Tag Archives: mindfulness

The Greatest Love of All – Part II

Three months ago I wrote about my plan to avoid yet another winter of SAD so as we gladly arrive at the Winter Solstice I thought it might be time for an update.

I’ll be honest from the start here (as I tend to be) – it has been hard work, meant a massive lifestyle change and has cost a truckload of cash but for the first winter in years I feel like me. I have energy, enthusiasm and haven’t sobbed uncontrollably once (apart from during a recent trip to see It’s a Wonderful Life – hey, I’m not dead inside!) The self-pity has lifted and my perspective has shifted – I can see things objectively and appreciate my wonderful life for what it is. Pass the sick bucket.

I have, inevitably, also managed some spectacular feats of (often subconscious) self-sabotage – a trait which I doubt I will ever fully get rid of.

For example. A big part of my plan was to do regular hot yoga. I found a new studio, called Lumi, near my house and it was great. But about a week in I decided to have elective surgery to get rid of a small lump I’ve had on my leg for ten years that is of no medical concern but I just hate it. Four stitches later, I was told not to exercise for six weeks. Ah. I really can be an idiot sometimes. I took a deep breath and went back as soon as I could without bursting them – in many ways my stupidity just gave me more drive to do it than I might have had before. It’s often when you are told you can’t do something the desire really kicks in.

Doug at The Mindfulness Project runs an eight week MBSR (mindfulness based stress reduction) course, which is where I have found a way to be ok with just about anything, including my own stupid self-sabotage. Through discussion and meditation I have learned to ‘respond’ to situations rather than to ‘react’, to recognise how often I put my own interpretation on things which have no basis in reality and to take the time to enjoy being in the moment as life can change so damn quickly. You have to leave your cynicism at the door, but I highly recommend it.

In a screenplay I wrote a few years ago there was a character who had lived in a commune since the ‘60’s who was always meditating. I was taking the piss when I wrote that character. Now I am horrified to find I am doing the same thing. But it works! Being more aware of where I am in the world at any given moment has allowed me to engage with living in a way I hadn’t before and to be braver and stronger. I might have become a hippy but I still struggle with my demons in social situations…there’s no peace and love for me there, yet. A few weeks ago I went to the London Screenwriters’ Festival – a magnificent event where the keynote speaker, Chris Jones, made an impassioned plea to us all – “You are all in the same boat! Talk to each other, communicate, make friends because….you are FUCKING AWESOME!” This became the motto for the Festival and after that rousing speech I jumped up and down, hugged two strangers and skipped off to my first session. I was then mute for the next two days. Standing in a corner with eyes darting all over the place trying not to make contact or laughing inanely at jokes I hadn’t even heard while in the coffee queue. It wasn’t until the third day – when I had a word with myself, wore a low cut top and took up smoking again – that I actually started talking to a few people and it was lovely. Mindfulness, tits and fags – at least I know my MO for next year!

Part of the reason I was so shy at the Festival might be down to the fact that I couldn’t dissolve my nerves with a glass of red due to my ridiculous new eating habits. I went to see a nutritionist about my IBS and he immediately put me on a ‘no sugar no yeast’ diet. And it’s working. Remember the stomach I found hard to love in my last blog? I found it hard to love because it wasn’t actually mine! Within two weeks on the diet, one of the tyres from my belly had completely disappeared. The most important, and shocking, thing about this diet though, is that, after being on medication for high blood pressure for five years, my blood pressure is now lower than it ever was on medication.

The diet is only supposed to last three months and then I can start re-introducing things – thank god as I miss pizza so much, but all I can say is, it’s working – I feel fitter and healthier and it’s really not that hard – apart from when you are having a few days with your bestie in Dubai and you just happen to have a glass of champagne, and a couple of shots and… oh well, as I say, I’m learning to accept my self-sabotaging too.

Looking back on the last few years now, I think in order to cope with SAD I used to revel in it. In my lighter moments I used to call it my ‘melancholia’ and sweep around the flat in my black lace housecoat, back of hand raised to my forehead. Then things would get dark and I would despise myself for everything, for simply being me, and allow myself to engage with my perceived failure at being mid-thirties and ‘alone’.

Now I can see that person from the outside I want to shake her for being so ungrateful and melodramatic and losing all sense of reality. But I must be kind to myself, those feelings were not a conscious choice and were the result of chemical changes within my brain, changes which through hard work, cash and probably a bit of luck, I seem to have side-stepped this year.

My perspective has changed so much this winter that I don’t even care that I haven’t had sex ALL YEAR! I’ve kissed a couple of boys, and a girl, but no shagging and that’s something which might have made me deeply unhappy in the past and left me worrying about what is wrong with me but right now I’m relieved. I considered shagging someone on Friday night but then things got weird when he just wanted me to spank him repeatedly while we were dancing, and then while we weren’t. Hmmmm, I left him to it. Anyway, if you don’t have sex for a whole year that means you become a re-virgin – right?

2014, both personally and worldwide has been pretty shit. Horrific atrocities are still taking place across the world and having done some research into Syria and islamic state for a script editing placement I did a few weeks ago (full blog to be uploaded soon) I am terrified by  the complexity of the situation and where we go from here. In my family there have been too many hospitals, too much heartache and too much stress, but we’re still standing.

Now, change is afoot. I am moving to Bristol in January and am anxious and excited about it in equal measures. It is a move designed to place me closer to some of my family, to find a more balanced life and hopefully a bigger flat. I don’t yet have a job though, and part of me is concerned that this level of change, in the middle of winter, might trigger the old negativity. But I can’t stand still for fear.

So on this Solstice night, with the promise of Spring appearing on the very distant horizon, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy Happy New Year.




The Greatest Love of All

For the last 4 winters I have spent a lot of time crying, filled with desperation and self-loathing, exhausted and unable to ‘snap out of it’. Happy way to start a blog eh? (stick with me, it gets better, I talk about tits soon…) I’ve hidden it pretty well, but I’ve basically felt like shit. I, and my GP, suspect I have a dose of SAD, or Seasonally Affected Disorder. When I first heard about SAD I didn’t believe it was a ‘thing’. Having now lost, cumulatively, nearly 2 years of my life, my ambition and my normalcy to it, I am certain it is a ‘thing’.

Therefore, since the beginning of August, I have been absolutely terrified of the coming autumn, and the inevitable winter which follows. The pattern has been as follows: by the end of July I am generally just about getting my shit together, feeling like myself again, feeling strong and capable and excited by life. And then September comes and the nights draw in, the weather turns in October and by November all sense of who I am is lost and my internal monologue is incapable of having one positive thought. But not this year. I recognise it now and can’t do it again. I want to avoid medication so have been considering what I can do to help myself to a happier winter before the darkness closes in. I am suddenly aware that I have to learn to love myself in order to silence some of the demons.

Almost without meaning to, I have started a very strange ritual recently. Every day I have spent 5 minutes staring at myself, naked, in the mirror. I have rarely, if ever, looked at myself naked before. And if I have it has definitely been with a critical eye, and a sigh of disappointment at my various flaws which are all I am able to see. And then I tut and walk away from the mirror. This time it has to be different.

I look at my breasts – in my opinion, one of my best features and yet I am not happy. They are probably a centimetre less perky than they used to be, and I much prefer them if I just hoick them up a bit and objectively my right one is larger than my left one and… I look at my breasts again. This time I see the pleasure they have given me, and many others, over the years. The outfits they have pulled together, the heads that have rested on them. That barely noticeable vein which crosses my right breast is not ugly as I have always thought, but is proof that there is blood pumping round my body, keeping me standing and breathing, and thinking.

I continue. I notice the stretch marks on my thighs which I’ve had since I was 15, and have hated every day since then. But I remember they are simply proof of my becoming a woman, the only time I didn’t have them was when I was a child so why would I hate something which is evidence of the fact that I have grown up? Growing up is surely a remarkable thing!

Then the belly. Which is really difficult to love. True, it is evidence of a lot of good times, but it has also given me a lot of pain. Personally I think I deserve a six-pack considering the amount of workouts it has had while throwing up the previous night’s party. And surely the regular agonising cramps from a variety of food intolerances must have strengthened the muscles? But I’m a long way from a six-pack. I try to think positive. Remarkably I still have a slim waist, and this means I can wear some pretty dresses and I am lucky that my waist has had a lot of arms around it. Ok, I’m not unhappy with my torso, but will continue to try and love the belly.

On to my legs. I am really quite short so they only look good in high heels but I can’t wear high heels as I fall over constantly and cannot bear the agony. It also doesn’t help that I seem to be growing bunions and have a bony lump on the top of the right foot. So, no heels. Just lumpy stumpy. But these legs have done remarkable things. They have taken me to the very top of Mount Kilimanjaro! And don’t forget Ben Lomond (a hill in Scotland, not a man, but they have also led me to many wonderful men’s bedrooms) and abseiling down Twickenham Stadium, and into a forest to see the biggest tree in the world, and around New York City a dozen times…and the list is endless. Ok legs, I quite like you.

I eventually rest on my freckles and wrinkles which instead of showing inevitable ageing are simply evidence of all the sunshine, both physical and spiritual which I have had in my life. Nothing negative there at all.

My final thought amuses me. I have never looked in the mirror because I have never been happy with my body. When I was 25 and a lot hotter than I am now, I hated it. I regret not loving it then, and I will regret not loving my current body when I am 50. As Caitlin Moran says, as long as you are human shaped, you’re doing ok. And I am definitely human shaped.

I finally realise that I need to recognise, as I never have before, that this body is not just a vessel for this strange brain, but is deeply connected to it and needs to be looked after and stimulated just as much.

After this exercise (which I advise everybody to try, it’s quite ‘eye-opening’) I have decided to take some, erm, exercise. I can see the contradiction of learning to love my body as it is, and then wanting to change it, but it is precisely because I am looking at my body for the first time, that I realise it deserves to be looked after, and I have never really done that. And besides, I am quite at peace with contradictions. My eldest sister recently said to me that accepting the contradictions in your brain was a sign of maturity, so just like I want Scotland to be independent and I really don’t want them to leave the UK, I am content with the idea that I can love my body as it is, but want to give it the chance to be the best it can. So hot yoga and healthy eating here I come (again!).

Other attempts to ward off the evil SADness include starting a mindfulness course to try and focus on memory and concentration, and to train my brain to see things differently. In the first session we ate a raisin and lay down for half and hour, so I think I’m gonna like it. I’ve made an appointment with a GP/nutritionist to finally get to the bottom of those stomach issues and I have joined the local library having recently re-discovered my love of books, thanks to my amazing pal, Lucy Robinson’s The Unfinished Symphony of You and Me, which got me into reading for pleasure again having not read anything for ages, in the misguided belief that I should only be reading the ‘classics’ or screenwriting textbooks which therefore led me to not read anything for a really long time because they were both, clearly, pretty boring.

Who knows, maybe I’ll avoid getting SAD this year, but if not I’ll be ready for it and if all else fails there’s always medication. But, and this is unusual for me, for this ailment I’d rather eschew the drugs and aim for a long-term solution.

So, dear Whitney – I know you couldn’t manage it, but you’ve inspired me to learn to love myself. After all the children are our future. And I decided long ago never walk in anyone’s shadows. And will learn to depend on me. Ok, I’ll stop now, and report back when I’ve found it, the greatest love of all, inside of me.