Is It All In The Mind? …

brain color colorful cube
Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán on Pexels.com

Let’s not beat around the bush here, my brain is a simple thing.

It is not made up of intense masses of grey matter jostling to be the first to find the answer to a question, to read and understand the contents of a (proper, grownup) newspaper, to remember anything politically intelligent, to finish (or even start) a cryptic crossword puzzle … No. It is not.

My brain is more about fluffy clouds of marshmallow trying to remember my children’s names and their dates of birth which is considerably tricky when under pressure (ie when someone asks me), where exactly I parked the car and even more worryingly why I have just walked upstairs for the second time – (what precisely was I planning on doing up there?)

No, I am not the brightest spark in the box and yet I have discovered this sad fact appears to have the most marvellous consequences, side effects if you like. I shall expand.

I have found that if I am having to do something that I don’t like (ie most things that don’t involve cups of tea, ginger nut biscuits, reading, writing and games of tennis) and therefore don’t want to do, I can trick my simple little brain into making the required task completely bearable.

So, to use an example here on holiday in France … Each and every day, in order to reach the empty part of the beach that the family like the most, we need to cross a river called the Huchet. This for me is on a par with putting pins in my eyes, eating my toenails and sucking on a random stranger’s too. It is not only freezing cold, but it is a murky shade of greeny brown where there is no likelihood of seeing ones toes and in terms of how deep it is, well apparently that has something to do with the moon, suffice to say, it varies from above knee level to (I’m about to cut my) throat deep. Unpleasant? Very, very deeply and with no pun intended.

However … If I distract myself sufficiently, it is bearable and I can wade across without too much of the drama queen in me squealing, complaining and writhing my body in the agony of it all. And how do I distract myself? I sing. I sing, just as I sang when cycling up those wretched mountains that the French call hills, not so long ago. I sing anything that I can remember the words to and anything that I cannot. Nursery rhymes work well, hymns and yes, happy birthday to me have all been uttered from my pursed lips as I step on tiptoe through the grisly, cold dark water.

If it’s truly bad, then I use another of my senses … touch. I flick my thumb nails onto my index fingers and dig in, hard.

If it’s worse than truly bad, ie up to the neckline, then I also start to use deep breathing.

So I’m puffing, singing and finger flicking and well knock me down with a dead fish floating past, we’ve reached the other side!

Now forgive me for being just a tad simple, but aren’t these tactics exactly what we use when we’re having a moment of anxiety or a panic attack? Are we not told to breathe in slowly and deeply? When we’re angry and seeing red and about to explode, did our parents and teachers not tell us to count slowly to ten until it passes? When we’re in labour (sorry gentlemen) are we not required to huff and puff our way through it? What I’m trying to say is, are these not all simply distraction techniques until the moment of unrest or pain has disappeared? Is our mind truly stronger than our body?

“It’s all in the mind,” my father used to say about seasickness. And yes, strangely, if I was kept busy out on deck, I never had any moments of queeziness, but perhaps hardly surprising when you’re clinging for dear life onto a mast whilst at a 45 degree angle to the angry sea and death is looking you in the eye.

Is it truly all in the mind and we can use distraction to obliterate any unpleasantness? Is this how mad people can walk across hot coals?

Clearly, with my simple little brain it works. If for you it does not, then you can pride yourself in the knowledge that you are a clever sausage. I’m rather jealous, but then again, perhaps you just need more intellectually stimulating distractions. Perhaps you could do the cryptic crosswords instead? Just a thought … Oh, and could you explain to me how to do them?

Katie xx

How clever are you?! Can you use breathing or singing to fob off anxiety, stress and pain? Or do you have another trick?

Advertisements

Solitude … Necessary or Not?

autumn calm creepy dried leaves
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Without meaning to harp on about it too much, whilst cycling for the best part of a month in France, I had only myself for company.

I talked to myself, sang to myself, told myself funny little stories (and laughed at them – yes I am suitably strange) and cried to myself. I regularly bored myself stupid and craved company. The only people, until almost the end of the trip, that I encountered were of course French, and despite a fairly healthy ‘O Level’ result in the subject over 30 years ago, conversation was understandably a little limited. Of course, over time it improved considerably and particularly when I became less self conscious and more confident.

On one occasion, when lost again, I asked a family for help in the navigation department in my very best french.

“Ooh!” they grinned, realising immediately that I was a foreigner, “Are you English?”

“Oh thank God!” says I with great enthusiasm, “You’re the first Brits I’ve spoken to in fourteen days!” I wanted to hug them, kiss them, sit them down with a cup of tea and listen to their life story.

“Nah! We’re not English, we’re from Birmingham,” came the strong accent in response.

Right… Frankly I couldn’t care where they came from, as long as they could understand me and I could listen and understand them. It was a short lived conversation … I think my overly enthused neediness was perhaps a bit off-putting. Similar to when I try to chatter to the postman when he comes to the door, his eyes start to glaze over as he backs down the path. Perhaps I truly am just a needy individual.

However in the last few days I met someone who had been doing almost a parallel trip to me. A South African by birth, he said what he thought, without any filter, and with gusto. He called a spade a spade and swore like a trooper. A rather high powered physicist with a photographic memory, I did question the swearing, but he merely threw his head back, laughed like a drain and replied, “Frankly Katie, I don’t give a fuck!” I liked him enormously. But he too had been devoid of all conversation and despite being fluent in five languages, French was not one of them, so had even less of an opportunity for chatter. It hadn’t however stopped him from having an absolute ball. We then talked incessantly for three days and marvelled at the delights of having company, giggled over the best way to get in, out, and dressed in 6ft x 2ft x 2ft tent, and spoke endlessly about our ridiculous adventures. Laughter is truly good for the soul.

I am now back in the real world and find myself a slightly different creature. Having craved company, whilst I enjoy it, I enjoy it in moderation. No, that word that has never been a part of my life before and I welcome it and wonder if perhaps it might overflow into other areas of my life. There is always hope. I find that I now need a certain amount of solitude in which to block out the noise, the people, the endless nonsense which I find invades my mind and colours my mood. I can now control my own mood completely by myself which is new to me and very much welcomed, but external influences still can alter it. So partly for self preservation and partly because I simply enjoy it, I now ensure that I have time every day and every evening for a little solitude. Call it self care, call it indulgence, call it selfishness, as my South African friend says, “Frankly, I don’t give a f…k!”

Katie xx

What about you? Do you need solitude or do you loathe it? Do you control your own mood?

It’s Over …

woman stands on mountain over field under cloudy sky at sunrise
Photo by Victor Freitas on Pexels.com

I’ve done it.

I’ve bicycled 1000kms through France, taking the long and winding route of La Velodysee through towns and villages, along canals and rivers, on cycle tracks, roads, through fields, around fields, lost in fields …. I’ve been frightened, I’ve cried, I’ve hurt myself, I’ve hated myself and bored myself. And yet, I’ve also laughed until tears have streamed down my face. I’ve been humbled and I’ve been moved to yet more tears by the kindness of others. That’s quite a lot of tears actually …. odd really for someone who doesn’t tend to cry much.

I’m utterly exhausted, both physically and mentally. I want to speak, I have so much to say and yet the words won’t come. I want to sleep, but my mind is preventing it. And I honestly don’t think anyone really understands at all. I’m not looking for praise so please don’t give it. I’m not wanting congratulations in the least. But I do want to thank each and every one of you for all your encouragement and support throughout this. But at the end of the day, all I have done is very simply to have tested both my mind and body to their absolute limits.

Having never wanted to see another canal, river or pine tree in my life, I am strangely missing them. Having bored myself stupid by my own thoughts for days, weeks, and having longed for conversation (preferably in English), I now crave solitude and peace.

I do however feel that this is normal. This is a normal reaction, behaviour and feelings and as with everything else, my favourite Persian saying comes into play … This too shall pass

But it’s done. This dizzy, ditzy blonde and (slightly) unhinged woman has done what she set out to achieve. And now, in truth all I want is to sleep.

Katie xxx

God bless you all and thank you for your support.

Not Far Now …

Well, I’m nearing the end of what can only be described as an extraordinary 26 days.

I have 7 left and short of Claude (my bicycle) and I completely running out of steam or getting squashed by a truck, we’re almost there. Being the eternal pessimist however, yet always full of hope (and no I don’t know how that works), I’m never one to count my chickens and it certainly ain’t over till the fat lady sings as they say.

Most of what has happened will be in ‘the book’, but suffice to say I have enough material to write a trilogy.

I have laughed until I tears have streamed from my eyes, I have cried, wailed, howled in pain and in fear, and screamed at myself to dig deep, not just once, but almost daily.

And the outcome? I have found a strength not just physically but mentally that I never knew existed. I have been alone and sometimes desperately lonely … and sometimes just simply desperate. I have lain in a tiny tent being battered by storms for 48 hours, convinced that at any moment in the darkest of nights it was all over.

And yet, I have found kindness and generosity, laughter and warmth. I have been propositioned by men both younger and about forty years older than me and have also discovered that camping au naturiste doesn’t mean a beautifully natural site in the pine forests, at all … I have been given a standing ovation, snarled at, snapped at and had to deal with handfuls of drunkards. And that’s only scratching the surface.

And for what you might well ask? Why would any sane person put them self through this? A personal challenge? A midlife crisis? Or perhaps simply a woman looking to find where the girl in her had gone. The girl who was once fearless and strong but somewhere through that inevitable process called life, became lost, became frightened of everything but most of all, became frightened of the negative voices in her head, the unutterably foul, burdensome and oppressive voice of a demon called Betty.

Katie xx

Has your past restricted your future? And how do you intend to remedy this?

Ps. If any of you have got this far with my drivel, you mightn’t believe me if I told you that I’m in a bar and La Vie en Rose is playing … I’m in heaven.

LIVING IN THE MOMENT …

As I embark on week two of my adventures travelling through France on a (now rather squeaky) bicycle called Claude, I have come to realise that everything here changes within moments.

The weather, the terrain, the incline of a track and energy levels and of course this all impacts upon ones mood.

One minute all is well and the weather is good, the sun is shining and there’s a light breeze. This can change before I have time to say, “Which pannier is my darn fleece in?” and before I know it, it’s not a fleece that’s needed, it’s an umbrella, Wellington boots and an oilskin waterproof all-in-one, complete with hat. Although I do sometimes smile to myself as I remember the Colonel telling me how many moons ago in training, they were all barked at with a, “Skin’s waterproof Sir!” Very true and sometimes quite a useful reminder.

The track is peaceful, cycling through the pine forests but lose focus and you lose your way. Within moments the track turns to a road with cars racing past and lorries roaring within a couple of feet and the confidence can be knocked within seconds.

As for getting injured, I’ve got more bruises and scrapes on my legs than when I used to muck about with horses!

And yet, it passes, and it passes quickly. Yes I know I harp on rather irritatingly about the old Persian saying This Too Shall Pass but it’s very true. It does pass, one solves the problem and moves on. No harm done and a little more wisdom gained. Character building one could say.

And as for the good times, the happy moments? Well they are held onto, treasured and clutched close to the heart. Nothing can take them away. Anything from a peach being given as un cadeau from a small French boy to three men saying, “Madame, we commend you” and solemnly and sincerely giving me a round of applause. Frankly I found myself ridiculously moved by both of these moments, and there have been many many more. It’s not really a big deal this cycling trip, (I’m no explorer or great adventurer!) unless perhaps you’re like me, slightly unhinged with a point to prove to nobody else but yourself and a desire to dig deep and find that wonderful quality that for me, was lost for a long time, courage.

Katie x

Have you ever lost your courage, and did you find it again? How?

Depression, Anxiety and Baby Steps

scenic view of the mountain
Photo by icon0.com on Pexels.com

I think one of the most enlightening findings to date is that the biggest challenges I’ve had to overcome are often those found to be festering in my mind.

 

Yesterday I deviated from my route of cycling alongside the Nantes – Brest Canal and took to the roads. The advantage being that it was more direct and I had a bit of catching up to do from a rather slack day two. The disadvantage (of course there’s always one) is that I therefore encountered hills. Not just a little ouch on the legs for ten seconds and it’s over, but serious back, leg and bottom breaking stuff that makes muscles holler in pain and the lungs scream. But where there’s an up there’s always a down and the freewheeling to follow is a respite – until the next one.

 

And then of course there’s always the danger of counting ones chickens before they’ve hatched… As I pushed Claude (my bicycle for new readers) up yet another ‘colline’ and looked around me I thought that frankly I couldn’t get any higher, and relief did rather start to wash over me. It was also the tail end of the day and nobody could surely be that cruel to put yet another challenge in my way.

 

Err … Mistake. As I rounded the bend, yes, a long freewheel down but then a monster, a beast of a long, not to be messed with, avoided or run away from, MOUNTAIN! (Fair enough, very, very large hill) …

 

Dear God even if I squeezed my eyes tightly shut, put my fingers in my ears and shouted, “La! La! La!” it would still be there to face me.

 

Remember the children’s book We’re Going on a Bear Hunt? Well, I had no option but to go over this bugger even if I walked the entire way. And neither tears nor a tantrum would make it magically disappear.

 

And then I remembered the phrase, baby steps.

 

You can’t eat an elephant burger in one go, so you break it up into bite-sized pieces.

 

Bearing in mind that my options at this point were fairly limited, I sensed this approach was worth giving a go. Firstly of course there had to be acceptance that there was going to be pain and secondly that it was going to be a lengthy form of pain.

 

But, little section by little section I tackled my mountain, puffing, heaving, fighting the bastard thing, sweating, panting, howling at times in sheer frustration …

Sometimes however from afar a hill can be perceived as a mountain as are many challenges in life and the prospect of undertaking such a task can be frightening in itself. But as with so many things, if it’s broken down it’s in actual fact not quite so terrifying.

 

Slowly, slowly, bit by bit I cycled, pushed and heaved my way up. When I had enough breath, I sang songs that I could only remember the first two lines of, so starting making up the rest … Gave up on that and sang happy birthday to me even though it wasn’t, but at least I knew the words. I pretended I was an incredible author and was a guest on a talk show (Graham Norton’s as it happens – yup, a repetitive fantasy) and all the wonderfully witty stories I would tell (hadn’t of course worked out what they were exactly), oh and the best one was doing a book signing at Waterstones in Picadilly – apparently the biggest one in Europe! And the queues were out of the door! “Oh I’m so sorry you’ve been waiting!” I’d smile coyly.

Oh what marvellous daydreams I have!

 

But on I battled. Keeping my mind preoccupied with thoughts of nonsense simply to keep away the constant reminder of the physical agony. There were no tears, just pain aching long and hard. Baby steps … baby steps …

 

But wait just a heart-in-your-mouth minute … can this really be so? Is that really, truly, dare I say it, the top? Have I climbed my very own Mount Everest?

 

Well blow me down with a bicycle pump! Indeed I have! And I grin, widely and congratulate myself with another two mouthfuls of crunchy baguette, and a glug of water and stand and look around me.

 

Distance is a remarkable thing … the colours of the land stretch out and become softly muted. Figures and any features or forms of human activity are now invisible to the eye and the complete silence gives way to solitude. A feeling of total peace from being utterly alone, drifts and washes softly over me. Perhaps I truly am in heaven.

 

Katie xx

 

What challenges have you got in your life at the moment that you’re afraid of? And how do you manage your fears? (Not by singing happy birthday I’m sure!)