Mental Health Awareness Week

I’ve been thinking about mental health a lot this week. Particularly apt due to it being mental health awareness week.

Everywhere I’ve turned there have been reminders about looking after our mental health. Social media has been full of interesting quotes and articles, and celebrities as well as us ‘normal’ folk have been talking about our own mental health.

I had an interesting conversation with someone yesterday who said they feel as though everyone has mental health problems these days, and that sometimes it feels as though people are just ‘jumping on the bandwagon’.

Whilst I’m not sure people are ‘jumping on the bandwagon’, it certainly does feel as though more people have mental health problems these days. However, I’m not sure that this is true either.

What seems to be true, is that more people are opening up and talking about mental health.

Radio 1 have done a great job at allowing people to open up and talk about their mental health, frequently talking about different ways to cope, and just allowing people to air their problems.

Celebrities too have been opening up about their mental health experiences, which somehow makes it easier to discuss things. By opening up and telling us their stories, they are letting everyone know that it is ok to not be ok.

Workplaces too are taking a tougher stance on mental health, ensuring staff know what to do if they are experiencing problems, or by simply making staff more aware of the signs that one of their colleagues maybe struggling so they can help, or find someone who can.

I too created The Mindful Musings of a Gingernut as a way of managing my own mental health. I often struggle to put things into words when speaking out loud, but writing my blog helps me to have a voice, and to say the things I often wish I could say in person. It also helps me to reflect and to make sense of things.

Yet, I can’t help but feel a sense of bittersweetness when we talk about mental health.

In a couple of months time it will be the anniversary of my best friends suicide.

I often wonder, if there had been more publicity about mental health back then, if there had been easier access to information, support groups etc, whether she may still be here.

We’ll never know.

What I am grateful for, is the fact that times are changing.

Mental health has a growing voice.

Mental health is finally being listened to.

Amen to that!

🙏🏻

Cumin

Isn’t it funny how certain tastes and smells we experience, stay with us throughout our lives?

Standing in the kitchen today, frying up a couple of eggs for lunch, I decided to sprinkle a little bit of cumin powder on top of them.

As I lifted the lid off the cumin powder, I was instantly transported back to Marrakech. Although I long to go again some day, I haven’t been back since my first visit in December 2015.

Moroccans seem to add cumin to everything, including their fried eggs.

The smell was such a powerful reminder of my trip. Other memories came flooding back. Not just the smells, but the taste of the food, and the sounds.

Whilst visiting Marrakech, I heard the Adhan (the call to prayer) for the first time. The first time I heard the call to prayer, I had no idea what it was, but it sent shivers down my spine. No matter how many times I search you tube, I just can’t find a video that does it justice. Maybe it’s just one of those sounds you have to hear for yourself rather than through a video. Hearing the Adhan was like being cast under a spell. I wanted to follow the sound to see where it led me.

Along with the sound of the Adhan, and the taste and smell of cumin, the other smell that will forever remain in my memory, is that of the petrol fumes. If you have ever been to Marrakech, you will know that the souks are a maze of narrow streets full of traders, locals and tourists alike, bartering over the many goods that are on offer. It’s incredible how anyone gets through those markets in one piece, on or off a mode of transport. The scooters and motorbikes somehow navigate their way through the markets, dodging people, animals and other modes of transport in order to reach their destination.

I quickly grew accustomed to the powerful effect Marrakech had on my senses in the short time I was there.

When I returned home a few days later, I opened my suitcase, ready to unpack, and was instantly hit by a wave of petrol fumes, spices and memories of the Adhan.

The tastes, smells and sounds of Marrakech can be overwhelming and powerful to the western tourist. I know people who have visited Marrakech and couldn’t wait to leave. But for me, Marrakech stole a piece of my heart. I will forever remember the excitement that comes with having your senses caught up in the spell that is Marrakech.

There are many other smells, tastes and sounds which remind me of the past and they almost always give me reason to smile.

What brings your senses alive?

Time to unsubscribe

Over the last few weeks my emails have been mounting up.

Unusually, not my work ones, which finally seem to be under control after nearly 4 years into the job!

My personal emails however, have become ridiculous.

I have two email accounts. One which I’ve had for years, and one which I use for all things blogging.

Watching the number of unread emails slowly creep up to 100 was starting to make my head hurt.

Then when I checked this morning, I had around 130.

It was time to take action and de-clutter my inbox (and free up my mind as a result).

First of all I needed to decide whether to delete or unsubscribe from mailing lists. This was easier than I expected. After all, having let my emails go unread for so long would suggest that the emails weren’t that important.

So 135 emails later, I have now unsubscribed from around 15 mailing lists which made up around 85% of my emails.

The remaining 15% I have spent some time reading and actioning before deleting.

And now, I’m pleased to say, I have an empty inbox and a much happier mind!

Is self care easier if you’re single?

A few weeks ago, I attended a friends hen party. The hen party was fun. But something was troubling me.

I was staying in a hotel that night with another friend. While we were busy getting ready for the hen party, she started pouring her heart out to me. It appeared that her marriage was on the rocks. Whilst I was shocked to hear this, I was not entirely surprised.

As my friend continued to tell me her problems, it occurred to me that all she might actually need was a little bit of time out for herself. From where I was standing, the issues they faced as a couple were largely down to the fact that my friend did not take much time out for herself. Not only did she seem trapped by being mum to her two children, her vibrations also constantly seem to be low.

So I decided to try and talk her into creating some time for herself.

The trouble is, she wasn’t ready to hear what I had to say. She wanted to blame her husband for everything that was going wrong. She couldn’t see that by taking a little time out for herself, it might actually help her to look at things more rationally, and generally make her feel a lot happier.

This really got me thinking about self care. Does being single make it easier for me to ensure I spend time on my self care? Perhaps it is selfish of me to think that self care is possible for everyone to maintain. Perhaps it is harder for couples with children, and even more so for single parents.

I decided to explore these thoughts further. So after finding some willing friends, who are parents of children ranging from a few days old to 4 years old, I asked them some questions to get an understanding of how they feel about self care, and how they fit self care into their routines, if in fact they do.

What does self-care mean to you?

I thought it would be really good to understand my friends views on self care first of all.

Answers ranged from:

  • To stop overthinking about other people and carving out something just for you
  • Remembering you’re still a person with valid thoughts, desires, emotions and feelings, despite having children
  • Looking after yourself (d)
  • Taking time out to do things for me, to look after my physical and mental wellbeing (d)
  • Time to focus on myself to make sure I am ok (d)

What is reassuring in their responses is that whether they are male or female, they understand what self care is and the importance of it.

The interesting part for me is the different responses from the mums v the dads. The dad answers marked with a (d) come across as a lot more matter of fact, whereas the mum answers had much more of an emotional connection.

As a parent, how do you create time for self-care?

From experience, even as a singleton, self care doesn’t just happen. You have to create time for it. However, on the other hand, it also shouldn’t become a burden. It’s too easy sometimes, even for someone in my situation, not to bother. But it’ salvo really important not to beat ourselves up about it if life does get in the way. What’s important is when you do find time for self care, to store up those self care points to help get you through the days, weeks or even months when self care time just cannot be squeezed into busy lives.

Even for me, with working long, unsociable hours at times, keeping the flat clean, and trying to maintain some sort of social life outside of working hours, I sometimes have to force myself to check in to see how I am.

So how do my friends who juggle parenting on top of work, manage to create time for self-care?

  • With difficulty…snatched time
  • By sharing duties
  • By staying up later than my partner and watching tv
  • By scheduling it in
  • By being organised. Self-care can only really begin once our evening routine is complete. There’s usually a window once our son is in bed, where I can check in with myself to make sure I am ok.

The key point for me is having a healthy relationship with your partner. By understanding that you are not just parents, and that it’s perfectly acceptable to have time out from this role, hopefully goes some way to stop parents from feeling that guilt they so often endure for leaving their child in someone else’s care, so they can spend some time looking after themselves. Being a parent is one of the most important roles you will ever play. It’s really important therefore that you do create time for you and to recharge your batteries, so that you can give your children the time and energy that they too deserve.

Two of the friends I spoke to, who are both married (not to each other!), have recognised that by sharing child duties as well as social time, helps matters. For Elaine, being in a 50/50 relationship , her and her husband spend an equal amount of time with their daughter, but also recognises when each of them needs a break from playing mum or dad. For Elaine, self-care can take as long or as little as it needs, in order to help remind her that she is still Elaine regardless of her role as Mum. Depending on her needs and the time she has, Elaine’s self-care can be as fun as a few drinks in the pub with friends, or as simple as relaxing in the bath bath and having an early night.

Lewis on the other hand, who is now a father of two, and shares childcare duties with his wife Jen, recognises the importance of scheduling self-care into busy days. Lewis told me that most of the time his self-care takes place at home after his boys are in bed. However, recognising that it is important for both him and his wife to still continue with their hobbies as well as time away from parenting duties, they also schedule in a weekday evening and a weekend morning each, that is allocated free time to themselves.

In the case of both Elaine and Lewis, it’s not just about finding self-care time for themselves, they also understand the importance of freeing up their partners time to look after their own self care too.

Do you have any self-care rituals you would care to share for other parents out there?

Whilst there were few self-care rituals people wanted to share, those that did, ranged from simply sitting down and having a cup of tea once the kids had been put down for a nap, to completing outstanding tasks for the day whilst carrying out some mindful thinking, and ending the day with toys being put away to allow for a fresh start in the morning.

However, Lewis may just’ve stumbled across the most fun self-care ritual I have certainly seen for parents to try. Incorporating self-care and time with the little people, Lewis has introduced his boys to the world of Cosmic Kids Yoga Videos. This great concept allows parents to carry out a quick yoga session whilst keeping the little folks entertained!

If you don’t have any self-care rituals, would it be something you would like to know more about?

As much as some of my friends find it hard to fit self care into their routines, they seemed to have a good understanding of what they can do, and where to find more information on self care, should spare time be created.

Do you think self-care is easier for women than men?

This was my final question to the group. Having reflected on whether self care is easier for singletons compared to parents, I then started to wonder whether men and women viewed self care differently.

The answers were varied, and again, there was quite a difference between the views of men and women, with the men’s answers appearing once again with a (d) next to them:

  • I don’t think it’s about gender. I think it’s about mindset (but being in a same sex relationship might give me a different perspective). I think it’s easy to put it down to gender but I see huge differences in our approaches to it in my relationship
  • I think self care is just as easy for women as it is for men, if you let it be. Too many women are martyrs who feel that it is their duty to care for their children and not themselves. There is nothing wrong with asking for help. There’s nothing wrong with sharing the load. There’s nothing wrong it’s looking after yourself.
  • It’s easier fo men because it’s often harder for women to admit they need time away from their child (d)
  • I think it’s down to the individual and their circumstances (d)
  • Honestly – I don’t know. Everyone had busy lives and finding time to make time for yourself is probably hard regardless of sex (d).

Conclusion

The purpose of asking these questions, hasn’t really been about finding the definitive answer to whether self care is easier if you are single.

It was an idea that got me thinking about self care and the difference of approach between a single 30 something (me) and my friends, who are all doing tremendous jobs as parents.

The process for me has been fascinating. Peoples opinions vary so much.

I think if anything, the men I spoke to have surprised me more. The support they give to their partners to allow them to create time to be themselves away from being mum or dad, as well as their matter of fact approach to self care, has been surprising, and lovely to hear.

I also want to give my friend Elaine a special mention too. The relationship she has with her husband is refreshing. Being able to recognise when your partner is struggling is not only difficult for many people to recognise, but when they do recognise it, they don’t know how to react to it. Elaine and her husband not only recognise when each other needs time out to be themselves, away from mum and dad duty, but also manage to maintain a 50/50 approach to bringing up their beautiful daughter. On top of that, Elaine gets that it’s ok to not be ok. That if she needs to ask for help, that that’s ok. That looking after yourself is key, not only to a happy marriage, but to happy parenting.

Self care may not be the glue my friend needs in order to keep her marriage together. However, I stand by the fact that with a little bit of time out for herself, she may start to feel better about herself and the situation she is in. With a little bit of self care, a sprinkling of self love and some time to think, I hope that she finds the answers she needs, whether that’s keeping her marriage alive, or simply, by learning to love herself a little bit more.

Wedding Season

It’s been a good few years since I last went to a wedding.

They can be a bit like buses. You wait ages for one and then two come along at once!

This spring, two of my closest friends are getting married to their respective partners.

Whilst I have been looking forward to their weddings and helping them to celebrate their love for each other, in the back of my mind, a little reminder keeps going off, reminding me that these are the first weddings in my proper grown up life, where I have been going as a singleton.

I’m talking weddings of friends here, and not family. It seems to be much more acceptable to attend a family wedding with your family as opposed to having to worry about a plus 1. Although there’s still no escaping the awkward question of, are you ever going to be next?

Friends weddings are very different to family weddings.

Weddings in your 30s are also very different to weddings in your 20s.

Weddings in your 20s

Attending weddings in your early 20s is all about having fun. It’s a bit of a novelty when you start to get wedding invitations through your door after years of guessing who might be first to tie the knot.

In your early 20s, most of the bride and grooms friends are still single. Weddings were all about who could drink the most, and copping off with the bridesmaids or the best man (or both!)!

Then there are the weddings you’re invited to when you’re in your mid 20s. People, by now, are starting to get into serious relationships.

Wedding invitations are flooding through the door, and there is the added excitement of taking your plus 1. You want to show them off to your friends, and as you sit there watching your friends tie the knot, you hope that you and your plus 1 might be next.

However, with the plus 1 in attendance, cue the awkward questions. “So will you two be next?” or “When are you too going to tie the knot?” followed by lots of nudging each other.

The questions you get in your late 20s are even worse, with people reminding you that your body clock is ticking!

Weddings in your 30s

Attending weddings in your 30s is by no means an area I am an expert in. In fact, this weekends wedding between my lovely friend Elaine and her partner Will, is the first wedding I have attended in my 4th decade.

It’s also the first wedding I have been to in a long time, as a singleton. I tried not to think about it too much. However, there was still part of my mind that kept wondering whether I would stick out like a sore thumb! How would I feel when the couples got up to dance together during the first dance? Would it make me feel sad that I’m on my own and not with a significant other?

Of course I didn’t need to worry. Although it appeared that most guests were there as a couple, many with their young families, I didn’t once feel out of place.

There was to be no slow dance for the happy couple (they opted for a Ceilidh instead!), which at least meant that I wasn’t left on my own staring into the distance all misty eyed as the couples left me for the dance floor. The couples still left me for the dance floor, but instead of feeling left out, I relished in the opportunity to film them dancing during the Ceilidh!

The only disappointing factor was the lack of single men in the room, but aside from that, it was great to simply catch up with friends, old and new, to dance like a loon, and to celebrate love.

The thing is, I’m happy with being single. Had I not been, I may’ve found the experience more difficult. But the fact that I am happy with where I am, and who I am, meant that I could go to my friends wedding, and just enjoy the day for what it was. Two friends, making a commitment to each other.

Reprioritisation

Do you ever find yourself caught up in life and realise that you’ve not quite got your priorities right?

Life has been busy lately. In fact, since the new year, life has been pretty mental. Finding time to relax in the evenings and at weekends has been near on impossible, especially since my trip to Portugal back in February.

I’m certainly not complaining. There’s nothing worse than falling into January with an empty diary.

There have been weekends with friends or family visiting. There have been hen parties. There have been weekends where I’ve volunteered to help out with work events.

I also lost an entire Saturday when I was meant to be meeting my family for the day, but instead I ashamedly spent the day recovering from the worst hangover I’ve ever had in my entire life. Far from my proudest moment.

I felt awful not going to see my family. My brother was due to have an operation the following week and I had desperately wanted to see him before he went into hospital. But I wasn’t in a fit state to go anywhere, let alone jump on the train to go and meet them.

As frustrating and embarrassing as it was (I’m 35! Surely I should know better!?!), it was the kick up the backside I needed to refocus and get my priorities straightened out.

So after much deliberation, I decided to cancel my plans at the weekend (even though it meant letting someone else down), and head north to visit my family for the weekend.

And I’m so pleased I did. It was great to see for myself that my brother is recovering well from his operation, as well as getting to spend some time with my other brother, Sam, and getting the chance to look after mum and dad a bit. I know they all really appreciated my visit too. Making me even more grateful that I refocused my energy.

I hadn’t meant to leave it so long before I visited home. After my last visit in January, life just kinda happened, and time has a really bad habit of speeding by.

But it was good to take some time to refocus and reprioritise. It’s so easy to get caught up in life. But family come first, always. No matter how busy we get, it’s so important to remember to prioritise. And not to worry if you need time to refocus your energy and to reprioritise.

I’m heading back home again this coming weekend. However, with a hen party and a wedding reception to go to, it’s going to be another busy one. But I have kept Sunday free, so I can at least catch up with mum and dad again before I head back to London. And hopefully I’ll have a clear enough head to make the most of it!

Love or Loyalty?

Have you ever stopped to consider whether love or loyalty is more important to you?

I hadn’t.

However, it was a question raised by one of the guys in the office today, and it’s really got me thinking.

Most people in the office opted for loyalty. Without hesitation in most cases.

My initial reaction was that I want both. Why wouldn’t you? But, if I really had to chose, which would it be?

Could I continue to love someone even if they were unfaithful?

Could I remain loyal to someone if love starts to fade?

Would I want a future partner to be loyal even if his love for me fades? Would loyalty be enough?

I have been in relationships where the love has faded over time. You love each other, but your not in love. You end up simply existing with each other. Unhappy, but loyal.

I’ve also been in relationships, where the man has chosen loyal over love. I asked one of my ex boyfriends a very long time ago, whether anything would ever drive him to leave. His response was that even if he was unhappy he would stay.

My reaction back then possibly isn’t too dissimilar to what it would be now.

Why would you do that to yourself

Why would you stay with someone who didn’t make you smile?

Why would you want to stay with someone who was happy to just plod through life?

No excitement, no laughter. Just existing.

I’ve also had my fair share of heartache. When you love someone, and they don’t love you back, whether you’ve been together for months, years, or you’ve simply loved someone from afar; not getting that persons love back is enough to break the strongest heart.

But at least heartache makes you feel something. It reminds us we’re alive.

Funnily enough, those who have caused me the most heartache are the ones I remember most fondly. It’s those relationships where the love has faded that leave a bad taste in my mouth.

I can’t imagine there is a worse feeling than being cheated on. I suspect a couple of ex boyfriends have not been so loyal to me in the past. But never with enough evidence to rely on. And I am grateful for that. Maybe if I had concrete evidence, I would be fighting loyalty’s corner harder.

If you love someone so much, and found out they had cheated on you, would you forgive them? Or if not forgive, at least push to the back of your mind, because your loyalty for that person is so strong?

Believe it or not, I want loyalty to win. But is loyalty enough?

Ultimately, as human beings, we want to chose both. What greater feeling than having a loyal partner whom you love dearly, and is loyal and loving back.

Yet, we are also aware that finding love and loyalty isn’t always possible. Let’s not forget that in some cultures love isn’t deemed to be as important. Arranged marriages for example. Arranged by the couples families, for convenience, for wealth, for popularity. All before love.

For me, being in a relationship is about enhancing your life, not just making do.

If you no longer love me, I don’t want you to stay with me because it’s easier than breaking up with me, or because you’re happy to ‘make do’, or because it’s expected of us. Sod that!

Ultimately I want you to stay because you love me. With your heart, body and soul. And if you can’t do that? I don’t really need you.

What’s more important to you?

Love or Loyalty?