grief · love · Wellness

Emotional Health is the new sexy

https://www.flickr.com/photos/james_nash/2533278341

“I’m seeing a counsellor.”

My face burns and I look down at the floor. I don’t want to see the pity reflecting in your eyes—I know what you think. At least, I tell myself a story about what you think.

My counsellor taught me that. He also explained to me what other people think of you is none of your business,which is a gem that fits this scenario particularly well.

It’s a mantra I’m still working on—I’m not there yet.

The stigma of there must be something mentally wrong with me or I’m not able to solve this problem alone, therefore I’m weak or stupid or damaged still applies to counselling, even today in this supposedly enlightened society of ours.

I want to set the record straight once and for all, so gather ‘round my friends and hear my truth: therapy is brave. Therapy is empowering. And therapy is sexy. I’ll tell you why.

Therapy is brave.

From the moment I sat down in that chair, I knew I was opening a can of worms in the deepest, darkest region of my soul—a can of worms that, once unleashed, could never be re-sealed again. It was a big decision. One that would have me questioning my thought processes completely, my fundamental beliefs and feelings about my life, my relationships and my childhood.

Everything I thought I knew, and all my mechanisms for getting by in this world were discussed, dissected and sometimes destroyed, and to let that process unfold takes some serious tenacity.

Every bone in my weary body screamed at me to run away—to stay safely wrapped in the warm cosy blanket of ignorance, to bury the feelings deeper where they couldn’t hurt me. I stayed in that chair. And I returned to it every week for a year. I’m still there today.

How many people can honestly say that they have stood their ground as their demons surrounded them,tormenting them in the darkness? Who among us has found the courage to gaze, with fearful eyes, into the void that we try so desperately to compensate for, and acknowledge the emptiness that lingers there?

It takes a certain kind of brave to sit with the agonising pain of grief as it crushes your chest—to acknowledge guilt, to accept loneliness, with tears streaming down your face. My voice cracks with emotion, but I talk on regardless, bringing my monsters to life with my words and then trying to find the strength to begin to slowly slay them. Until I can see them and accept that they are real, I cannot fight them.

There is a warrior in all of us waiting for that opportunity.

My counsellor lets me pour out my hurt in a torrent. There is no judgement. He encourages the floodgates to open and is a witness to my distress, to my story. We all need a witness in this life. I believe it’s one of the reasons we connect with others so deeply—to know that someone cares enough about us to see us, to really see us for who we are as we move through life’s journey.

He questions me in ways that make me think beyond my comfort levels, to see an alternate perspective. My current ways of thinking have not always served me well and he is not afraid to push me hard beyond them, even if it makes me cry.

My insides have been pulled out, examined, cleansed and put back inside on a weekly basis. Exhausting? Yes. Valuable? Beyond measure. I am more myself than I have ever been, which is the best gift I could have given myself in this thirtieth year of my life.

Therapy is empowering.

Coaching and mentoring are seen as the path of the enlightened, the driven, and the achievers. Counselling, on the other hand, is perceived by many as an inability to cope with the world. I have news for you, ladies and gents; counselling is a form of life coaching, too.

It gives me the ability to recognise negative patterns and behaviours, and the tools and awareness to deal with them without melting down. It lets me get comfortable with ambiguity and to sit with my sadness without dissolving into it to a point where I can’t cope or recover from it.

I can apply these lessons across the board: at home, at work, walking down the street. I can understand the motivations and fears that drive people and myself, which is powerful beyond words.

I’m still learning, and I make mistakes, but I am more aware of them now. I’m only human—I still get angry with people, but I ask myself what the positive intention was in their behaviour. I finally understand that no one in this world has the power to make me feel anything.

I create, promote and allow the feelings and behaviours that I want in my life and I give to myself the things that I want to experience.

Don’t love me? Fine. I’ll love myself enough for the both of us. Knowing that no one external can take that feeling away is liberating.

Therapy is sexy.

There is nothing more attractive than a person prepared to own his or her shit. We are all messed up in some way or another; it’s just a matter of how, and to what degree. To accept that fact is to be a real adult in this world—to take responsibility for our own happiness and to stop blaming others when life is hard, or when they don’t meet our expectations.

If a man is willing to face his issues, my god is he a man in my eyes. If he is able to work on himself with the intention of becoming the best version of himself that he can be, for himself, and subsequently for his relationships, that is a serious turn-on. I know that he is going to show up for me, for his family, and he is going to address the issues that he doesn’t want to pass onto his kids.

A good father is hugely appealing.

The fact that you care about your mental health is as significant to me as you taking care of yourself physically. Mental grooming is way more important than working on your washboard abs (though I won’t deny, I like those too).

We don’t have to be perfect; heaven knows that I’m not. We just have to be willing to participate in our own growth, and that will speak to my mind, my soul and to my body in ways you could never imagine.

Originally published here at Elephant Journal

grief · love · Spiritual · Wellness

Tears in Savasana

Savasana_artistic

Familiar excuses skulk uninvited into my thoughts:

‘I’m totally exhausted.’

‘I won’t get home until so late.’

‘One week off won’t make a difference anyway.’

Lethargy assaults my limbs, bringing me close to tears at the thought of the gruelling 1.5 hours of class ahead. I tap away at my keyboard, ignoring the enticement of home. The easy option.

Sometimes I surrender to temptation; my tight shoulders wrapped in a cloak of guilt, punishing me for my choice. Most times I close the door on it quickly, banishing the unwanted trespasser stealing quietly through my mind.

The studio doors open to a secret world. Soft melodies drift ethereally around me, quieting my busy mind. There are no lyrics to distract me. The low lights glow like a midsummer moon in whites and purples—a welcome change to the unforgiving glare of my day.

I relax.

My routine is clockwork and comforting. I greet my teacher, change quickly, and roll out my equipment in the same spot. I stare up at the Chinese lantern suspended above me like a white cloud. I imagine the stories it could tell of this very room.

Laying back on my bolster I start to take notice of my breath, imagining that the sea rises and crashes within my chest.

Sometimes it does.

The roaring waves take me and slow me. They caress me with their undulating rhythm until I am calm.

My stiff body screams out with the first pose and I fight to hold for my pain. Every part of me cries out to drop to my knees, to relief. I refuse. I know that this is part of the process.

Oh body, you cannot beat me.

Life teaches us to avoid discomfort at all cost. Yoga shows us how to embrace it, to use our life force to battle our physical limitations. To breathe on through it. Inhale deeply. Imagine the roaring river of oxygen flowing to the parts that rage against you in violent protest.

Exhale. Feel your muscles relax. Let them go. Sink lower than you ever realised you could. Inhale.

Salute the sun. Become a warrior. A dog. A cobra. You can be whatever your body desires now. The world is yours as you twist, stretch, lift and bend your way through the hour. Time is meaningless here.

I embrace my inner goddess. My limbs flex in ways I never imagined possible and my cares exist only in dreams. I can do anything. My world is only my breath, in and out, and my appreciation for my strength, for my balance and for the stillness in me.

I have much to learn, watching my teacher in awe. But I am not overwhelmed, rather inspired by possibility. She symbolizes a path dappled in sunshine, and I hope to walk there too someday.

We finally reach the point that I have waited patiently all week for: Savasana- The Corpse Pose.

A rare fifteen minutes where there are no distractions. No phone. No talking. No pain. Alone with my breath, and my thoughts.

My mind reaches out in shadowy tendrils to a place beyond conscious. Beyond memory.

And as happens so often this year in this place—I find you.

You walk towards me on a cobbled street, white snow falling around us. You are wearing that winter overcoat that you looked so handsome in and your hands are shoved deep into your pockets.

You flash me a cheeky grin and the nine months that you have been gone fall away in an instant. Your eyes are alight with mischief and it makes me chuckle. I’m not scared. I’m pleased to see you and I hear your voice, and your laugh. They are etched into my heart.

We talk. I tell you all the things I would say if you were still with us. All the things I wish I had said.

I tell you just how much I miss you and what your life has meant to me, to my family. The best part is, you talk back.

Tonight I actually felt your hand in mine. It dawns on me that I no longer fear death for I know now that you are waiting for me there.

The fabric separating sleep and waking is delicate in this place. If I am dreaming I don’t want to wake up yet. There’s so much more to share. Tears stream from my eyes silently, dripping onto my mat. Let them fall. There is no one to witness my silent sobs, and no one to judge me. You are here, and I cry for the days that you are not.

They are a small price to pay to transcend to your world, and I give them freely, my gift to you, these tears in Savasana.

Originally published here on Elephant Journal

grief · love · Spiritual · Wellness

Beating the grey clouds

You can find my original article on elephant journal here

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The dark clouds of misery suffocate me.

They suck the colour from my life, banish the light. It feels like I am losing the essence of who I am inside; that I will never be happy again.

I wrestle with urge to give up and let despair take me. Surrender to the agony of grief. What more can it take from me? I have nothing left to give its greedy strangling hands when they creep into my nightmares.

Fighting the dark clouds is a battle that rages daily. I fight for the motivation to crawl out of my warm bed each morning to confront the punishing dawn. Choosing what to wear feels like scaling Everest and the very thought of talking to people leaves my stomach in a hot tight knot.

The voices in my head tell me that I can’t do it, and I whimper and cringe apologetically before them—I believe them.

On those days I ache to be soothed. To regain the strength I need to put one foot in front of the other. It’s hard to know where to start.

Slowly, I’m identifying the methods that help me banish the dark clouds when they descend. And on the days where I have no fight left in my battered body, they give me a place to curl up safe to weather the storm until it passes.

I want to share these with you in the hope that they might help you find your own light in the darkness. And if you have suggestions that work for you, I would also love to hear them.

1. The Ocean

Nothing equals the peace that quietens my soul whilst watching the swell and fall of the ocean. The understanding that we are all part of something bigger and more powerful than our tiny lives is truly humbling.

I am forced to submit to the constant churn of the deep, and there is a comfort in that surrender. I can no more deny my soul it’s happiness than I can stop the surf crashing onto the white sand, embracing each grain with the knowledge that the tide will eternally shift, and they will never have this moment together again.

I close my eyes and listen to the melody of unrelenting waves, a constant in a world of unknowns. I listen to birds calling and how their freedom echoes in the early morning calm. My heartbeat slows and my mind clears.

The sea breeze caresses my hair like the gentlest lover soothing me to sleep. I let it blow away the cobwebs of indecision. The salt erodes anger, sadness, and pain. I let the darkness soar away, a kite sailing on the soft wind.

Perhaps I’m alone on that beach. Eyes fixed on the sapphire horizon, knees drawn to chest, toes digging into wet sand. Perhaps I allow someone I love to share the moment. Maybe I let them hold me, without talking, but breathing in the magic with me and letting my tears rain gently onto their chest.

A lifeline in the depths of the darkest place I tread, tethering me back to the light. Maybe they can’t follow where I go, and maybe I’m too heavy for them to pull back right now, but I know that they hold me safely. I know that their strength answering my weak tug promises a place where the sun shines still, awaiting my return, when I’m ready.

‘The cure for anything is salt water – tears, sweat, or the sea.’ ~ Isak Dinesen

2. Tea

As a child my mother made me tea every morning and every evening without fail. I remember the first few times feeling like a real grown up, being allowed to drink out of one of her beautiful cups, adorned with gold leaf and vibrant flowers. The flavour didn’t matter as much as sharing a moment with someone I adored

I came to know tea as part of my daily ceremony, to help me face the morning, and to discuss the going-ons of the day before bed. Opening my heart to my mum in order to make sense of the world, as the hot liquid gold spread comfort through my entire body.

Even now, aged 29, tea makes me a small child snuggled up next to my mum. There’s no situation that a cup of English breakfast can’t make better. Shared socially with friends from the same cherished pot, or being brought a cup in bed to tell you that you are loved.

Photo: David Leggett on Flickr.

In times of grief, pressing small shivering hands against the warmth of the mug reminds you that you are still alive. I don’t remember how many cups of tea I made when I lost my stepfather, but I do know that the ritual brought me normalcy and hope for the future. For where there is tea, there is another day dawning, and another morning where I will wake and face the world once again.

‘Come, let us have some tea and continue to talk about happy things.’ ~ Chaim Potok

3. Baths

Foamy Bubbles. Lots of them. Water as hot as I can manage before my skin blisters, run to overflowing. Lights out, candles flickering gently, a book and of course, tea.

I sink into that blissful pool of deliciousness and feel no guilt. No sense of time. No thoughts of housework, or to-do lists. I listen to music, or I don’t. Read, or don’t. I close my eyes. Dream. Let the water wash away the heartache, the resentment, the suffering. It sinks below the surface, trapped in rainbow bubbles. Later it will be sucked into the plughole, gone forever.

I feel my muscles relax in the heat and admire my body where it peeks out at me from its soapy landscape. I appreciate how my skin shines in the wet and let my hair drift like seaweed, embracing my inner mermaid.

Baths cleanse my soul from the outside in, taking me back to my happier self. Having the bathroom window open to let the cool breeze contrast with my warm body has been one of my favourite sensations since childhood. It evokes memories of carefree summers and long light evenings. No responsibilities yet, and no scar of loss.

I remind myself that showers are practical and baths are luxurious. And also that I deserve that luxury when I am hurting. I set up a shrine to my inner water goddess and let her sparkle.

4. Good Friends

Cliché? Maybe. But where would I be without them today? I’ve closed up shop and boarded my windows to the pain that prowls close by. Yet still my friends wait outside, patiently. They sit on the doorstep swinging their legs. Sometimes they slip a note under the door to let me know they are still there. They demand nothing. Not even a response. But they wait.

Sometimes they play just next-door so that I can enjoy their laughter from afar and not be left behind. And when I peek out of a gap in the panelled wood of my mind, they turn and they smile at me—the kind of smile that only a true friend can give you. A ‘Hey, I’m so pleased to see you,’ and a ‘No we don’t have to talk about a thing, or even try to fix it. We can just sit here and be’ kind of smile.

The hard days are a gift in disguise because they let us know these friends exist. And that it’s ok not to be ok. I reach out to these angels when I can. Sometimes I do it even when I am exhausted with the world, because they remind me that they think I am wonderful.

They prove to me that I am not as broken as I think I am. They show me, again and again, that though it may be different to what I once knew, one day, the world will be a beautiful place to be once again.

adventure · grief · love · Poetry · Spiritual · Travel · Wellness

Heart Song (Poem)

 

She sits alone with pain and listens to her heart song.

Its echoes in her soul, subdued these days, unused to being heard over the din of her ordinary life.

It speaks of brilliant waterfalls that splash turquoise-hued rainbows over the world and make it new again.

It tells of enchanted forests, where life flourishes, if you know just where to look.

It whispers of fairies dancing in clearings untouched by human hand or eye.

It yearns for the places where sunlight cannot reach. Dappled beams through ancient branches, faces etched into trees, watching her, waiting for her life to start.

The shackles of the corporate world burn into her ankles, making her cry out.

Salty tears come in ocean waves. Tears she could drown in.

They were supposed to be temporary binds

To anchor her whilst she learned, which way to travel in this world,

But over time, they grew tighter,

Curbing the flow of magic to her heart, strangling the dreams of childhood innocence.

She deceives herself for a while.

Convinces her brain that this is a path, as good as any. Respectable.

Successful by someone’s definition.

She shines, because she always does. It’s expected.

Prizes she doesn’t care for, honours that cant hold her attention for long.

Tight prison walls of expectation hold her tightly with iron grip.

The cruel and painful grasp of accomplishment.

Her sparkle dims with every passing year, her soul retreating softly away.

She screams inside and begs someone to hear her.

No one does. Only she can save herself.

What happened to the girl, who dreamed of African plains

Stretching endless into the abyss?

Of the majesty of lions roaring in the darkness to dangers unknown,

Of the burning setting of the sun, lighting the world’s colours for all to see,

What happened to the girl, who longed for adventure?

For passion and frenzy in the heat of a moment,

Decisions felt with the heart, not made with the head.

What of the girl, whose words want to dance across pages?

Giving graceful glimpses of her soul to those who dare to read.

Sometimes the words bruise like stones as they tumble out of her mind

So intense that she can barely breathe until she has expelled them.

Where is she now?

She wants the intensity.

She wants the pain because it shows her she can feel.

That she is alive.

She wants the life less ordinary. And she wants it to begin now.

 

Originally published on elephant journal here

adventure · Travel · Wellness

JoJo’s Bucket List

Having had more time to think about the future lately, with moving and changing county again- I realised that time is slipping away faster than I would like, and there are so many things in life I want to do and experience and achieve!

I decided to create my bucket list- and put it out there for all to see! Maybe it will inspire someone else to try something new, or maybe it will encourage me to start ticking things off- either way, im pretty excited!!

  1. Safari in Africa
  2. Feed a tiger cub
  3. Go to the Moulin Rouge in Paris
  4. Go to the Crazy Horse in Paris
  5. See the Mona Lisa in the Louvre
  6. See the Leaning Tower of Pisa
  7. Have a Gondola ride in Venice
  8. See the Northern Lights in Iceland
  9. Bathe in the Blue Lagoon in Iceland
  10. Learn another language- Brazillian Portugese
  11. Complete a Pole Dance teaching qualification
  12. Go shopping in New York
  13. Drink a cocktail in Manhatten
  14. Have a sauna in Sweden
  15. Visit the statue of Liberty
  16. See a show at Broadway
  17. Wear a cocktail dress to a Casino in Vegas
  18. Volunteer with the Elderly
  19. Get awesome 6pack abs
  20. Learn to do a proper handstand and hold it (not against a wall)
  21. Teach children in a disadvantaged country
  22. Visit the Eygptian Pyriamids
  23. Take each member of my immediate family somewhere that they have never been before
  24. Dance the tango
  25. Learn to Salsa
  26. Write a novel
  27. Write and illustrate a kids book
  28. Learn a Bollywood dance
  29. Drink wine in tuscany
  30. Draw/ paint a picture that I’d be proud enough to hang up
  31. Own a beach cottage
  32. Watch a sunset in santorini
  33. Visit the Whitsundays
  34. Road trip USA (Route 66)
  35. Do a yoga retreat
  36. Fly first class somewhere
  37. Swim with dolphins
  38. Throw fabulous dinner parties for my friends/ family
  39. Inca Trail
  40. Have a break at a villa with a private pool just for us
  41. Gallop a horse along a beach
  42. Have a beer at Oktoberfest
  43. Throw Tomatoes at La Tomatina