Living Breathing Life
“Well, now I’m DEFINITELY not doing a 10 year reflection” said the rebel inside me when it saw lots of 10 year photos and 2019 successes and achievements flying about on social media. “If everyone else is doing it then I’m not” it huffed! The reflector in me dropped its head coz really I wanted to, and of course, it was inevitable it would because I absolutely cannot help myself.
So once my rebel side had done its feet stamping for a bit, I eventually began my 10 year contemplation on a longish car journey. Very quickly I found myself sat with tears in my eyes.
“This last decade was the one where I lost myself” I told my husband ‘“and I’m not sure that I’ve fully found myself yet”. My wet eyes filled more and I staved off a full on tear off.
“No babes, you unravelled yourself”, he replied “You are the most you that you have ever been, and you know it”. My god, I love him! Because as much as I don’t always like to admit when he is right, he absolutely was right with this one. And he also knew that putting it back on me to acknowledge what I did already know to be true would stave off the potential sorry fest that might otherwise happen beside him. Darn, he’s good......
Looking back on the last 10 years, they did feel messy, disorganised, a bit all over the place and sporadic. Whilst I’d definitely done some amazing things, I felt so aware of the times when I really had no idea what the fuck I was doing or where the fuck I was going. So many times that I sat with my head in my hands not knowing how to move forward, where to go or what to do. Far too many times that I heard myself say to friends, my hubby or a therapist ‘I don’t know who I am anymore and I don’t know what I want for my life”. As someone programmed for vision, focus, forward motion and direction, that felt like being lost in the wilderness. It felt disorientating and often my only map and compass was knowing what I didn’t want to do, and who I didn’t want to be.
There’s a quote by Paulo Coelho that says “maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. Maybe it’s about un-becoming everything that isn’t really true so that you can be who you were meant to be in the first place’.
Well, that’s a process that sounds a bit challenging and maybe also a bit messy and disorientating too. Maybe it’s synonymous with being in your 40s, that you lose the trappings of everything that you think people have wanted you to be, and you truly become yourself. Is that mid-life crisis?? Maybe it just so happens to be what and when I needed to do. Whatever, I think I’m going to name my 2010’s as ‘The Great Unravel Years’!
I came into them fit as hell, in training for Ironman Austria on the back of a decade of being immersed in competitive sport. I’d not long finished a year long training in rehab pilates, and was delighted to be working with some of the most reputable physios in Scotland. My diary was filled to the brim with clients and I was a coach for the triathlonScotland performance squad. I was driven, on the go constantly, and if i didn’t have a goal then I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was doing a little bit of yoga here and there and I was hell bent on ‘achieving’ the pilates repertoire as soon as possible.
It’s fair to say that I entered the 2010’s feeling pretty darn good about where I was in life. I knew where i was going and I was hellbent on getting there. I without doubt realise now that I felt I had a point to prove to the world. The chase was on for the next success and the next achievement.
Ironically, I can’t now remember half the goals I set myself back in 2010 and I have no actual idea if I achieved many, or even any, of them. What I gained instead in a decade of getting older were things that I could never have planned for. I learned to feel, not just do. I learned the beauty of stillness. I learned to savour the sweetness of the tiny moments. The decade actually taught me about life, my relationships with the world, with others and with myself. I am not leaving the decade a different person, I’m leaving it as a wiser, more whole version of my true self. The high achiever unravelled and the artistic intuitive gradually stepped forward.
There are some real defining moments of the decade when I look back. Let’s call them the big ‘smack me in the face’ moments of change:
Crossing the finish at that Ironman and thinking ‘was that it, that wasn’t difficult’ and realising that I’d already undertaken the biggest challenge I’d ever take on - battling my mental health issues and getting out the other end alive. I got a ruddy big tattoo on my back a few months later as my own medal of achievement.
I know I am enough
Going home one day to tell my husband that I’d lost what I thought was the secure work I had and that I essentially had to start up again from scratch and hope that I could do it. He was full time uni, I was pretty much the sole earner. 1 month later I set up my own studio in the west end of Edinburgh and my diary quickly filled again.
I know I am resourceful.
Learning to snowboard. I’d always said I didn’t want to. In truth I was too scared. Laughing and laughing as I fell time over again and again and got back up and threw myself once more down the slippy slopes both feet tied into a board - WTAF!!! Oh the bruises!!!
I know I am determined.
Sitting on the side of Cairngorm mountain breaking my heart with my husband sitting beside me. I cried for such a long time, hard and heart breaking. When I thought I was stopped I went again. It just had to come out. Years and years of holding myself together and being scared of losing control.
I know I can lose control and still be loved.
My first panic attack. Lying on the floor of the kitchen not knowing how I could face the next minute never mind the next hour, day or week.
I know that feelings pass.
My last panic attack this year and bursting into laughter half way through it, laughing at myself and knowing I probably wouldn’t have these attacks anymore.
I know I am safe.
Kayaking underneath a waterfall in Doubtful Sound, New Zealand. Looking up at the water, seeing the sunlight through the water and feeling complete and utter serenity.
I know peace.
Standing up at an event and telling 40 people about the moment I almost died because of my past mental health problems. Feeling the shame leave me forever as people listened, cried, and held the space for me.
I know I am supported.
Losing 2 brother-in-laws and wondering what life is actually about.
I feel sad.
Standing up at my first lecture at Edinburgh University, beside my now dear friend, quaking in my boots as I taught over 100 Sports science undergraduates about eating disorders.
I am passionate.
Walking barefoot in the sand at Clachtoll in Sutherlandshire, never wanting to leave, feeling close to my father, his mother, my ancestors footsteps. Feeling it in the air and knowing it like a salmon knows where it must go back to.
I know home.
And then there are many many profound little moments over 10 years: as yoga, pilates and talking therapy soaked into my bones and enlightened me, as I spent time with friends and family and was really present with them, as I let myself relax, as I let myself love, as I laughed, cried, cringed with embarrassment, got myself frustrated, gave myself a shake, gave myself a break, learnt compassion (for others and for myself). 10 years of going through every emoji possible. 10 years of unravelling, 10 years of growth.
The Great Unravel Years taught me not to direct my compass to the externally driven path, but to direct it within, to listen and to feel my way forward. It’s no wonder I felt lost - I was learning to use a new tool and to harness a new skill. Feeling lost was all part of that lesson.
So I’m going forward into this next decade with no goals as such. I’m not pitching a 10 year plan, or making decisions about where I want to be this time in 2030 (shhhh, I said that year quietly). Instead, I’m setting some direction and I’m going forward with hopes and dreams. I hope to enjoy good health and happiness. I hope to travel to places I want to see. I hope to finish the qualifications that I’m doing as a psychotherapist. I hope to do good in this world. I hope to take a few more risks when I need to. I dream of a more peaceful world. I dream of creating a new treatment method for eating disorder recovery, I dream of seeing the cherry blossom in Japan and the northern lights. These name just a few.
And what I hope for you in whatever the decade ahead has in store, is that you experience life in its whole tapestry of colours and textures, but mostly that you appreciate yourself and all that you are.
Here’s to our human-ness in all its bloody marvellous messy glory.
Happy new year everyone.
CT <3 xx
3 years ago, a great teacher* of mine taught me a phrase that I really love, and now often use in my own classes. She said:
“We know what the weather outside is. But how is the weather inside for you?”
The first time I heard it, I was able to tune in instantly, curiously and with no sense of judgement as to how I was feeling at that point in time. It is that latter point that was a completely new revelation for me. Tuning into my body had become second nature to me by then, and I'd become so much better at being able to identify how I was feeling on an emotional level as well as physical. Yet I struggled to not feel a need to do something in response to identifying my emotional state. I would judge how I was feeling to be positive or negative, and would either begin a process of trying to hold onto that feeling, or running away from it. Rather than acknowledging 'how' I was, I'd make a judgement about 'who' I was based on that emotion and change my behaviour accordingly.
Let me say this clearly: No emotion is a bad emotion.
We need to be able to tap into different emotions to give us our whole range of being human and to give perspective to each individual emotion. We need sadness, joy, guilt, anger, grief, embarrassment and the whole gamut of emotions. They are a fundamental part of what makes us human, and they teach us how to relate to and connect with others. Way back, before we had language, these emotions WERE the language we used in our social cultures and tribes. They were also our internal signals as to what we contributed to, needed from, and how well we were functioning in our tribe.
Now, I think I logically knew this a few years back. I'd probably seen the Disney animation 'Inside Out' by then (watch it and get your kids to watch it - it perfectly encapsulates our internal emotional system). So I kind of got it. But I certainly didn't really believe it within myself. It took an analogy for me to see my emotions more objectively and as a result to, ironically, feel them more clearly.
Considering my emotions and moods as internal weather allowed me to accept their presence and that they would pass. I saw the 'feel goods' like sunny days and rainy days (I absolute love the rain!!!) filled with energy, creativity and joy. I saw the 'feel mehs' as foggy or dull days where energy was lower or flatter yet things still happened just in a different way or at a different pace. And sometimes it was just a storm that would be messy, but it would pass. I realised that I accept all atmospherical weathers unquestionably and accommodate them accordingly, yet I hadn't been doing this with my own weather. I became kinder to myself as a result of accepting my emotions, and my emotions become more regulated and less extreme (at some point I'll wrote a blog about emotional regulation - a fascinating subject - but it's not for today!).
By accepting how I am, and FINALLY with no judgement, I now make better choices for myself with regards to how to best meet my needs. Sometimes the changes are subtle. A bit like knowing I'd best take a warmer jacket when it's cold, I might choose not to go to places that will make me feel worse or potentially dull my sparkle. Sometimes the changes I need to make are more substantial. I might need to have a difficult conversation or, yup, give myself a kick up the backside. Usually the big changes come when I realise certain emotions aren't passing as naturally as they might otherwise, and I realise I'm stuck.
As Brits we’re socially conditioned to talk about the weather pretty much most days. But I wonder how often, in general as a nation, we take time to observe our own internal weather. I suspect not enough. Maybe our starting point is to clock when we mention the weather of the day, and to have a wee internal check inside to our own feelings too.
As Billy Connolly once said "There's no such thing as bad weather - only the wrong clothes". Indeed there’s no such thing as bad clothes, just inappropriate or misinformed self care.
* thank you to Clare Gates-Sjoblom, known affectionately by us teachers as 'yin yoda', for this phrase and for your teachings. That simple turn of phrase hit me deep and changed much. <3 <3
I'm just back from a 5 day trip away camping up at Loch Katrine. We could not have picked a better weekend! The Sun was shining, evenings were cool and breathable, and we had limited phone and data signal at our campsite. I enjoyed being off the phone so much that I forgot to take any pictures - just this one of the hubster during our 40k mountain bike on Monday.
We had a full on few days of activities and for the first time in many years I ‘double-did’ on some days (i.e something sporty in the morning / something else sporty in the late afternoon). We did such a mixture: road biking, road running, mountain biking, fell running, hill climbing. We rolled out our mats and yoga-ed.
And we both commented on how much we felt like we’d got ‘us’ back again.
Since we first met, hub and I have been big movers. We thrive under high levels of activity, and the ruggedness of adventure. Our first decade together involved trips to mountainous regions all over the world to trek and climb peaks plus getting out on our bikes for hours to explore the Scottish landscapes. He climbed higher and harder, I cycled further and faster.
Our challenge has often been resting and staying still!
We’ve been working on this and have been trying to find the balance these last few years. At times during this process, we have both felt like we have lost our adventurers within. In reality we’ve just not wanted the big challenges we thrived on in our younger days, and we’ve struggled with how to find the motivation without the ambitious goals. He no longer wanted to climb the world’s highest peaks. I no longer wanted to race all over the world. Our priorities changed. I turned to yoga, hubby turned to study and learning. We evolved, but an essence of ‘us’ lay dormant.
Somewhere, sometime, not so long ago, one of us realised that we needed outdoor adventure back. Life just didn't feel the same. Something was missing. So we put up the photos that most epitomised ‘us’ and we longed to feel the life in that essence again.
This weekend as I cycled through the forest and hills I reflected on how good it had felt to be able to once again manage several long days of adventure. We were able to say ‘let’s cycle to there’ without wondering if we’d actually manage it without feeling broken for days. We were able to say ‘ aye, sounds good, lets go for a short run along the lochside’ as well as ‘nah, just fancy reading my book’.
It felt good to recognise familiar feeling of cumulative load on my body.
A familiar feeling, but with a completely new balance to it. And with a new sense of fulfilment to it. It felt as good to sleep in the sun and do nothing as it did to spend time pedalling, walking or running up and down the rocky hillsides. I felt tired but not broken. Ready for rest, but not floored. Adventuring for the love, not to prove a point.
It made me realise how much I’d needed to find the WHOLE of me, not JUST the adventurer. And in order to do that I’d needed to put the adventurer to the side until I found the rest of me. This ‘adventure into myself’ was necessitated several years back when it became blatantly obvious to me how much I was breaking myself down with my compulsive need to physically strive. I was physically full of injuries and my mental state was becoming increasingly fragile. As I turned the volume down on this part of me, I found other parts that had lain dormant for years and some that I never even knew about. I found a softer side to me that loves to create, to draw, to read a book. Memories of doing this as a child were now, as an adult, accompanied with the smell of a citrus candle in the background. I discovered a joy of cooking and a love of 60s fashion. My body softened and found a greater flexibility and mobility which felt incredible. As I’ve strived less, my body moved more dynamically and I learnt that I love to dance.
But in amongst all those good things, the adventurer never went away. It popped up every so often when I learnt to snowboard, and it’s there when I go out on my mountain bike or head up a Munro, but for both me and the hubby there was just something missing. We wanted to be able to go on holiday and be amongst the environment for hours. Not just an hour alongside the lake, but really IN the landscape. We wanted to be able to explore the nooks and crannies of the forests, hills and mountains and be able to look at a map later and saw ‘wow, we saw ALL that, and felt it in our lungs and legs’. We wanted to get away from it all and be able to sit and eat our favourite sandwich on a hillside, covered in sweat, looking down at the busy-ness below. These were some of the things we’d really missed, not the achievement of triathlon medals or mountaineering certificates.
Also for me the missing bit included regaining my endurance. I missed the prolonged effort that came before in order for me to see these views while eating cheese and pickle sandwiches! I missed looking at the map, wondering if we could do the route then deciding ‘fuck it, let’s give it a go’ because we reckoned we had enough fitness in the bag to pull out the effort it might need. I needed back ‘I can!’, not just ‘not sure, maybe....??’.
Movement is so important in helping me to be me. It’s like a mirror held up to me with all its metaphors: yoga helps me to regulate, pilates helps me to hold my space, trail sport connects me to the bigger picture and helps me cope with the rough and smooth, road sports help me deal with repetition and find newness in the mundane, swimming returns me to my breath and to my origin. And it's my ability to maintain a constant effort and endurance that I needed back - to remind me of my ability to keep going even when I'm not enjoying the bit of the path that I'm on, but knowing where I leads to. I need a good dose of regular reminders that I'm a determined wee bugger and that I can achieve anything when I put my mind to it! I have really missed feeling that side of me.
But also this need for adventure is for the pure and utter joy of spending long periods of time in nature and with my best friend. It's how we have laughs together. It's where we both feel completely free. The adventurers in us never went away, we never quite let go of them. I just took us wandering off to discover different bits of ourself for us to finally realised what it is that we actually need from these adventures. Then the essence of it lit once more and integrated easily and healthily with the rest of us.
It's no coincidence that movement is my modality. I find movement such a metaphor for life and often look to it to teach me what I need to see, or to gather the resources that I need to build within myself.
Of course, yoga and pilates are important practices for me to play out these metaphors: when I need to feel strength I am drawn to strong standing poses, when I need to go inwards and look within myself I am drawn to forward flexion or the stillness within yin poses.
But I also feel these metaphors in sport: the challenge of long endurance sessions when I have to apply patience and conserve my energy, the process of moving forward when I want to stop and learning to dig deep and keep focused towards my goal when other things threaten to get in the way.
It's triathlon that has taught me a big lesson recently. It highlighted to me how I have been transitioning through stages and phases of life. In triathlon, 'transition' is the change time between each of the swim, bike, run elements of the race. It is the moments between getting out of the water in the swim and onto the bike, and then the moments from getting off the bike and out onto the run section of the race.
Transitions in triathlon are about being smooth, focused, efficient. They are about getting to, then settling into, the next phase of the race as quickly as possible.
During my prime competing days in triathlon I was an ace at transitions! I could get off my bike, get my helmet and bike racked, trainers on, gels picked up and then back out the transition area for the final run of the race in well under 30 seconds. Many of my medals were won on the basis of my transition times being quicker than my competitors. I was known for my fast transitions and would often hear coaches tell their athletes to watch and learn from how I did them! It was about being organised and focused and decisive.
So I find it hilarious, and ironic, that I can be fairly rubbish at dealing with transitions and change in the bigger context of my life! In my younger years, maybe not so much, but as I get older I've definitely found it more challenging to know which direction to go in, what to let go off, what to take with me, and I really care more about how others are handling the transition too. If I play out the metaphor, my transitions in life these days are the equivalent of me finishing the swim and then taking my wetsuit out on the bike leg with me while also having a full bag of snacks because I don't know what I might want for energy, and then trying to lug my bike with me while I run and during ALL of that I'm hell bent on making sure that my competitor has got out of the transaction area unscathed and onto her bike ok too. Jeepers!
I AM going through a transition at the moment. I've changed my work pattern to suit my energy levels better and I'm in the process of building up some work nearer to my home to make commuting easier on myself. I think that I'm now in that decisive, focused stage of transition but I had a heck of a faff about getting to here.
We moved to the country 6 years ago to enjoy a different lifestyle, a quieter and less busy one. Yet, I insisted on keeping my city life going at the same volume and pace as it had been. My working days became way longer! 7am get ups needed to become 5:30am get ups in order to not sit static in traffic. Dinner time got later and time sitting in cafes increased as I wasn’t able to pop home between working both ends of the day. There was me metaphorically lugging the wetsuit and bike with me into the next stage of this event called life, but not sure what to put down where and when and what to take with me.
The light bulb came when I realised that I actually love getting up at 5:30am. It really suits me. So the other end of the candle had to stop burning. It was time to stop spending my evenings coaching running groups, something I’d been doing for 18 years. It was a decision that I found difficult to make but knew that I had to. It was time to leave it lovingly in the transition area. Of course I was taking all the lessons and experience I’d gained from those 18 years forward with me, because they were threaded through me and integrated into how I work with people in others ways.
Once I had made that decision, things felt so much easier and it was clearer to focus on moving forward with a different energy. I am settling into the new pattern of working and I can feel that I'm beginning to flourish from it. My energy levels are significantly better and as a result my thoughts are much clearer and more positive. I'm doing less 'managing' my life, and instead I'm enjoying 'being' in my life. It does feel like a load has lightened and I'm actually doing more while also feeling incredibly rested. Deciding what to let go off has also helped me focus on what does fill my working week. I really enjoy my time in Edinburgh much more now and can think clearer when working with clients there. I've got other work much closer to home now too and it lets me have study and creating time which is so important to my development. When I wind down at the end of a working day I have an evening now to spend with friends, catching up with tv or just doing life stuff. It feels great. Really great.
I can see in hindsight actually that the process of transition is simply a case of decide, focus, action, go. It really was like my triathlon transitions used to be. I would decided exactly what I needed, where I was laying it out, what order to do it and then it was just a case of focus, action, go. The decision was the hardest bit. And I guess sometimes it takes getting to a place of carrying too much and losing energy before you even realise that you need to make some kind of decision and what is serving your energy and what isn't.
So, thank you triathlon for teaching me about life - again! I'm ever so thankful that you are a force, and a resource, in my life.
I suspect I am not the only one who finds my relationship with social media a challenge. My struggle with it is ongoing.
Some of my closest friends have turned their back on Facebook, Instagram et al and they no longer feature in their lives. My husband tells me he doesn’t miss scrolling through pages of minion quotes while drinking his morning coffee (he has a point!) and if anyone wants to know what he is up to then they can pick up the phone. He occasionally asks me who is up to what, but it’s clear that he doesn’t miss it.
My stock line, when he extols the virtue of being socially media-less, is usually ‘If I didn’t run a business then I wouldn’t be on it either’. But in reality, I’m not entirely sure just how true that is. I wonder if perhaps it’s a very handy excuse for me to keep my social media presence up.
I go through phases of being more on or more off social media and it’s true that more often than not work related things pull me back in to time on Facebook and Instagram. For sure, I can’t then resist a scroll but is this really such a bad thing?
When I have periods away from social media I do feel more calm in general. I feel less overwhelmed about everything that is going on everywhere else and instead I focus on my own wee world. I spend more time thinking about those who are closest to me, doing things that make me tick and I make decisions from a more internally focused base. I want to connect with specific individuals to find out how they are and what they are up to. I want to make contact – real contact – with them. I have more time to do all the things that I keep harping on about that I’ll do when I have more time. I write, I pick up a set of pencils and draw, I watch the tv programmes that I really want to watch and I read. I feed my soul with greater nourishment when I am not on social media.
Yet, when I find myself back on it, I am just that little bit more connected with certain people I wouldn’t otherwise be, and I get to geek out on specific subjects that are easier found this way. I love seeing updates from friends who live in different time zones, and those from friends I know from years back. I find out that the runners I used to coach are still running and it warms my heart a little bit. I like to find out what events are on, what classes and workshops my friends are running and I often find out about great training courses from social media. I regularly immerse myself in an academic journal or interesting podcast after following a link on Facebook and I feel part of an international community of other movement practitioners who are forging new ways forward in this field. It doesn’t feel so much like I have a Fear Of Missing Out, more a curiosity of what’s going on elsewhere.
But, I guess, it’s when the scrolling gets out of control and my time on there shifts from curiosity to overwhelm that I need to get mindful.
It can be so easy to get lost down a rabbit hole or to get pulled into the alternative versions of reality that others want us to see. Our news feed is a very narrow perspective of what is going on around us, and a very audited one. It can be so easy to believe that others are leading more exciting, successful, happier lives than we are, without us knowing the truth behind the pictures and the words. We can fall prey to the reactions of others, seek approval from strangers and downgrade our worth all based on the content of our carefully targeted feed. I’m guilty in the past of believing that I need to be more than I am after 5, 10, 30 minutes of mindless scrolling.
And I think it is the minFUL- or mindLESS- ness of our interaction that we need to look at with regards to the quality of our relationship with social media. Yes, of course, there can be times when it’s fun to look through memes of cats and dogs doing cute or funny things. And there will be times when we sit reading through things to then discover that it’s not really for us or worth our time and energy. But it’s doing it with awareness that is the key. Are we taking a short break to have a bit of a laugh or some mini-connection with others? Or are we procrastinating and settling for a filtered connection to avoid facing some kind of void in our life?
For me, I do enjoy some of the rabbit holes that it takes me down and the new knowledge that I can gain from using this media. I am a seeker and I always want to learn more. My thirst for knowledge can be difficult to quench and social media is a tool (not the tool) that helps with that thirst. It also provides me with an outlet to share my own learning and to expand my teaching outwards to those who find me in their own news feed and who follow their own curiosity. I’m aware now that being myself when I write will connect me with those who align. Trying to be someone I'm not, or trying to be flashing and headline-y just makes me feel bad about myself.
Like any relationship it's about finding out what you can both give to each other and how you can support and add value to each other. If that’s spending three hours scrolling cat memes, then who am I to judge? If it gives you a community of support you cannot get elsewhere, then great. It doesn’t matter what it gives you as long as it feels to you that it is adding value. But if it makes you feel less good about yourself, stops you doing positive thing that you might otherwise do, or it causes you mental stress then your relationship with it needs to be reviewed. Perhaps you do need time away to gain perspective and to discover your needs from this relationship. Maybe you will never go back, like my husband, and the relationship has served its time. Maybe like me, you’ll continue to work your way through it, discovering what it gives you and how you can work together.
Part of this working together could be shedding your newsfeed of posts that no longer align with you. Unfriend, unfollow, take a temporary break even, from anything that doesn't speak to your real self. Be mindful, be aware and you might discover a whole new perspective (and news feed) that you are in control of and not at the mercy of.
Much love peeps
CT <3 xx
"If your compassion does not include yourself it is incomplete"