Rejections, setbacks and self-doubt: acknowledge them and move on
Everyone knows the feelings of rejection. That phone call or email telling you that you haven’t got the job, that awkward meeting with a boyfriend or girlfriend to say that things are not working out, that application to your first choice university and you didn’t get a place. It’s hard and most of us feel it and take a knock to our self-esteem.
Most successful people (think Michael “Air” Jordan, Arianna Huffington, Vera Wang, or Jeff Bezos, to name a few), or dare I even claim all successful people, know what it feels to fail, to have an idea rejected or turned down.
It’s easy to get disheartened and discouraged. It probably seems enticing to throw in the towel and to just give up. But think about what kind of world it would be if Michael Jordan hadn’t kept on shooting hoops. We’d have never seen one of the greatest basketball players of all times. What if Vera Wang had buried herself in self-doubt and pity when Vogue rejected her as editor-in-chief? And what would the world be like if Jeff Bezos had not persevered? I for one know that the lockdowns would have been much duller without all those Amazon deliveries.
So where is the difference between someone who “makes it” and someone who doesn’t? First of all, making it in my definition does not mean that you’re filthy rich in monetary terms. That’s a nice bonus, but I for one know that I would rather wake up every morning and feel joyful about what I am going to work on, rather than earn an obscene amount and dread walking into work.
If you have a dream, if you have a passion, then stick with it. Don’t listen to those voices in your head that whisper that you’ll never make it. It’s difficult to silence them and to rewire your brain to acknowledge those emotions, yet move past them. It takes some practice and it isn’t always possible to ignore them. Everyone has days where they doubt themselves, and that is OK. But remember that, if you really want something, then it’s also worth fighting for and to keep working towards it.
Remember that you only have one life and that your dreams matter. You matter. What you do matters. There will be another door that opens, even if 10 have closed before.
Twelve years ago, Galentine’s Day saw its first appearance in our world, on the screens of the American series Parks and Recreation. Now, in its existence for over a decade, Galentine’s Day has become nearly as prominent as its longer-standing, and more traditional counterpart Valentine’s Day, with people all over the globe proclaiming love for their gals. It is usually, and this year, celebrated the day before Valentine’s Day, on 13th February.
Galentine’s Day, in case you were confused, is indeed the celebration of the love and appreciation we have for our girlfriends. We’re not bothered about their relationship status. We don’t care if they’re single, in between things, if they’re in a relationship, married, divorced, or if it’s just complicated. Galentine’s Day doesn’t care about any of that. Galentine’s Day wants us to celebrate, on this day more so than any other day, our gals, our girlie friends, our besties, the ladies in our lives that we can’t imagine being without. It’s a day for showing our closest friends what they mean to us and showering them with love and attention.
So, are there any restrictions as to who is allowed to celebrate Galentine’s Day? Of course not. Anyone can celebrate it. Deep down, Galentine’s Day is about celebrating friendship and those that stay around whilst romantic relationships come and go. It’s as cheesy and soppy as the holiday that follows, but isn’t that a great thing about it?
Besides, the more ladies we show our appreciation and gratitude for their presence in our lives, the better. In a world where it’s still quite tough to be a woman, where we still face unrealistic expectations to be everything to everyone, whilst still looking like we stepped out of a glossy magazine every morning, we need to take stock of who is there for us, who has our back, who cheers us on and who would drop everything to be by our side (or, during Covid times, zoom us at the drop of a hat).
Now that you’re convinced that Galentine’s Day is the best day of February, or, maybe even, of the year, you may ask how you should celebrate, especially now when we can get together in real life again. I’ve got some ideas, and, given that Galentine’s Day 2022 falls on a Sunday, there are various ways to get your girlie tribe together.
You could arrange for a leisurely brunch at one of your girly mates’ house, complete with waffles, cakes, pancakes or sandwiches. Add some fresh coffee, tea, or even some bubbles, and have a chilled out natter and laugh, taking some time to celebrate your friendships.
Have a pamper session. Whether you have a home pamper session, book somewhere for a mini retreat or splash out for a Spa Day, relaxing and having a chilled day out with your besties is just what you may need to beat those February blues.
Have a kitchen disco. Get glammed up at night, put on some heels and some tunes, and dance together, enjoying each other’s company. Have a cocktail or mocktail, and ignore the fact that it’s Sunday and you’ll have to head to work as per usual the day after.
Watch a film together. You don’t need to be in the same bubble as your BFF to snuggle up on the sofa and enjoy the same film. Get the chocolates or popcorn ready, snuggle up under a soft blanket and escape reality for a bit. And let’s face it – most of the time, we just chat through the film anyway!
If a get-together can’t take place as one of you has Covid or you’re not living close by, all the activities above can be done virtually, via Zoom. Brunch, a home spa, a virtual kitchen disco and watching a film whilst chatting on WhatsApp are all possible whilst we are still living in a very strange world thanks to the pandemic.
Regarding gifting, keep things meaningful and eco-friendly. If you give your girlfriends cards, think about making your own or write a message that is worth keeping, rather than the card being thrown away soon after. Instead of flowers or chocolates with extensive packaging (I love me some Lindt but look at all those foils and plastic wrappers…), why not choose something like an eco-friendly cosmetic product (my friend Bejal from https://be-lavie.com suggests Upcircle Beautyhttps://upcirclebeauty.com/ which you can buy from Sainsbury’s) or other toiletries, such as refillable deodorants (I recently tried, tested and loved Wildrefillwww.wearewild.com, which offers a free case to three friends), razors (I have my eyes on Shoreline Shavingwww.shorelineshaving.com as their whole product is plastic free) or shampoo and conditioner bars (from LUSHwww.lush.com– although be careful – they smell so good, you’ll want to eat them!). Meaningful gifting in a world where our planet is in dire distress is worth so much, and if you manage to persuade your girlie mates to make permanent sustainable switches, even better!
I hope this post has inspired you to celebrate not only your romantic love on Valentine’s, but also your friendships and bonds you have with those ladies (or boy-mates) in your life. If you have any other suggestions, why not get in touch so I can include them in future blog posts.
Ever feel like you lack motivation when doing basic things, such as working, exercising, getting the house in order? How do you find and keep your motivation for life in general? Are there any easy fixes and what are the best and most simple ways to get yourself motivated and to keep going?
As a part-time freelancer I have to ensure my limited time working from home is being productive and not wasted. It’s easy to get distracted and potter about doing house work instead of responding to client emails and pitching for more work. Plus: that new book we started looks so interesting and another cup of coffee won’t hurt, will it?
Motivation is a temporary fix and we need to work hard to keep up the momentum. It’s easy to lose the mojo that kept us going at the beginning and just give up or start something else, or, even worse, fall back into some old habits. To stop you falling into this trap, here are 7 simple ways to find and keep the motivation in your life, whether you are working from home, need to keep exercising and anything else you want to achieve in your life:
Sometimes motivation will let you wait. In that case, you just need to get started and you’ll most likely find that you will keep going until you have finished the task. Take exercise for example: The thought of having to do it may not be appealing but once you have your gym kit and trainers on, you’re on that treadmill or doing that Zoom Yoga class, you just do it and afterwards feel so much better for it. If you can’t find motivation, let it catch up with you.
Write a to- do list
Writing things down on paper makes them more real, plus you are less likely to forget them. Make sure you keep on top of it but also ensure that you don’t overwhelm yourself by setting unrealistic goals. You’ll be surprised how accomplished you’ll feel when you cross something off and, even better, you have proof how much you have done in a day. This will keep you motivated when working alone or from home, without a team behind you.
Breaking down mammoth tasks into manageable, smaller sub-tasks will make you feel less overwhelmed at the beginning and will ensure you just keep going. Combine this with a list from tip 2, and tick things off, and you’ll soon be flying through your jobs without finding excuses for not staying on task.
If you want to do something big but are scared or unmotivated to start it, tell friends and acquaintances what you are about to do, whether that’s via posting on social media or sending them a text. Not only will people get excited for and with you, they will most likely also ask you how things are going with whatever it is you are attempting. The fear of having to tell them you didn’t do something will keep you motivated to work towards your goals.
Surround yourself with inspiring people
Having people around you who achieve small and big things, who are positive and have a can-do attitude will rub off on you and make you more motivated and determined. People who always tell you what can’t be done and who are defeatist are counterproductive to your mission to stay motivated.
Compare yourself to yourself only
Everyone is unique in what we do at work, how we work, how we exercise and what we can and can’t do in life. Comparison is a killer for motivation and will most likely deflate you so you won’t want to start in the first place. The best way to stay inspired and motivated is to see how far you have come personally, and compete only with yourself.
Remember your why
In our busy and now through a pandemic very muddled and chaotic lives we can quickly forget why we do what we set out to achieve and why we should keep going. Visualise your dreams and the end result, the reason you were inspired in the first place and made the first big step. Knowing why you have to keep going will up your motivation and spur you on.
Whether you adopt all of those tips or create a selection of your own – remember that motivation and getting things done will make you feel good and accomplished. Make sure you have breaks and reward yourself; this will keep you motivated with whatever you are doing and make you an inspiration for others.
As a mother, teacher, writer, freelancer and warrior of life, my daily life is usually quite regimented, structured and packed out with jobs and things I have to do. Time for the “want to dos” is very limited and, unfortunately, writing for pleasure falls into that category.
Having recently spoken at an online event about my work, my stories and lifelong passion for writing, I was encouraging women to write as part of a simple form of self-care and to look after their mental health. I also emphasised that there was no right or wrong way to write, to journal or to keep a diary. That’s the beauty of writing. It is personal and it is powerful. It has impact.
Whether you are writing for yourself or for others, getting into and sticking to a routine is a difficult endeavour.
Once you are set to write, however, it doesn’t matter how, when and where you do it. Like writing itself, it’s a personal preference and it has to work for you.
Julia Cameron encourages morning pages; Elif Shafak mentions in her Novel Black Milk that she likes to write engulfed in lots of background noise — the louder, the better — whereas the novelist Adalet Agaoglu prefers writing in complete silence. Glennon Doyle, on the other hand, writes in a little cupboard next to her office, because she used to write in her closet.
We are all different.
Personally, I need silence like Adalet Agaoglu, and could do with my own little office. Since, however, I completed my degree whilst mostly sitting on a bed, I can write pretty much anywhere, as long as I can shut everything else out.
So, what are some of my tips for a good writing routine? Here are 5 of my thoughts:
The clue is in the name: writing routine. Unless you turn up regularly, whether that is once a week, twice a week or every day, it’s not a routine. Write often and it will become like second nature to you. Write even when you don’t feel like it. It’s better to write a little than nothing at all, and, like with exercise, you will feel better for it afterwards.
Consider when you are most likely to have the time and energy to focus on your writing. Personally, I am not a morning person, so planning to write first thing in the morning is unrealistic and unproductive for me (sorry Julia Cameron). I write best during the day or (late) in the evenings, so that is when I carve out time for writing. In order to find your optimum time, it is a good idea to first experiment by writing at different times of the day.
Your writing space needs to be comfortable and in an environment where you can lose yourself in writing. You’re not going to write a lot if your back aches, your neck is crooked or you can’t feel your elbow after a while. Equally, if you, like me, need silence to write, having your home office in your kids’ playroom will most likely leave you more frustrated than satisfied. Create the ideal writing space for yourself, and guard it. It’s your escape, you’re entitled to it.
If you are writing by hand, make writing a fun and an enjoyable experience. Treat yourself to a beautiful notebook and some decent writing pens (those with soft tips are best). An awkward pen that makes you press down too hard will make your wrist ache not long after your first few sentences. Equally, a dull notebook may end up collecting dust because you can’t be bothered to pick it up.
If you are writing on a laptop, use documents that automatically save and back up your work (Google Docs or use a cloud space that saves your work automatically). There is nothing more frustrating than being on a writing-roll and suddenly, with one fateful click, losing all your work.
Have fun with it and don’t take it too seriously. As soon as you turn it into a competition with yourself or compare yourself to others, writing, in whichever shape or form you practise it, will not be enjoyable anymore. You are unique, as is your writing, your needs around writing and your writing routine. Acknowledge and embrace it and just let those words flow.
I hope that those pointers have given you some food for thought and a little nudge to pick up a pen or open your notebook or laptop. In today’s world we write more than we ever have before, but not enough of this writing is for our own fun or well-being.
Writing is a wonderful and effective, yet private and quiet form of self-care, and one that is not to be under-estimated. Give it a go, stick with it for a while, and see where it takes you.
If you have any writing tips you’d like to share, I’d love to hear from you and get your thoughts.
7 ways to stop procrastinating, understanding the psychology behind it and to optimise your life
Never do tomorrow what you can do today. Procrastination is the thief of time. (Charles Dickens)
We have all been there. A job or task that is looming over us but we just can’t face it. We’ll do everything and everything else to avoid it. Procrastination makes us feel good in the short term, but like laziness, it’s unhelpful in the long term. Procrastination is often confused with laziness, but in reality, that’s certainly not the case. Psychologists point out that around 20% of people fall into the chronic procrastinators category and the constant putting off of duties causes constant negative feelings and emotions. Moreover, it is said that many procrastinators are perfectionists, who put tasks off out of fear of failure or what others may think of them. So how can you get yourself out of this downward spiral of untouched tasks, duties and jobs? What are the seven best strategies to live a happier and healthier life, without constant psychological stress or should have done?
The following tips apply to all parts of your life, whether for personal or professional purposes, your exercise routine or kickstarting a new healthy habit.
Stop making a mountain out of a molehill.
You are tasked with a job or multiple to do lists or just one colossal piece of work. You can’t bear to start it because it is just too much. The thought of it stresses you out and sends shivers of horror down your spine. You find 15 other tasks to do so you avoid that dreaded piece of work. In reality though, you are just pushing what you should be doing further down the line, making matters much worse and you are likely to become more stressed. To avoid doing this, be realistic with yourself. The task won’t go away, so you may as well set some time aside and start it now. The quicker it is done, the quicker you can do something else.
Break it down into manageable chunks.
In school, we chunk work for students when they get overwhelmed by what seems to them like a mammoth task. Do the same for yourself and that task you have been procrastinating over. Tick things off, work your way through bit by bit. Make a list. Before you know it, you will see results and you’ll feel much better.
Keep the end goal in sight
Why are you doing it? What is your why? You need to be clear on this question as otherwise you’re more likely to give up or put your work off. If the end goal is to hand in a huge piece of academic work, imagine how proud you’ll feel once it’s done. If you have to do your tax return, think what a relief it will be when you’ve waded through all those receipts. And if nothing seems to motivate you, picture yourself and the end result, that moment when you have completed that task and have overcome what seemed impossible at the start.
If you need an extra push in the right direction, partner up with someone. Be it exercise, a healthy eating regime or filing your tax return. If you’re in it together, doing a challenge with someone else or even just having someone to ask you every day how you are getting on, then you are more likely to stick to it. It’s advisable to pair up with someone who won’t let you off the hook. You don’t want to start blaming each other for not sticking to your side of the agreement.
Create time and an effective environment
If you procrastinate, the best time to start is always tomorrow or later. However, as Benjamin Franklin remarked: “You may delay, but time will not”. The best way to tackle this is to make a plan. If you block out time for what you have to do, you are more likely to stick to your time table. If working on something for hours sounds too daunting, setting a timer and having regular breaks can certainly help. You may have heard of the Pomodoro Technique (invented in the 1980s) through which you work for 25 minutes and then have a short break, around 5 minutes, after which you work for 25 minutes again, and so on.
Having a good working environment is essential, too. You want this to be free from distractions, disturbances and mess so you can focus on the job in hand.
Imagine your future self
You will find an excuse for everything if you look long enough. However, the best way to get up and get going is to envisage what your future could look like, if you take action now. Time will pass whether you put in the effort and work or not. You don’t want to disappoint your future self. As Karen Lamb puts it: “A year from now, you wish you had started today.”
Working hard and keeping to your end of the bargain takes focus, determination and persistence. Such qualities deserve to be acknowledged and you should give yourself a pat on the back. If that’s not enough, don’t feel bad for rewarding yourself: A nice hot cup of coffee, a quick walk or burst of exercise, listen to some music or a podcast, have a healthy snack or message a friend. Do what does you good and what makes you happy. Just make sure you don’t fall into the procrastination trap again. Christopher Parker puts it bluntly: “Procrastination is like a credit card. It’s a lot of fun until you get the bill.”
Changing your ways is always scary and adapting new techniques to help you reach your goals is certainly a case of trial and error. Some may work better for you than others, but sticking with it and being consistent is key. Remember you’re not lazy. You just find many other things to do to avoid something that scares you a bit. But you are also brave. You can do scary things and once they’re done, you’ll feel much better. Give it a go. You have nothing to lose and all the time and happiness to gain.
2021 has drawn to a close and reflection is a means of evaluating what went well and what we could have done better. As writers, authors and creatives, some of us may think about whether we have achieved as much as we set out to at the beginning of last year. Have we written enough? Did we stick to our weekly or monthly targets? Have we reached those milestones? Milestones could include finishing that novel, completing a poetry collection, or pitching to an agent or publisher. It could mean finishing those sketches that you started a while ago. No matter what you set out to do at the beginning of 2021, now is a good moment to sit down and look back on your journey.
How to beat the critical voices
It’s easy to get disheartened and feel self-critical when looking back, so it’s really important to also give yourself a pat on the back and acknowledge everything you have achieved. As long as you have made progress and taken care of your mental well-being, you should be proud. Here are some things you can do to beat those critical voices in your head:
Making a list of all the things you have achieved is one way to focus on the positives and celebrate your wins. Instead of feeling bad about anything that fell behind, why not put in on a separate to-do-list. This will make sure you will stay motivated and focussed on what you want to do. And who doesn’t love ticking off things that have been done?
Congratulate yourself and tell others what you have done. Saying it out loud will make it feel more real and others will celebrate you for your achievements
Reward yourself for what you have achieved, no matter how little. It will form positive connections in your brain and you will feel more motivated to carry on.
Looking ahead to 2022
A new year is a good start to plan ahead and set new goals for the coming months. For many people it’s a fresh start they need and the motivation to get going after the break over Christmas. A new year promises new opportunities, it’s a new chance and with the days slowly becoming longer and lighter days ahead, many people are feeling more positive and productive. So it’s also a good time to think ahead and feel positive about 2022, no matter what 2021 looked like. You could ask yourself the following questions:
What are the things you want to let go of?
What have you planned and put on your bucket list for the New Year?
How are you going to achieve it?
Is it realistic regarding time, input, finances etc?
Is there a backup plan in case things go wrong?
The more questions you ask yourself and try to give yourself honest and candid answers, the better prepared you are to start or to continue whatever project it is you set out to do.
Read about some tips and tricks in next week’s blog, some planning advice and incorporating me-time.
I am sitting on the sofa, sipping Aldi’s Salted Caramel Cream Liqueur over ice and watch the lounge descend into chaos as the oldest is wobbling around on her new (pre-loved) inline skates and the youngest tips a box of Hotwheels cars in her way. The dog has jumped out of the way and tries to lay on my lap so I can’t type anymore. Someone asks if anyone is hungry, even though we just ate two hours ago. Heaven knows where we’ll eat as the dining table is occupied by two Lego projects, an empty snack bowl and a few books. Out in the kitchen a pot is boiling pasta and a box of lateral flow tests is ready to take swabs from all of us.
My daughter has just come out of isolation, having tested positive the week before Christmas. No grandparents, no friends or other visitors for Christmas – just us. As reports from record numbers of daily infections come in and nearly everyone I know has tested positive at some stage or another, I wonder when it all will end and when normality will return. And then I remember that we are not a family that is weighed down by traditions – rather we have always done what works for us. When we still ate meat, turkey was too dry for us and so we cooked chicken instead. We don’t need pigs in blankets to complete our Christmas dinner, but loads of veg in all different shapes and forms. Dinner is served whenever we are hungry, never at a set time. And over the festive period there are no rules on when to get up and what to do. We live in the moment, we get up when we want, we decide hour after hour what we want to do and if we’re bored of Christmas tunes we boogie to the “Best of the 90s”.
I see social media posts of perfectly decorated tables, of stressed out mums and dads and last-minute dashes to overcrowded supermarkets, where people are so rude to each other that one could think there’s a shortage of loo rolls again. Christmas gets the best and worst out of us and as someone who has always strived for perfection and nearly died trying, I believe that any celebratory event that is no fun is a waste of time.
Therefore, for your mental well-being and that of anyone you choose to spend this time with, it’s important to let go of the competition, the perfection and the need to create something that resembles magic. Magic can’t be forced. Magic exists in feelings and snippets of moments, and those usually happen when you least expect them. Christmas has to work for you, not the other way round. So if you decide to decline an invitation to someone that stresses you out, feel empowered by that. If you want to sleep in on Christmas Day, do it. If you can’t stand turkey, eat something else. Preferably whatever you fancy. If you don’t have enough money for presents, don’t buy them – without feeling guilty. And if the thought of another rerun of Love Actually makes you cringe, then turn off the TV or watch whatever else you want.
The power of Christmas is that it’s a time to live in the moment. It is not about financially or mentally ruining yourself. Christmas is for everyone, and therefore you get to choose how to spend the time and with whom. Make your own rules and traditions and throw them out the window the year after. People change. Situations change. Life changes. Run with it and embrace it. The story of Christmas is about a poor boy being born in a stable – not about the princess who threw the best and most lavish Christmas party. Relax and don’t stress. And in times of a global pandemic – just roll with it.
It’s my birthday and I feel as excited as every year. It’s “my” day, even though I really don’t want a lot of fuss. But I insist that me and the family do something nice together, have some delicious food and extra nice coffee in the morning and maybe a cocktail in the evening. It’s nice to have people think of you and wish you happy birthday. After all, it’s a celebration of life, an occasion to appreciate the amount of time we have been gracing this earth.
It’s only some time after that, at least for me, the realisation kicks in, that I am no longer a spring chicken in my late teens or early twenties. I may still feel like it and sometimes act like it, but a look in the mirror and my ID card states very clearly that I am well past that stage of my life. And then a slight panic sets in. I am already THAT old and I feel like I haven’t really done that much with my life. What have I achieved? How many adventures have I had? Was I wild enough in my twenties? Have I been outrageous enough when I was younger? How many embarrassing moments have I had? Was I too tame? Did I waste my youth? … The questions keep coming. I am sure this kind of pondering is responsible for one of my grey hairs.
The thing is, the sensible and realistic side of my brain is forever grateful that I am alive and kicking and have been on this planet longer than some people I have known, loved and lost. I am so thankful that my body is healthy and in pretty good shape, to the extent that I am actually fitter than in my twenties. And I clearly don’t have to worry that anyone will mistake me for a granny any time soon, since I got asked for ID the other day.
But, putting aside all those seemingly vain and superficial points, I also understand why I am clinging to staying young like Leonardo di Caprio in icy water in Titanic. My youth was battered with death and then a severe mental illness which nearly cost me my life. Whilst it could be argued that, because of this background, I should embrace life to the fullest, it’s not really that simple.
They say you shouldn’t have any regrets but if you truly ask me whether I regret being seriously ill, then I regret it a lot. Having an eating disorder doesn’t just nearly kill you, it also kills the joy in your life, social times and any fun events that may go on. I missed out on so many fun things with friends, I declined loads of invitations, because I was either too depressed to go or because I was too scared that I would have to eat. And so I feel I lost my youth to a vicious illness and was never really able to enjoy life back then.
Saying that, the recovered and joyous version of me is swiftly dealing with those negative thoughts. Life on this planet is a gift, maybe the greatest gift we’ll ever get. Living a long and prosperous life is equally amazing. Signs of ageing, wrinkles, grey hair and the inability to recover from a sniff of wine are also signs that we are changing and mostly change is a wonderful thing. I am a different person now than I was 20 years ago and I feel more confident and at home in my own skin as ever before. I care a lot less what people think of me and my main aim is not to be liked by everyone and to please everyone.
Yes, the society we live in demands we look good and young and perky and tiny and trim until we pop the clogs, but the society we live in needs to change. Many of us will live well beyond our 80s and ageism isn’t something I feel fond of. Similar to a fine wine or whiskey, the older we get, the more valuable and precious we are. We are the product of experiences, events and years of wisdom (some more than others…) behind us, and surely, that is time for celebration. Therefore, this year, I shall be embracing my age and the fact that I know what a cassette-tape and a Walkman are. I am loved, I am accepted and, most of all, I am happy with my lot. And that is the best gift of all.
Whilst writing numerous articles and posts about the festive season, I got transported back to my childhood, my teenage years and my early twenties. Searching for the magical feelings and the buzz that only Christmas can give, I remember snippets from my consciousness throughout the years.
As a child, I often dressed up as an angel, put on my pointe ballet shoes, pushed the furniture to the sides of my grandmother’s lounge and danced to Christmas tunes for hours, pretending I could fly and I was one of Santa’s little helpers once again. I also recall those early afternoons when I returned from school all those many Decembers, being greeted by the rich and buttery smell of home made Christmas biscuits, which my mother baked every year. I loved sitting with her at the dining table of an evening, sticking thin shortbread together with jam and decorating it later with chocolate and sprinkles.
The sharp and refreshing smell of the handwrought advent wreath filled the house with a festive scent, and I relished in the Sunday evenings when we turned out all the lights and sat by candle light, singing Christmas songs. The first frosts brought a promise of snow and ice, and when the cold air pinched my cheeks as we strolled around the Christmas market with all its festive lights and sweet aromas of sugared almonds, Lebkuchen and roasted chestnuts, there was nothing inside me that doubted for one moment, that the magic of the festive season was not real. Getting the Christmas decorations from the attic was highly anticipated, as was the delivery of the Christmas tree, which had to camp on our balcony to stay fresh until Christmas Eve, when we finally brought it inside and decorated it.
As I got older and suffered from my mental health issues, Christmas lost its appeal and I spent one Christmas Eve with a group of friends, celebrating friendship and life, rebelling against our families that were left celebrating without us. And two years later, I spent Christmas by myself in a foreign country, away from anyone close to me. I slept in, I watched my favourite films in bed, I ate chocolate and went for a frosty run. I wasn’t sad or lonely. I felt at ease and happy in my own company. The silence around me was a gift and I felt christmassy despite being alone.
The important lesson I learnt from my mental trip to the past is, that the magic didn’t come from materialistic things, presents or expensive stuff. The magic of Christmas has always been in the feeling, the anticipation and the pure joy of being with people I love, even if the only person around was me. When I take a moment to reflect on what makes my Christmasses special, I never think of getting lots of gifts. Of course, it’s nice to get a thoughtful present and buy someone that thoughtful something. But, when I mull over what I look forward to most every December, then it’s the twinkly lights, the decorations, the festive food and drink, the sparkle and the excitement leading up to 25th of December. I indulge in two weeks off with my family, the films and hot chocolates after long cold winter walks and the fact that time doesn’t exist in the twilight zone of Christmas and New Year.
Christmas is a feeling, not a flurry of gifts and materialistic things. I will forever be its greatest fan and look forward to it like a giddy little kid. And the knowledge that all this love comes from the heart and not my bank account makes it even more special.
As December comes round and brings with it its sparkle and promise of kindness, love and peace on earth, it’s all too easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of twinkly lights, tinsel, mulled wine and mince pies. Frantic preparations and scheduling invitations to drinks with friends, get togethers with family or a Christmas dinner with work colleagues all make this month feel like a ride on a crazy, screeching merry-go-round. Whilst most of us love it, and that includes me, for many people December resembles more of a rollercoaster of feelings, and for others maybe even a free fall into darkness, caused by grief and loss, and the realisation that someone we once had with us is no longer here.
Personally, most of my childhood losses happened around Christmas, and I have moments of black outs where I can only remember a huge Christmas tree, which was blurred through the tears that didn’t stop falling. I recalled this the other day during a counselling session, and realised that, whilst I have some recollection of Christmasses after loss, I can’t remember when I started enjoying Christmas again. What I do know is that, for many years, Christmas was not the treasured and joyful occasion that it is now. I was fighting demons, I was battling with trauma, I was angry about the fact that loved ones had been taken from me before their time. I did not cope well with the fact that my family was shrinking before my eyes and the once full and vivacious dinner table was no longer packed with people, too much crockery and too many glasses, infectious giggles and affectionate jokes. Somehow, the magic had gone, the ease of enjoyment had vanished. Something was broken, and it felt forced and like a play I watched from the outside.
I had to move away from home and spend a Christmas by myself, before I allowed myself to feel the magic of Christmas and its inexplicable buzz again. When I finally allowed myself to heal and acknowledge that I could never change the course of time, I found some peace and saw those Christmas lights without tears. I was able to return home for Christmas and feel like a child again, wrapped up in love and the warmth of family, the knowledge that we would always grieve, but we’d also experience joy at the same time.
Most recently, I lost a very close friend. She was my angel, my family, a part of my inner circle. As I write this, it’s her birthday and I push deeper thoughts of losing her aside, because it’s just too much. I think of her immediate family, of all her friends, including me, and how we don’t want to spend this Christmas without her. Yet we have to. So it’s another year of bitter-sweet memories, of magic mixed with mourning, of excitement tampered with moments of despair. It’s true for me that my kids help me to just roll with it; they keep me distracted from many moments where I just want to stare into nothingness and battle with the fact that this year and all years going forward we will not pop round to see my friend and help her decorate her Christmas tree.
Instead, when I think of her, and I think of her all the time, I remember those many moments where she just turned up at our door step. I felt like a little child every time when I saw her; I squealed a bit and then hugged her so tight. I remember those times when she left some presents for us. It makes me smile, because last year, she precariously balanced a massive bag full of goodies on one of our bins. When I rescued it, I was astounded that it hadn’t fallen down – and destroyed a bottle of Champagne, an olive spread and some books in the process… . And so, with the pain and sorrow that make me well up and and form a lump in my throat, I remind myself that it’s OK to feel like that, and that I need to sit with those emotions. And that I am allowed to feel up and down. Especially at Christmas, when many of us want nothing more than to be with the ones we love and hold dear.
Grief is a personal process and everyone deals with it differently. Grief at Christmas is no different. However, for many people those losses are amplified around this time. Therefore, understanding, kindness and love is more important than ever. The grief will never go away. But the life we build around it, and the years that pass will help us to see the sparkle and magic again. Each of us in their own time.