time (apart from my facial changes). I have always been a believer that thriving not surviving is what life is all about. 

Six months before my surgery I had been diagnosed with Acromegaly, a condition which is caused by a tumour on your pituitary gland which results in your body producing too much growth hormone. I was in pain, I was exhausted and my mood was all over the place. If you want to read more about my story at that time I wrote a blog about my experiences.

It was a lot to cope with, mentally and physically at the time. I had been told for 6 months that my body wouldn’t return to what it had been before, that I wouldn’t be able to have any more children and it is a long and invasive surgery which took me a good six weeks to recover from. 

I have never experienced fatigue like that.

 

I had just got my head round the fact I couldn’t have any more children when I found out I was pregnant with my son. This was a huge blessing but also led to lots of unanswerable questions; would I go full term? could I go into labour? would I be able to breastfeed? My consultant wanted to do follow up tests which couldn’t be done because I was pregnant so it was a time of uncertainty.

Fortunately I’m built of tough stuff and 14 months after my surgery, my son Dan was born. 

Happy, healthy and almost 11 years old now.  

It was a difficult time looking back but it’s incredible what we can do when we need to. I challenged my body as much as I possibly could have all within months of my pituitary surgery. During the first three months of pregnancy your pituitary gland grows significantly, which six months after surgery probably isn’t adviseable. But here I am 12 years on and I’m still thriving.

Is my life the same as it was before my diagnosis?

No of course not.   

I am acutely aware at times that my energy levels are seriously affected. I have to plan my work around my body’s capabilities. I rarely book more than two days out of the office in a week because if I do it takes me a few days to recover. I have created a business that allows me to work around my numerous medical appointments, my energy levels and my physical limitations.  

I was asked the other day if I would ever consider going back to teaching. The reality is that I couldn’t, for many reasons but mostly because I couldn’t cope with the long days, the amount of standing and squatting (I taught primary), the amount of marking (my hands are probably the part of my body most affected by my joint damage) and no school these days would employ me knowing that I need one sometimes two days off every six weeks for my injection, the consultant appointments, MRI, colonoscopy… I’m not exactly an appealing prospect anymore. 

More importantly though, for the first time in my life I have realised that sometimes it’s ok to put myself first. For years my priority was making sure everyone else was cared for and happy. I can’t pretend that I don’t still care for everyone. I’m a mum and a wife and a sister and a daughter… but I have learned that if I am taking time to care for other people I need to give myself the same amount of time, sometimes more.  

I don’t  give myself a hard time for needing a nap or an hour in front of Netflix. I will go for a long, hot bath if I feel that it is what my body needs. Whatever it is that I need to do to help me feel calm and as though I have enough energy I will make sure I do it if I possibly can. 

Life has changed a lot in the last 12 years. I have gone from having a fiercely independent 3 year old daughter to having an even more determined and amazing 15 year old young woman. I have gone from thinking I would never have any more children to having a lively, brilliantly funny, football mad little man. My marriage is stronger than ever. I have discovered who my real friends are and made lots of new friends. I have built two businesses from nothing and grown in confidence in every part of my life. 

I was reborn

It might sound dramatic but that one event in my life changed me forever, for the better.

Yes I have physical limitations and I have to be very careful what I eat and how I care for my body, but the mental and emotional changes were possibly even more dramatic. 

I have learned:

  • The world keeps turning with or without me.
  • I don’t have to do everything.
  • It’s ok to ask for help.
  • To wear clothes that make me feel happy and confident not save them for best.
  • To not keep anything for best. Every day is the best day to wear/eat/use your favourite things whether it is perfume, crockery, clothes…
  • Busy isn’t always better. So many people think that being busy makes you more important. It’s ok to not be busy all the time and to be happy doing nothing.
  • To appreciate everyone in my life. My family and friends are amazing and I love them all very much.
  • It’s ok to create a life that works for you. It might not suit anyone else, that’s the point.
  • To do what makes me happy.

I have met so many people who have been though similar life changing events and come to similar conclusions. I just think it is a shame that for most people it takes a health scare or a big tragedy in their lives for them to starting living life to the full. 

What small changes can you make today to ensure that you are living your best life? 

 

 

Being your own Superhero

Why do we love a superhero?

We have been fascinated by the idea of superheroes for almost a century now. Since Superman first hit the shelves in 1938 children and adults alike have been enchanted by stories of people with superhuman abilities. 

I have to confess I am a fan. As a child I loved Superman and Wonder Woman and as I have grown older I have grown to love all the Marvel films. The escapist plots and magical characters combined with a great sense of humour are the perfect way to relax and escape from the stresses and strains of the modern world. 

But do you need to be bitten by a spider or born on another planet to be a superhero?

 

Of course not! Last week I went to see Les Miserables the Concert. I have seen this musical so many times over the last 25 years I have lost count, I love it. It is the story of an every day Superhero. Jean Valjean is stronger than the average man, especially when he needs to help someone. He manages to live outside the law, helping the poor and caring for Cosette, keeping the promise he made to her mother. 

An every day hero. Doing the best he can to make the world a better place.  

But he was a criminal, on the run from the law throughout the story. 

Yes he was, but for what? Stealing some bread to save the life of his niece or nephew. Not exactly  murder.

Superheroes walk among us every day. 

People who are fighting incredible inner battles with anxiety, depression or unthinkable pain. People who care for their children or loved ones without a second thought for themselves and their needs. Parents who give their children the only food and go hungry themselves but continue going out to work. Firefighters who walk bravely into burning buildings to rescue others. The teachers who take extra food in for their hungry students.

All these people are superheroes.

These amazing people help others every day. Most without ever understanding the impact of their actions on others. 

It isn’t easy to be so giving and selfless. It’s often easier to help someone else than it is to help yourself though isn’t it?

“You are stronger than you believe. You have greater powers than you know.

Diana Prince

Wonder Woman

How often do you put other’s needs before your own?

We all do it don’t we?  

We make ourselves ill sometimes making sure that everyone else is cared for.  So today I am asking you to be your own superhero.  To care for yourself with the same determination and fearlessness that you care for others. 

 I am asking you to be brave in your choices, to follow your heart and to believe in your own abilities.  

Be your own superhero! 

You don’t have to be incredibly strong, you don’t have to have a cape or be able to fight like a warrior. You just need to believe in your ability to change the world, starting with you. 

Make yourself a priority. Keep your body and your mind healthy. Rest when you need to rest and believe that you can make a difference. If our favourite superheroes had thought that they were too insignificant to make a difference, where would we be? 

Every single one of us has the ability to change the world. Whether it is a random act of kindness or saving a bee, buying someone a coffee or helping someone carry a heavy bag. Make the decision today to make a difference in your world, and the world around you. 

 

Take a look at some of my old blog posts:

5 Ways Being Organised Reduces Stress

The Importance of Caring for your Energetic Self

Does your Lack of Self Belief hold you back?

 

5 Mindful minutes

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