Posted in Careers, Health and Well-Being, Lifestyle, Writing

What Makes You Happy

I’ve been writing for as long as I could remember. Growing up, I used to fill up pages and pages of random notebooks and diaries (some of them with actual locks and keys) with entries about my extraordinarily ordinary life: bad-hair days, arguments with adults who will never understand me and whose purpose in life seemed to be ruining mine, the dramas of female friendships at an age when friends can be particularly cruel, and of course, boys, boys, and more boys.

From the time I discovered that boys were fascinating creatures who did not, in fact, have cooties, I’ve been writing about them. Nick Carter, my first crush, with his glorious blond hair, and a singing voice that seemed perpetually stuck in that moment between adolescence and manhood.

The popular guy in class whom every girl had a crush on, and every one of them was jealous of little old me because I was privileged enough to be close friends with him, the first of my many forays into the friend zone.

There was the bad boy that my father disapproved of, the boyfriend of a close friend that I had a serious crush on, the nemesis who was the Arnold to my Helga all throughout high school (I even have the cheesy poems to show for it), the summer love who I still think of as the one who got away.

And of course, there’s the big one. My One Great Love. The one boy/man/whatever who will forever be my muse, because writing about my feelings for him, unrequited as they are, will give me reams of material with which to write blogs, sonnets, and books about until the end of time. Everything that he is (or was) to me, every single tear and heartbreak, the exquisite pleasure/pain of having come so close but never getting close enough…there’s so much to unpack that if I put it all in one volume it will reach War and Peace proportions.

This blog entry is not, in fact, about the many guys I have given pieces of my heart to. Actually, this is probably the most aimless blog entry I will ever make, because I woke up today full of random thoughts about life in general and growing up and being an adult in particular.

I started thinking about how we live so much of our lives as if we were running a race and we’re smack dab in the middle of the pack: always looking back at who and what we’ve left behind and forever running after the ones that have sprinted before us, hoping to either keep pace with them, or race past them on the way to some arbitrary finish line.

Its exhausting.

I’ve had several conversations these past couple of weeks about mental health and how important it is for a person to feel self-actualised – or at least to feel like a complete human being with their own goals, dreams, and aspirations. It was easier when we were younger to dream impossible things. it wasn’t ludicrous at all to dream about being presidents, or astronauts, or in my case, an Olympic figure skater. Somehow when we grow up we subsume all of that into the daily task of surviving.

It became more important to find a job that pays the rent than it is to find something that really gives you fulfilment.

I got the closest thing to the job of my dreams this year when I became education lead for a building that focuses on orthopaedics, a speciality that I love so much. I put everything I had into getting the project off the ground and I don’t know at what point I started to feel lost, or when I started to feel like I didn’t know myself anymore, like I exist only as another cog in the huge machinery that is the NHS and I have no life outside the operating theatre.

All I know is that I blinked and suddenly two whole months have gone by and I haven’t done a single thing that wasn’t related to health care, nor have I written a single thing that wasn’t an email to our procurement team, with an itemised lists of things that I felt they should be doing better. It was so depressing.

I looked at social media and only felt worse. Other people my age were out there achieving things, travelling even in the midst of a pandemic, getting married, having babies, buying houses…and I felt like I had nothing. No matter how many times I told myself that comparing my life to the heavily curated lies lives shown through the imperfect lens of social media is counterproductive, I couldn’t help scrolling through it anyway, and I’m not (nor will I ever be) strong enough to deactivate all of my accounts.

When I finally made time to have a moment to myself to just write, it was like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I felt like me again. I didn’t even write anything all that important, it was probably another book review that got like 15 views and was filled with rants about the government’s handling of covid. Either that or it was about boys (lol).

But it didn’t really matter what I wrote about. I realised that the whole point was just to write. Period.

When I started this blog, I had a whole vision of what it could be and I was disappointed to realise years later that I would never be able to commit to doing it full-time, and I just didn’t have it in me to be a blogger, with all the pressure to produce marketable content every so often. So I channeled my energies into writing a book, only to be in despair at the start of this year because I felt like I would never have enough time or energy to write all the stories that live inside my head that I actually want to tell people.

I said to myself, face it Anj, you will die having never been a writer.

But then I thought about what writing means to me. it’s a way to reach people and share little bits of myself in the hopes of being seen and understood. It’s a way to make people laugh, cry, or maybe even just think. It’s a way of challenging the way other people see the world when I express opinions they might not necessarily agree with. But mostly it’s just a way of giving the gift of words to people I love.

Last week, I had a very difficult conversation with a friend who means so much to me, and I didn’t feel like what I said was adequate enough to give her comfort, or to convey that I might never be able to fully understand what she was going through but I was here for her nonetheless. So I wrote her a poem – free verse, nothing special. I don’t even think I followed the correct structure for free verse, but whatever. I just wanted her to have something of her own and hopefully let her know that she’s not alone.

When she read it and loved it, I realised that all this time I’ve been bemoaning my inability to become a writer but by my own definition of what writing is to me, wasn’t I already one? Sure, I haven’t published an international bestseller, but in my own little way, haven’t I been reaching people through the medium of words for as long as I’ve known that the letters of the alphabet were more than just random ABCs?

The long and short of it is that putting words to paper makes me happy. It doesn’t have to be a big production. I could just be writing about boys, haha, a running theme in my life until I finally find that all elusive someone. Although I’d like to think I’ve matured enough to be able to write about other things as well.

I don’t need my writing be validated by likes or follows on social media. I already spend so much of my time being different things to different people but when I write, I write just for me. And no matter how busy life gets, no matter how stressed I am, no matter how much life or other people around me might stretch me to the point of breaking, as long as I can still write, I know I’ll be okay.

I think it’s essential that we all find that one thing that still gives us a spark of joy even as the daily grind tries to dim our sparkle. There has to be something more to life than just existing. We need to be able to wake up each morning knowing we have a purpose, knowing that life has meaning and that life still has joy. Because otherwise, what’s the point really?

If you find that one thing you do just for you that makes you happy, hold on to it, find time for it, and (to borrow from Nike) just do it. Who knows? It might even be possible to make the impossible dreams you dreamt when you were younger come true. It could still happen. And with that, let me find out how much ice skating lessons in London cost. The Winter Olympics is coming soon. LOL.

Posted in Covid-19, Current Events, fitness, Lifestyle, london

In Pursuit of Dragons

I was feeling a bit anxious and restless today, what with nearly a year of this awful pandemic, and mounting pressures at work, most of them brought about by an abundance of control issues on my part (really have to work on that lol). So I decided to go for a wee run around London in the hopes that I’d feel more calm and centred after.

It will not come as a surprise to those of you who know me well to find out that I tend to overthink things, even physical activities like running. I genuinely think that its not the lack of physical stamina that’s keeping me from running a 10k from start to finish without stopping. Its those little voices in my head telling me its too far, and oh my god I have so many more miles to cover, I’m not gonna make it. You might as well just stop now, Anj.

Yeah, its a bit tedious being inside my head sometimes.

I read somewhere that the best way to run long distances is to first, have a good playlist, preferably made up of songs with a regular tempo, because when you’re in the zone your brain will just naturally get your feet running to the beat. And you want to be in that zone. You want to be at the point where you stop thinking and putting one foot in front of the other becomes as automatic as breathing. So I’ve started filling up my running playlist with songs that have a tempo of about 160bpm, with a few fast-tempo ones added just to spice it up.

I also realised that I do better when I have a destination in mind compared to when I just run around in circles. And so I researched different routes before coming across an intriguing one that follows the boundaries of the original City of London, which used to be a lot smaller than London as I know it today. The boundaries are marked by statues of winged dragons. There are apparently thirteen scattered all over the city, and I managed to find about 11 of them during my run today (one was removed due to construction and I stupidly ran past the one in Tower Hill).

The dragon markers of the City of London

The dragon markers can be found along Victoria Embankment, where it marks the boundary between the City of London and the City of Westminster; in Temple, near St. Dunstan; Chancery Lane, near the tube station; Farringdon, Barbican, Liverpool Street, Aldersgate, which all have the dragons that are badly in need of cleaning; Tower Hill, the one I missed; London Bridge, the prettiest ones; and then finally Blackfriars.

I guess I’m writing this post after having run my fastest 10k EVER during today’s pursuit of these winged creatures because it feels like a metaphor for how to face and overcome challenges. You never get anywhere in life by staying in one place forever. The only way to learn and to grow as a person is to push yourself out of your comfort zone even if it means you might fail. I for one think it takes a special kind of courage to do something when you know that failure is all but a certainty.

Every time I passed a dragon it felt like I was silencing a little bit of my doubts and fears, not just for the run itself but in general.

People think confidence is a natural thing, that those who appear confident just wake up every morning automatically feeling sure of themselves and their abilities. But I think that confidence is an everyday battle. You have to work hard to ignore the naysayers, and by naysayers I mean YOU, because you are your own worst critic. Every day you have to dig deep to cling to that belief that you can do whatever it is you set your mind to (provided that you’re willing to do the work).

I also just started thinking about how March is the anniversary of the initial lockdown for the pandemic. This time last year we were buying toilet paper in bulk and fearing the end of times. I find myself thinking back to how I felt this time last year, when my stomach felt like a lead balloon, and I didn’t know whether the last time I saw my family would be the last time I ever see them. In keeping with the dragon theme (because heaven forbid this post becomes anymore tangential than it is, lol) it felt like the coronavirus was Drogon, raining fire down on all of us and killing people left right and centre faster than you can say “dracarys”.

We took so much for granted, didn’t we? A lot of us were arrogant enough to think that we would be spared from the worst of it all (BoJo, I’m looking at you), and the prevailing sentiment seems to be that we were failed by the inaction of the very people who were supposed to lead us. But I really don’t want to dwell anymore on that, or the fact that I have completely lost faith in all politicians. I am choosing to see this pandemic not as a story of failure but as a story of the everyday resilience of the “ordinary” people, especially my colleagues in the NHS whose collective work have been nothing short of extraordinary.

It’s been a tough year, full of an unprecedented number of challenges. I personally just feel grateful to have reached this point, where there’s an end to lockdown in sight, and a glimmer of hope for the future in the horizon. I know a lot of people continue to struggle, and there’s nothing much we can do except to offer hope, support and above all kindness. Hang in there! Things will always get better, and the brightest morning always comes after the darkest night, you just have to make it through.

And to you dear reader, may you always find the strength to slay your dragons, in whatever form or shape they may take.

xoxo

Posted in Lifestyle, relationships, romance

It’s a Love Story, baby, just say yes…

I am and have always been a firm believer in the magic of possibilities. I think the promise of an indefinable something happening on any given day, something that might have the power to change my life forever, is what makes me get out of bed every morning.

It’s why I look back on the period between late 2008 and early 2009 with the utmost fondness. Back then, I had just finished college and was waiting for the exam results that would give me full license to practise as a nurse in my country. It was an in-between time where I no longer had the daily pressures of school work to keep me busy and stressed, and before there was any real pressure to find a job.

it was a time for dreaming and making plans, for self-examination and reinvention. I went on a diet, started an exercise regime and slowly started to shed the excess weight that have somehow accumulated through four years of eating away my mental and emotional stress. I had started the process of getting over the One Great Love of my life and have come to accept that there are some things you just can’t get through sheer will and effort.

I had just started to realise that really, you shouldn’t have had to work that hard to get someone to love you.

I cleaned out my closet to make room for clothes that would reflect the new me (special shout out to Ms. Bullyshanty for giving me my first makeover!) and I read books that i didn’t have the chance to read before because I was too busy studying for one exam or the other. The Twilight series had just come out and, like everyone else (ANY WOMAN WHO CLAIMS ANY DIFFERENT IS EITHER IN DENIAL OR A LIAR) I became obsessed with sparkly Edward Cullen and his borderline toxic relationship with the intrepid Bella Swan.

More importantly, in 2008, the great Taylor Swift released her smash hit Love Story for the first time, and it was a song that seemed to capture everything I felt and everything I dreamed about during that time period. I dreamt about my future and yearned for a starring role in my own love story, as opposed to being just a bit part in someone else’s story. Hearing those banjo strings and fiddle melodies, and that slightly nasally voice T.Swift used to have back then, always takes me back to that period, when I fully believed that anything could happen.

Fast forward 13 years later and Taylor Swift has re-released a 2021 version of Love Story, and I find myself wanting to put into words what it means for me to hear this particular version at this particular point in time. 2021 could not be more different from 2008. Its not overstating it to say that for most people the well of possibilities surrounding life has just about run dry. It has been the most dreadful couple of years. Most of us have been too busy surviving this virus to even think about things like romance and starring in our own love stories.

Even without the pandemic, it would have been hard to maintain the same wide-eyed belief in fairy tales that we used to have when we were younger. Taylor herself has gone through a turbulent time in the intervening years since she first released Love Story. She, along with the rest of us who have grown into adulthood in the past decade, has realised that love stories have teeth. They bloody well can bite you in the ass if you’re not careful. Oh, and Prince Charming? That dude has more baggage than a Chinese heiress on holiday. That castle that you’ve always dreamed about? It comes with a monthly mortgage and repair bills that you’ll have to work extra shifts in a busy hospital ward in order to afford.

Happily-ever-afters are not a given. The scene doesn’t fade to black after you find The One. Relationships are hard work. After the glow has dimmed and that halo surrounding your partner has been tarnished by the number of times you fight over keeping the toilet seat up, or the amount of hair that accumulates on the carpet on a daily basis (enough to make a wig if you’re anything like me) or who gets to throw the bins out this week, you’d probably be scratching your head wondering, is this love? Is that what they fought wars over and write songs about?

In a way, thought, it kinda IS. What I hear behind the more mature version of Love Story is the wisdom that comes from knowing that, more than the fireworks and ballgowns, its the life you build with someone that really makes up the fairy tale. Because at the end of the day, you want something real instead of something ideal. You want someone there for you when you feel like the whole world has turned against you. You want the quiet laughters over inside jokes that only the two of you would find funny.

And you want someone who will clean the flat with you when the party is over and everyone else has left.

You don’t always get the kind of love story you dream about when you were younger. But if you’re lucky, you get something better. I think mine is in a perpetual state of rewrites and is still under construction, but I’m mature enough to not cry a million tears over it, not even today, on the holiest of days for couples (and the most dreaded for those who are, as Emma Watson would say, self-partnered). I still believe its out there. And you might spend ages trying to find it, but goddamn the whole messy, terrifying, painful, contradictory pile of shit that is love is worth searching and waiting for.

P.S. To everyone who is single today and perhaps feeling like the weight of that is just a little bit heavier when you see other people receiving flowers or kissing on the streets for no reason, ITS OKAY. It’s just a day. You will still be single tomorrow. Lol.

And you know what, the very definition of what love is (and what love stories are) keeps changing every day anyway. To me, every day you live your life is a love story, regardless of whether or not it has Prince Charming in it. Your story will have friends, laughter, adventures, growth, and best of all, it will have possibilities.

It always comes down to possibilities, and that indefinable something.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

Posted in Lifestyle, Self-Discovery

The Uncluttered Life

This week I decided to take annual leave from work. I had no plans in mind, and no budget for further travelling, so I mostly stayed home (if I wasn’t doing an extra shift to fatten up the aforementioned budget) and chilled.

Today I suddenly got the urge to clean my room and get rid of the clutter that I’ve managed to accumulate in the five or so years that I’ve been living in my flat. Within an hour I managed to fill up three bags full of papers, boxes, old letters, forms and other useless junk. I reread old cards from old friends, some of whom I barely talk to anymore, and even found a love letter addressed to my brother that somehow made its way to me by mistake (oops!).

I found a closet full of clothes that I don’t wear anymore, as well as designer bags that have been hidden away in obscurity after I’ve paid such a hefty sum for them. I found so much rubbish, and while I’m no Marie Kondo (and never will be) it did make me think about what a metaphor it was for the way I’ve been living my life these past couple of years.

I think that our lives only have a finite number of spaces for a finite number of things, and we should be careful about the things we keep, the things we allow to accumulate, the things we allow to hold us down. Take designer bags, for example. They are nothing but status symbols that people use to indicate to other people that they make a lot of money and can therefore afford luxurious items. It’s the feminine version of a pissing contest, and for a while I allowed myself to buy into the hype.

The truth is, I use a maximum of two bags in a month: my work bag and some kind of purse for the rare occasion that I need to dress up to go out. I don’t need any Pradas and Guccis, nor do I really need a Louis Vuitton. I need a bag that works, and one where I can fit my laptop, my Kindle, a couple of books and a small notebook for writing. And because of this fine weather we’ve been having lately, an umbrella. Those limited edition LVs are undoubtedly lovely, but I can barely fit anything useful in them. Plus, if I use them, I might as well have a neon sign flashing over my head saying: ROB ME, ROB ME.

I have a friend who hasn’t bought any new clothes since we graduated from college. She believes in living a minimalistic life, and she doesn’t see the value in buying new things when the old ones still work. It just takes up room that she doesn’t have. I found that kind of mindset admirable, and I wish I could be evolved enough to adopt it. I wish I could be the kind of person who is able to differentiate the rubbish and the clutter from what really matters in life.

I took a moment to reflect and write this blog after I’ve finished my cleaning frenzy, and I thought about this book I read lately called ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck’ and I realise that I am getting far too old to let every single thing bother me, to let unimportant things distract me from everything that’s good about my life. Just like my closet full of clothes and my drawer full of unused bags , I need to be better at choosing what to value, what to let in, what things to give importance to, and what things I’m better off not giving a fuck about.

Taylor Swift once said that she only wants to be defined by the things she loved. I looked around my room when I finished cleaning and I realise I’ve already subconsciously chosen the things that are most important to me from the things I prominently put on display: my to-do list for work to represent a career that I genuinely enjoy (and which gives me enough financial stability to pursue my other dreams!), my books, which represent my love of discovering new worlds and learning new things; my writing stuff, as a symbol of my lifelong dream to be a published author; my passport, for my love of travelling and exploring new places; and a family picture.

At the end of the day, I don’t need anything more than that. Everything else is just clutter.

Posted in Books, Careers, Health and Well-Being, Lifestyle, Reviews, Self-Discovery

Book Review: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck – Mark Manson

It’s not very often that you find the kind of book you need at the exact same moment in which you need it. Call it fate, call it kismet, call it in act of divine intervention, but this book found its way into my loving arms just when I needed it the most.

I was in the operating theatre one day when I got into an argument with a particularly obnoxious Fellow over specimen labels, of all things. She thought she was right and I was wrong, and I was just as convinced of the opposite. I was so enraged that she wouldn’t just do what I told her to do (because I was right, goddamit) that I went storming into the manager’s office, ranting and raving like a lunatic, begging them to please do something about this stubborn incompetent fool.

On my way back to the theatre I felt the faint stirrings of pain on the centre of my chest and (I imagined) somewhere on my left shoulder (or left back, I wasn’t really sure). Bearing in mind that I’ve been having blood pressure problems for a while now, you can see why I would suddenly feel anxious and almost panicky. I became so convinced that I was having a heart attack right then and there that I very nearly excused myself from theatres so I can go to the A and E.

As you can probably tell I did not, in fact, have a heart attack thank goodness. Shortly before this incident, I had two large sausages and a piece of bacon for lunch. And because I was in a hurry to scrub for the next procedure, I had inhaled all this food in a hurry and was finished with my lunch break in five minutes. So what I probably had was a mild case of indigestion (although the hypochondriac in me still believes there’s merit in assuming and being prepared for the worst).

That moment really opened my eyes and made me think about a lot of things. Like the fragility of life. Like how much I let what other people think affect me emotionally and psychologically. Like the number of things I give a fuck about that I will probably forget in five years or less. Like how fucking pissed I would be if I died because of a bloody specimen form and miss out on all the wonderful things I have to look forward to this year, like my parents coming for a visit, and the Tiu Family Reunion we’re planning on Christmas.

And then I picked up The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. This is a book that generated a lot of buzz when it came out last year (I think) and numerous friends and acquaintances have been encouraging me to read it for a while now, but I’ve always been kinda skeptical about it. I’m not into self-help books to be honest, I’ve always found it kinda hokey, and the authors always came across as being self-righteous, not to mention self-congratulatory.

This book felt more like a friend. It was funny, endearingly self-deprecatory and perhaps more importantly, extremely relatable. I identified with a lot of the situations Mark wrote about, and with the experiences he’s shared. I’m not saying it’s perfect, nor do I agree with all of it (I think something in me rebelled at the thought of accepting that I will always be ordinary). But in the three weeks it took me to finish it, I have made some changes that I think will be healthier for me in the long run.

While reading it I’ve been forced to think about my values, and to examine the metrics by which I measure success. I went for a run last week and my calves were hurting the whole time, which reduced my speed from slow to turtle pace. I felt so discouraged by the whole thing and nearly gave up on running altogether. But then I asked myself how I defined a successful run. What were my metrics? Was it finishing a 5k within a certain time frame? Was it being able to run longer distances every day? Was it being able to run pain-free? Because realistically speaking, if I only focused on those three things I’m almost guaranteed to fail at least about half the time.

What about the fact that I managed to wake up at the unholy hour of 5:30 in the morning four times a week and get my lazy arse off my comfy bed so that I can run before work? It’s currently averaging between 1 and 5 degrees in London at the moment, and those are temperatures that make you want to do the opposite of getting up and going outside.

But I do it every. single. time. And you know what, I realised that by doing that, I was already winning.

I made the executive decision that from that point onwards my metric for a successful run would simply be me getting up in the morning and showing up physically as well as mentally. And that’s when things changed. Every day I felt like I was winning a race. Every day felt like a triumph.

I stepped on a weighing scale two weeks after I started running and nearly wept. With abject misery. Because no matter what I did, no matter how much I tried to stick to a healthy diet, counting calories like a miser counts coins, I just can’t seem to get that number on the scale to go down. What was the point of putting myself through all of it if I wasn’t achieving results?

Then I started monitoring my blood pressure twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. For the first time in a long long time, the readings were steady, and if not always normal they were not as astronomically high as they were this time last year. More than that, I’ve started feeling more positive, both at work and life in general. I’ve been able to deal better with difficult conversations, uncompromising colleagues, unfair criticisms and all the other curveballs that your personal and professional lives throw at you on a daily basis.

An anaesthetist saw me yesterday and noted that I seem more chilled and relaxed. Was that not some better measure of success than the number on my weighing scale?

In a way, the book was very liberating. One of its fundamental beliefs is that we would be much happier if we stop placing all these unrealistic expectations of ourselves to be something great, to be extraordinary, to make a lasting impact on the world, to be so amazing that we are immortalised and allowed to live on even when we’re dead. Jesus, that is a lot of pressure to place on our teeny tiny human bodies.

Apparently, the more we accept that we are just a tiny fraction of the world at large, that it is not always about us, and that we are not special and unique, the better off we will be. For someone who’s always been a bit type A, for someone who has always been ambitious, for someone who was groomed from childhood to draw happiness from other people’s approval of my achievements, this is quite a difficult pill to swallow.

But Mark Manson argues that the feeling we get from other people’s approval are only temporary highs, it’s not true happiness. In fact, we’re actually making ourselves unhappy by constantly chasing the feeling we get when people give us praise, whether in real life or in the form of likes on social media. When we seek validation from somewhere outside of ourselves, we’re planting the seeds of our own discontent and eventual unhappiness.

True happiness, he says, is actually borne out of suffering. Pain and struggle are necessary ingredients to happiness because “to be happy, we need something to solve”. And when we find that solution, it then creates a whole host of other problems for us to solve, forever and ever and ever, Amen. And this apparently is what keeps us happy. This is what defines us. We are defined by the pain we’re willing to sustain, the things we’re willing to struggle for.

I don’t know about you, but I kinda want a pain-free life where I don’t need to struggle.

But I see his point. To expect a life free from suffering is to be delusional. Instead, you need to choose what is worth struggling for. For example, is it really worth having daily arguments with a colleague just so you can prove you’re right? Do you take that job that offers a bigger salary but also comes with a whole host of responsibilities that take you further and further away from the thing that you really want to do? Are you willing to struggle through frustration, insecurities, and the fear of failure just so you can finally fulfil your lifelong dream of publishing a book?

I think about the pain I feel when I go for a 7k run: the lactic acid being released from my muscles causing pain in my legs, that feeling of being slightly out of breath – that I’m willing to endure. Because waiting for me on the other side of that pain are the endorphins released after a good run, the sense of achievement from simply being able to finish, knowing that you gave it your best effort, and of course, the prevention of a potential heart attack (sorry this is going to be a recurring theme).

Needless to say, I really really REALLY like this book. I would give it as a present to everyone I know if I could. There’s so much more I want to say about it, and there is so much more to discuss, but this post is seriously starting to reach dissertation lengths. I’d just like to end by saying that the best compliment I could give for it is that it forced me, a notorious speed reader, to slow down and really reflect on the messages that the author wants to impart: that you need to have better values, that sometimes even the littlest things are a measure of success, and that if you do have to give a fuck, choose what you want to give a fuck about.

Posted in Lifestyle, relationships

Personal Boundaries

I read something the other day that really made me think and reflect on my self and how I interact with others.

People with strong boundaries are not afraid of temper tantrums, an argument, or getting hurt. People with weak boundaries are terrified of those things and will constantly mould their own behaviour to fit the highs and lows of their relational emotional roller coaster

Mark Manson

What this means for me personally is learning how to be myself and how to stand my ground. It means being true to my values and principles no matter what situation I find myself in.

I don’t think anyone would call me spineless, not by any stretch. But I still find myself in situations where I’m either giving in and giving way in an argument, or I’m twisting myself into a pretzel just so I can minimise the threat to the general peace (and my peace of mind).

Awhile back I was involved in an issue that required me to make a stand. It was highly contentious to say the least, all parties on either side of the argument felt quite strongly that they were right and the other was wrong. I was on the fence because, to be honest, I really didn’t care one way or the other. I personally didn’t see why there was even a discussion about it when the outcome was inevitable, but some people felt the need to pick a subject apart before coming to a decision.

Instead of examining my own values and standing up for something, instead of speaking up for what I thought was right, I went out of my way to be everything for everyone, hearing out each side in an effort to be fair. I allowed the people involved to tell me all the ways in which the other side was screwing things up. I vacillated between agreeing and disagreeing, bending over backwards trying to placate everyone involved until I was so exhausted that I lost the will to live (figuratively speaking).

I’ve always been like that. Probably because a) I care far too much about what other people think and b) I don’t want to risk choosing a side and ending up being on the wrong side, because I hate being wrong. PERIOD.

In conclusion, I have very weak personal boundaries. I like to think of myself as quite a strong person but what I am, in fact, is very malleable. I have a tendency to bend to the will of stronger forces. I probably change some if not all the aspects of my personality depending on who I’m with and what their position is in relation to mine.

This needs to stop.

Getting into arguments, being wrong, failing…these are all inevitable aspects of life that help us to grow, and from that growth comes true happiness and contentment. Also, if you never take a side, if you never allow anyone to see the real you, then you can never really trust in their love or respect because you know deep inside its based on false pretenses.

You will never really feel secure, and you will spend the rest of your life compensating or maintaining that façade.

Which isn’t to say that you now need to spend the rest of your life getting into arguments with people. You don’t want to be up in arms with pitchforks up in the air all the time. I think there’s a balance that can be achieved, and if other people respect you enough (which should be the only kind of people worth keeping in your life, BTW) they will be capable of disagreeing with you without things turning into DEFCON1.

And if they’re the kind of people too stubborn to consider that they might be wrong, that there’s merit in looking at things from another person’s perspective, then leave it. It’s not worth the stress trying to convince them otherwise.

Its easier said than done. After all, who doesn’t prefer a peaceful life? But the next time you find yourself setting yourself on fire to keep other people warm just to avoid the inevitable drama and confrontation, think about what doing that does to you.

Does it make you happy? Is it exhausting all your personal stores of energy, leaving too little for you to do things you actually care about? Is keeping the peace better in the long run or is it a temporary Band-Aid hiding a festering wound?

I leave you all with that cheery mental picture. :p

Posted in bloggers, Careers, Lifestyle

Learning to be more comfortable with criticism

Everyone’s a critic.

One of my greatest fears has always been that of being tried and convicted in the court of public opinion without being given an opportunity to defend myself. I have had unpleasant experiences of this nature before and it was so traumatic that its instilled a deep-seated fear in me of people talking about me behind my back, twisting my words and misinterpreting my actions to use them against me.

I don’t think you’ll ever find anyone who could honestly say they were comfortable with being criticised, especially when the basis for it is founded on false or incomplete information, in which case it becomes a judgment. There are people who are better able to cope with judgment than others, but anyone who claims that they don’t get just the teensy bit upset when they hear other people saying untrue and unfair things about themselves or their work is a liar.

I feel like this is a blog entry that I’ve done before. I feel like I’m singing a remixed version of the same chorus and I seem to be singing it over and over again. For someone so afraid of criticism and judgement you’d think I’d learn by now to keep more of a low profile. After all, the less you do something, or the less you’re seen to do something, the less material people have to talk about you.

Well, sorry, I’m just not a low profile kind of girl.

I’m the kind of girl who wears my heart on my sleeve. I am an open book. I am so transparent I make Casper look corporeal in comparison. I am passionate about the things that I love and I won’t hesitate to talk about them in front of anyone who will listen. This makes me a target for the cynics and the naysayers who have nothing better to do than to bring people down because they think they can do so much better. Spoiler alert: they probably can’t.

I am not going to rehash things that I’ve probably already written about in a previous blog about how hurtful it is to be the object of petty gossip. I will instead focus on affirming my beliefs and setting my intentions for how I am going to cope with criticism, unfair or otherwise, because the nature of what I do guarantees that I will experience this from time to time. So here’s what I know.

  1. Take anything you hear from other people with a pinch of salt. Being somewhat of a gossip myself, I know that the teller will always put his or her own spin on the tale. The version that reaches your ears is vastly different from the original message and some things get lost and added in the retelling.
  2. Amidst the negativity, find something helpful that you can work on. Consider it an extreme form of feedback. After all, everyone’s feelings and opinions are valid and worth listening to. Who knows, office gossip and catty comments might even be a catalyst for positive change. Although, at present, I am not in the mood to be quite as magnanimous as to thank the haters for their hurtful comments. Can I please be allowed to be petty for five more minutes? Thank you.
  3. Resist the temptation to do damage control. Its so so tempting to explain yourself, to justify your actions, to clear your name. I’ve had enough life experiences to know that this will not make the situation any better. All you’ll be doing is adding fuel to the fire. Besides, if they don’t already appreciate your hard work and effort, chances are they never will, so efforts to change their mind is an exercise in futility.
  4. Filter what you let in to your life, choose whose opinions you opt to listen to. Honestly, the thing to ask yourself is whether you should even give credence to the opinions you hear in the first place. Is it coming from people you respect? Is there any truth to the criticisms (if so, see number 2)? Do you really care? Will it matter six months down the line when we’re all running from our lives because there’s been an outbreak of war? Which leads me to point number five.
  5. Life is too short to be pissed off all the time. Honestly, the amount of energy needed to sustain a bad mood is infinitely higher than the energy it takes to just smile, and, in the words of one Taylor Swift, shake it off. And if you can’t shake it off just yet, do what I’m doing now, which is –
  6. Channel all that negative energy into something good. I happen to write better when I’m upset about something. Some of my best work is borne out of my darkest moods. Maybe because when I’m writing about them I open up and make myself vulnerable, and in doing so I’m at my most authentic. Upset? Post a blog, write a song, or better yet, sing your heart out and keep your neighbours up by screaming the bridge of Welcome to The Black Parade at the top of your lungs. I can almost guarantee you’ll feel better.

Let’s be honest here. I will probably spend the next twenty four hours dwelling on the situation and nursing my hurts, but I can promise you that I will have mostly gotten over it by tomorrow. And if you’re in a similar situation or if any of the tips above have resonated with you or if you have other strategies to share that might help others, please comment. I’d love to hear and learn from you.

Cheers.

Posted in Careers, Health and Well-Being, Lifestyle, Writing

How You Get Your Groove Back

Over the weekend my sister and I finally had the chance to watch the London production of Hamilton. I have to say that although its general knowledge by now that this show is a cultural phenomenon, its a different thing altogether to actually experience it yourself.

This isn’t a blog about how great the show it was though because I wouldn’t be telling you all anything you didn’t already know. It would be redundant for me to say that Lin Manuel Miranda is a genius, and as strange a concept as hip-hop musical theatre may be, he somehow made it work, and as a result he gave the Broadway and West End industry a badly-needed face lift and brought a new generation of theatre goers to the fold. We already know all that.

I suppose I wanted to talk about what watching Hamilton and listening to its music meant to me personally. For the past 6 months now I’ve slowly been resigning myself to the fact that this was it. This was all that’s going to become of my life. I would spend the rest of my days working for the NHS, doing a job that at best barely satisfies me, counting down the days until I collect my salary at the end of the month, breaking up the mind-numbing pattern by having sporadic dinners and catch-up sessions with friends every once in a while. Eat, Sleep, Rinse, Repeat.

It got to the point where I couldn’t even muster enough interest to pick up a book, I was sleeping longer, eating more – which is always indicative of my state of mind as I am a self-confessed stress eater. I could barely be bothered to put on make-up. I lost the will to even open a dating app. I spent most nights hunched over a 500-piece Disney Jigsaw Puzzle in a feeble attempt to find something that stimulates my brain. I start watching random shows on Netflix only to lose interest halfway through because I just could not be bothered.

Looking back I think I probably had the beginnings of – if not depression, something close to it. It’s like I lost some vital part of myself, the part that always enabled me to look forward to tomorrow, the part of me that believed that something exciting was always waiting to happen around the corner. I sometimes found myself in the middle of doing something and I would suddenly stop to think, what’s the point?

Anyway. That totally went to a darker place than I thought this blog would go. Funny what introspection can dig up, huh? I haven’t given myself the chance to reflect on the past year because I didn’t know if I would like what I saw when I did. But happily I’m the kind of person that doesn’t have it in within herself to be down in the dumps for so long. I’m genetically engineered to be bubbly and happy and for the most part that is my default setting. It was very eye-opening for me to realise that even the most seemingly well-adjusted and happiest of individuals could also go through mental health issues, mild as they may be.

You’ll all be happy to know that I reached a turning point last week leading to a series of activities culminating in the Hamilton show this weekend. First of all, I started reading again. I have always had an avaricious appetite for knowledge and stories. I went on a shopping spree on both Amazon Kindle and Waterstones, diversifying my bookshelves with an equal mix of fiction and non-fiction. Among my most recent purchases include two feminist books, Julie Andrews’ memoir, a book on the Lost Princes of the Tower and two of Yuval Harris’ books Sapiens and 21 lessons for the 21st Century. Plus the usual romance novels of course.

I’ve started a workout regimen that challenges me but also allows for, shall we say, my physical shortcomings. I think I’ve finally accepted the fact that I will never be an athlete, and that I will never be skinny, but I can still be active and healthy in my own way. My sister bought me a new pair of Nike’s over Christmas, which to be honest was probably the main catalyst for my renewed interest in training. Personally I think the right pair of shoes has enough power to change a person’s life. Quote me.

2019 was a struggle for me financially. I was still reaping the repercussions of having made questionable decisions in 2018. I probably should have limited my purchases to those that were strictly necessary, or perhaps travelled less, but I can’t really bring myself to regret the experiences I’ve had. So I worked a lot of extra shifts between September and December to make up for it. That probably contributed greatly to the feeling that my life was all about, and only about, work. I was spending too much time doing it, getting caught up in office politics and the drama of working in a slowly-dying NHS, plus working extra shifts that were both physically and mentally taxing.

I’m not sure how to express my feelings about this matter without sounding ungrateful. I’m lucky to have a job that on occasion still brings me something that might resemble joy, and my career trajectory is something that I’m really proud of. But. Part of me wishes I had the courage to give all that up to finally focus on something I’ve been wanting to do all my life: write a book.

I made several attempts to last year to write a story. Any story. I told myself that it doesn’t have to be good, the point is simply to finish. I bought books on everything from creative writing to grammar (and wished like hell that I paid more attention to subject-verb agreement in high school). I made a list of things that inspired me, tried to find a genre that suited me and filled notebook after notebook with ideas. I was determined to at least have a draft by the end of the year.

Yeah, that didn’t happen.

Every time I wrote something and reread it a week later it just felt shallow and superficial, and I didn’t think it measured up to a real writer’s work. I couldn’t find my voice, and I wasn’t sure what message I wanted to send to the world with my book. Basically, just finishing a story doesn’t and will never work for me. It didn’t inspire me. If I was going to tell a story, it needed to be a story worth telling, even if I’m the only person that thought so. I needed to be able to believe in my own creation.

In addition, “real life” got in the way. I work 37.5 hours a week, sometimes more. Each time I move up the career ladder I take on more responsibilities, which meant it was difficult to switch off from work even when I wasn’t at work. It was difficult to change gears, to put myself in the mindset of being a writer when part of my brain is still dwelling on whether we had enough bed capacity to operate on all our patients tomorrow.

So I lost the will to write. I gave up on that dream and told myself it’s never going to happen. I need to be content with what I have, be grateful to have stability and to be alive. But I was wrong.

This is the first time I’ve used my laptop for writing in a long while, and the first time I’ve had any interest in sharing my thoughts and feelings in a blog. It’s very therapeutic and it’s made me feel more like myself. I love being a nurse educator, I really do, but I think I realise I need both it and writing in my life. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t use my words to communicate, just like Alexander Hamilton.

Just two days ago I bought a notebook and a pen, sat down in a cafe and wrote a story that really meant something to me because it was my story, with a little bit of embellishment. I don’t know if I’m ever going to finish it, I really hope I do. I think I’ve found a way to tell the story I want to tell from a unique perspective, everything I need to complete it is within me, I just have to find the strength and the perseverance to keep at it even when it starts to feel like a pipe dream.

I think that’s why Hamilton resonated so much with me, and it will probably continue to do so in the months to come. Its a story about a revolution that founded a nation, sure, but at the core of it, it’s a story about having a dream AND having the drive to make that dream a reality. Its not enough to make castles in the clouds, if you want to achieve something you have to work for it, be willing to fight for it even if the odds are stacked against you.

I can only hope that if I ever put something out there, it can be as inspiring and life-changing for one person as Hamilton has been for so many others. Kudos, Lin Manuel Miranda.

Posted in bloggers, family, Feminism, Lifestyle, relationships, women

Mind Your Own Business

We live in a society that is ever more conscious about being politically correct. We use gender neutral pronouns, we try and respect other religions as much as our own, we recognise that men and women were created equally and that the latter deserves as much respect as the former. Its an enlightened world where people have rights, they said.

Why then can’t the rest of us who live in this so-called enlightened world not enjoy the right for people (under the guise of concern) to butt out of our business?

One of my friends tweeted a few rules of politeness once, and I have never agreed with a tweet more. It said that one should never ask questions of a sensitive nature unless the other person opens up about it first. These sensitive questions include, but are not limited to, the following:

a. how much they earn in their jobs
b. marital status
c. if married, whether or not they ever plan to have kids
and other questions that are just damn intrusive, nosy and rude.

I personally feel fine and content with my lot in life, but there are a lot of people that struggle with not being able to fit into the mould that hundreds of years worth of tradition has created for us: mother, homemaker, wife. I struggle with it sometimes myself. Its not a very pleasant feeling to sit around a dinner table and have your friends talk about their respective partners and all you’re able to contribute was your latest trip to Croatia.

I get so angry about it sometimes. When people get together its like there’s a list of questions that they have to tick off to assure themselves that they’ve had a proper catch-up. Real friends don’t do that. Real friends catch up to listen and offer support. The people you should keep in your lives will not make you feel any less of a person just because the trajectory of your life happens to be different from theirs. I am eternally grateful that I still have a handful of those friends who, regardless of the fact that at most parties I am the only one not carrying a baby carriage, make me feel proud of everything else I’ve accomplished anyway. You guys know who you are.

The point is that the world has no right to your heart, to paraphrase a line from the brilliant song ‘Burn‘ from the musical ‘Hamilton’. The world has no right to your struggles, it does not get to judge you. No one gets to define or limit who you are especially if they can’t get past their own narrow worldview to remember that you are a person first. Not a girlfriend, a wife, or a mother. You are you: and that has, is and should always be enough.

Posted in bloggers, Careers, Lifestyle, london

A Moment To Reflect

This week, the sun’s finally shining over London after what felt like an endless winter. I went for a run around my favourite route near the river Thames, with no goal in mind except to enjoy the beautiful spring day. Although physically I’m not as fit as I used to be, and though I was huffing and puffing after one kilometre, it felt like the first easy breath I’ve taken in ages.

There’s plenty of reasons to be happy and content. This week I finally got my British citizenship approved, after six years of hard work, struggle, achievements and so much joy that I hardly know how to put it all into words. It felt like the culmination of a lifetime of dreams, and despite Brexit and the looming uncertainty surrounding the country’s future, I still find myself incredibly grateful to have made it this far.

That’s not to say its all been sunshine and roses these past couple of weeks. Parts of it were downright maddening, in fact. It’s funny how some things are magnified in your mind if you continue to dwell on them over and over, until a seemingly manageable molehill now feels like an immoveable mountain.

I am a champion dweller.

I really should rid myself of this habit of being unable to let go of things. I tend to obsess about certain issues or concerns to the point where it is the. only. thing. I. see. I get a kind of tunnel vision where I’m unable to move on until I’ve picked the problem apart in a hundred different ways trying to come up with a solution.

I need to learn to accept that there are problems that can only be solved by acceptance and compromise.

I need to learn that not everyone will see things the way I do, and that the choices we make are a product of past experiences and influences. There is no point in judging others according to the standards that you set for yourself. You will only drive yourself mad.

I think the only thing that will keep you sane is to continue to do you, and not to mind so much about what other people are getting up to, difficult as that may be for type A personalities like myself. Be part of the solution, not the problem.

Towards the end of this week, whenever I felt like pulling my hair out in frustration, I reminded myself that – just like everything else – this too shall pass. Life is too short to be pissed all the time, as a wise person once said. There are far too many beautiful things in this earth to appreciate; you can’t let problems that will probably be inconsequential a year down the line get you down.

Most of all, I remembered to breathe, to stay centred, to focus on the things that are important, and to remember that even though other people may let you down, the key thing is to not let yourself down.

Happy start of the week, fellow blabbaholics and bookworms! xx