Eating the (proverbial) elephant

There is only one way to eat an elephant, a bit at a time”

Desmond Tutu

Life can be tough sometimes. Whether it’s health issues, personal or professional set-backs or financial problems, from time to time we all suffer. And we all have our own coping mechanisms to get us through the difficult times.

But sometimes coping doesn’t work. It’s just not that easy to carry on. In my experience it’s when when too many bad things happen all at once; in my darkest times, I just felt overwhelmed. The best way I can describe it was that my head felt was like a jug being filled with water. I was ok, until the water reached the brim. But once it got too full and started overflowing I went into meltdown, and couldn’t properly function.

For me at least this was when my usual “go to” strategies fell apart. Keeping going without changing the way I dealt with the world was no longer an option. Looking back, there is one thing though that has become very clear. Things don’t get better all at once; it’s a marathon not a sprint. The best way to dig out of the black hole is to accept that, deal with the issues one by one and be realistic.

Look for the easier problems to solve and ask for help
If there are some “quick wins” for you then tackle those. If you have finance problems speak to your bank and service providers. Be honest with family, friends and work about what is going on in your life and ask for their help in managing the situation. Go see your doctor if you are depressed. Just work out ways, one by one, to set you on a better track.

Asking for help is not weak – it is brave and a vital step to getting better. And if people offer to help (and they do) accept that help. They wouldn’t offer if they didn’t mean it.

Self care is vital
When we feel low we tend to adopt bad habits which only make the problems worse. So, think about self care, and make a few changes (one by one and slowly!). It might be improving your diet, getting a bit of exercise, getting to bed slightly earlier, less screen time, cutting a few people from your life temporarily (the ones who tend to make life more difficult – we all have them). It really doesn’t matter what you do – it’s all about starting somewhere.

Don’t beat yourself up if you fail at one thing – change something else instead, something that might be a little easier. Ánd make sure you find time to do nice things for you- see a movie, meet up with an old friend, just things that used to make you happy; they will do again.

Only tackle the big stuff when you feel ready

You need to be strong enough to deal with the really tough stuff, so don’t rush it. If other people are trying to force you to make decisions or take action and you don’t feel up to it then resist; don’t be bullied. Equally importantly, don’t bully yourself. Instead be kind to yourself and listen to your inner voice. Don’t try to solve the things you are not ready to face right now, a bit of time and space will help you get the perpective you need.

Remember the serenity statement

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference”

Focus on the things that are within your control. Wishing things you can’t control would go away is natural, but the more you can resist those thoughts the more energy you will have left for the stuff you can do something about. There is an alternative version of the serenity statement which I think is even more important to keep in mind when going through stresful times:

“Grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the people I can and wisdom to know that is me”

And so.
All in all, just take it slow, deal with things one at a time, accept it might be a long haul, and take the best care of you along the way. Oh, and as someone who is trying to cut down on their meat consumption, I hope you will forgive the elephant analogy. However, “there’s only one way to eat texturized vegetable protein in the shape of a large pachyderm” didn’t quite have the same ring to it…
Stay strong

Breaking through the barriers

I visited a new GP this week to sort out a re-prescription for my medication, and he made a comment that triggered an interesting train of thought.  He said I had a great deal of insight into my mental health, how helpful that was, and that it was quite unusual. I realised that this was both a relatively new thing for me, and meant the majority of people with mental health issues were struggling to understand them. And I started to think about why.

For people who experience a single bout of depression, say following a traumatic life event, this is easily understood.  I can imagine it hits you like a train.  But for people like me with chronic issues, why so little self insight?

There are a number of obvious reasons.  Mental health is complex and still less well understood than other types of health issues.  It is difficult to properly research, sufferers find it hard to describe symptoms because when you’re struggling it’s hard to be dispassionate. It can be challenging to get the right professional help from psychiatrists and therapists.

And each person’s experience is unique.  But that is all the more reason why it’s important to spend the time trying to fathom out what’s going on.

The other obvious barrier is stigma.  The fear that admitting to mental health issues will lead to consequences; that hiding it and just ‘carrying on’ is the better option.  We are bombarded with Facebook posts, campaigns from celebrities and royals, educational establishments and employers highlighting this stigma, urging everyone to take mental health seriously. And yet…

I can’t speak from everyone’s experience, and would never seek to do so.  But perhaps this thought might be helpful; the breakthrough for me came not from the outside world, but from self-acceptance. I struggled for years (all my life), fighting with myself, willing myself to be better, to be stronger, frequently trying to ignore my issues.  I blamed circumstances, I blamed others, but most of all I blamed myself.  I never had a problem with mental illness in others, just me.

I finally realised this wasn’t going to go away, that I needed to put in the work to find my triggers, that I’m not a weak person, that I have a right to be happy, and if that means both opening up to others and taking the medication I need then that’s OK. Taking the big step to getting well only needed me to be brave and kind to myself.

As for the stigma, I’ve found almost everyone has been supportive and I’ve experienced amazing understanding from many quarters; attitudes really have changed dramatically in recent years. I’ve also connected with many wonderful people who are also dealing with their own issues, mental health problems are actually pretty common.

The ironic thing; it was me that was prejudiced against myself.  I was my biggest barrier.

Love K







The space in between

I read an article this week about doing nothing.  How our natural instinct in most situations is to DO SOMETHING, but, sometimes, doing nothing can be the better choice. How, in the space in between each chapter in our life stories, a pause can bring clarity.  Good decisions about the important things take time.

I found this really rather profound.  And realised something.  My last post talked about how I had come to appreciate alone time.  But it’s more than that.  My whole life has been about being busy; taking action, decision-making, high octane.  Ask anyone who knew me five years ago and they would have said I was made that way, that I would go mad without a list of things to do. Part of me went along with that narrative, but it never felt completely right.  I would relish the quiet moments; the daily commute to work (who admits to even vaguely enjoying commuting!), early mornings before anyone else was up.  Looking back, I realise now I would find ways to boost my quota of those moments; taking sick days, going to bed early at social events.

I’ve also realised that much of my previous busyness was counterproductive.  I would create work that wasn’t necessary, spend money on things I neither needed or wanted.  In 2008, when I was made redundant following the financial crash, I received a generous payout, a space between chapters if ever there was one, and a chance to create something new.  I immediately went into overdrive, setting up two businesses, paying for expensive retraining, and generally running around like a headless chicken, all in an attempt to show how capable I was.  In the end the money ran out, and instead of the hoped for change of lifestyle, I was forced to look for another job, back to square one in the City, as unhappy as I’d been before.

I forgive myself; there were circumstances and responsibilities which made it hard for me to be more measured.  But I’m learning from it.

I find myself in a space in between again, and this time around I’ve promised myself I will do things differently.  I live more cheaply with less stress and less to do, which gives me more flexibility. And doing less is proving way easier than I, or anyone else, would have predicted.  I find I can wake up and just lie in bed for an hour or two, or simply sit looking out of the window.  Guess what? I’m a daydreamer after all.  The peace I feel from doing absolutely nothing is way better than the fleeting sense of achievement I got from doing stuff for the sake of it.

I know I will get to a place where my next chapter becomes clear, but for now I’m happy taking my time, putting my feet up and learning to breathe again.

Love K

P.S. This post also allowed me to include a gratuitous photo of my fab new boots 🙂

Three free thoughts

Coming out of the grey into a brighter light has left me in a place of uncertainty. Wishing it had happened sooner, grateful it has finally happened and scared it could all disappear.

But the good I am finally feeling has allowed me to put many things right.  To open up, begin show the real me to friends and family. To make peace with myself and others. To think about me, and what I want.  This is where my thinking has lead me to…

# 1 – Alone is not lonely

One of the most unexpected things I have discovered is the joy of being alone. As a previously self-diagnosed neurotic extrovert I surrounded myself with noise, people, stimulation. Uncomfortable in my own skin and plagued with negative, obsessive over-thinking, the idea of spending time alone terrified me. But now, gradually, I have learnt that the quiet of downtime is what I need. Doing things just for me is an unexpected pleasure. Revelling in simple things without having the pressure of accommodating others; sitting in a restaurant with a glass of wine and nice food and watching the world go by, bingeing on box sets, indulging in self-care, shopping – well nobody’s perfect (😊). And that’s my second thought.

# 2 Being perfect isn’t the end game

A life led trying to be perfect is both exhausting and futile. Good enough is good enough. I’m done with living up to other’s expectations, and, more importantly, I’m done with imposing unrealistic expectations on myself.  I know I can be infuriating sometimes, I know I make mistakes, I know my thoughts aren’t always kind, they can be dark and cruel. My actions might hurt – the important thing is to understand that, and deal with it in a grown-up and self-accepting way. Having the perfect house, the perfect career, being the perfect friend; it’s all just too much for one person. So, finally…

# 3 Take the plunge – be me

This one needs very little explanation. We are all the same and we are all different; quirky, annoying, amazing, full of insecurities and shaped by our experiences good and bad. So, I’m just going to get on with being me.

Free/three (North London accent rools) thoughts.

Love K

Future imperfect

It’s been many months since my last post – life has taken many turns and I’ve not felt like putting fingers to keyboard until things have become more settled.

Which I’m pleased to say they are… or at least they’re on their way.

My mood is stable and has been for at least six months – a wonderful thing thanks to me asking for the help I needed and a proper diagnosis.  As a result I’ve been able to take stock and come to some decisions that I know are right for me.  That’s one of the biggest downsides of mood swings – you can’t trust yourself to do the right thing – by the next week, day, hour or minute you second guess yourself. So you get stuck, doing things you don’t like, being the person you don’t want to be; in fact not even sure who that person is.

So slowly I’m taking control of my life – making the changes I need to make.  It’s tough at times but I’ve learned that that’s just part of the process – to be happy I need to be brave enough to be truly me.




Let it go..

Let it go.  You’ll be pleased to hear I’m not about to burst into a rendition of every small girl’s favourite song.  My post today is, what I hope will be, another useful insight into how to calm the busy mind and bring a bit more order into the chaos.

Learning #2 – Just let it go.

This weekend I have been decluttering. My son and his girlfriend have been living with me since graduating last summer, but they have finally managed to afford to move to a place of their own. This has not only meant I now have a spare room, but has given me the opportunity to have a good clear out.  I have moved three times in the past three years, but somehow I still have too much stuff.


So I’ve been ruthless. My clothes now all fit into one wardrobe. I have thrown out some old tatty furniture as a result and now feel I have space to breathe and move. I still have more to do but it already feels good to have less in my life, to simplify, to focus on things that really matter rather than worrying about where to store things that I never use (let’s just ignore that fact I’ve managed to ‘lose’ all my bedding in a dyspraxic moment of brain dysfunction, I’m trying to move on from that! :)).

And it set me thinking. It’s not only possessions that I have been letting go of.  Too frequently, in the past, I have found myself stuck in old ways of thinking, old difficult memories, old conversations and old events. I have found myself wasting so much of my time, energy and mental capacity focusing on stuff that I don’t need; in a metaphorical sense, on stuff I don’t have room for.

So how to declutter the mind? My daughter reminded me one of the ways to get rid of physical things is to stop touching them, that way the sentimental and emotional connections are broken, and it’s easier to throw them out. I think memories are the same. Find ways to break the connections. In today’s world it’s too easy to be reminded of the bad stuff; our lives are recorded and posted, Facebook, Instagram, email, blogs (!). It’s all there to be read, reread, analysed; the neural pathways constantly being reinforced.

Having a bit of an addictive personality, it’s very easy for me to get caught up in the stuff that hurts, looking at it, constantly torturing myself. So now I use the delete button. Anything I think might harm me mentally is decluttered, sent to the virtual municipal dump in the sky, so my mental wardrobe has more room for the stuff I like, the things that make me happy.

Does it always work? Of course not. And I can’t get rid of places that remind me of things I don’t want to remember, I can’t always avoid hearing songs that upset me, of smelling aromas that take me back to a bad, sad memory. Those negative thoughts still come to me, like waves on the beach, sometimes gentle and manageable, sometimes crashing and deafening, sweeping me out to sea with their scary force. But hey, I can only control what I can control. Better to lessen the impact, rather than constantly scratching at scabs and reopening wounds.

It has worked, I’m definitely calmer and less bothered by intrusive thoughts – the constant nemesis of the anxious mind – than I was in the past. I’m also making a concerted effort not to dwell on those thoughts when they do come, which is something I will talk more about in a future post.

So yes, my lesson learnt today is let it go.

The cold never bothered me anyway.

Mood soup

No not my current state of mind 🙂 but a soup I just made myself to help keep my mood level elevated.

Put 500g of mixed courgette, kale and peas (fresh or frozen) in a pan with two stock cubes (chicken or vegetable) a few chilli flakes, a good sprinkle of celery salt, cumin and dried herbs, some coriander stalks, the green parts from a couple of spring onions, and salt and black pepper to taste.

Cover with boiling water (just a little less than a litre) and put on the heat.  Bring to the boil then leave on a high heat (watch it doesn’t boil over) for about ten minutes.  Use a ladle to take out the courgettes, kale and about half of the peas and blitz to a liquid. Return to the pan and bring back to a rolling boil.

Ladle the soup into a bowl, drizzle over some cream (or creme fraiche/yoghurt), coriander leaves and the white parts of the spring onions, finely chopped.



Tacking right

Going to go off on a different tack this morning.  I said I wanted this to be a blog about how to find our way through to happiness in this overwhelming world.  So I wanted to start to share some of the things I have learnt in my life.


Learning #1 – Hold back : Attending to my own needs is ok.  

In fact its more than ok – it’s essential. It’s very easy to listen to the demon on my shoulder whispering to me, telling me my needs are somehow less important than those of others. These messages began in childhood, the school bullies, the family members with their own issues, the jealous friends. The self-effacement becomes the easy option, people pleasing becomes a habit. Over time it was who I became, I was simply a reflection of other people’s needs.

My therapist described it as empathy gone mad.  So other people’s problems, their issues get absorbed in to my psyche.  And if I can’t make them better, well then I’m just a failure, I beat myself up.  Even worse, I take on their pain and make myself depressed and anxious. And you know what, for the people closest to me, it leads to co-dependency and stress instead of letting them find their own way. So it’s not actually that kind or empathic after all!

But the last couple of times I have felt it happening I have recognised it, reflected on it and gained insight as a result. I now feel stronger and more peaceful.

So my first learning is to hold back, be kind and supportive but not too kind, not too supportive. Look after myself first. Listen to me and what I need. Tell the demon on my shoulder, the whisper in my head, to just push off BECAUSE I’M BUSY!

More musings later.  Need to make myself a cuppa now 🙂

Love Karen