Manila …

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Taking the first steps outside of the aircraft and into the air, the heat and humidity lunged with full force into my body and lungs. A strange feeling of a pressurised osmosis raises my temperature within moments until there is simply clammy skin and a few damp tendrils of hair on my neck and a slightly unpleasant feeling of losing a little control.

For a day we walked around the city of extremes. The poverty was to be expected and yet when it is lying in front of you on the roads there is of course the instinctive want to put the world right, to scoop up the filthy naked babies and their parents from where they lie and give them some of what I, and so many of us, have.

There are families living in the dirt beside the crazy traffic, the men cooking over tiny fires whilst the women scrub at clothes in dirty buckets of water. A baby sleeps, her naked sister squats and urinates a short distance away whilst the boy plays in the dust with one broken toy. And what do I think? I think of my son’s old scooter left outside our house for the dustbin men to take away, just last week, in a sorting out of old toys and clothes. I think of the carelessness, the frivolity of our society, the excessive food, clothes and the throwaway mentality.

I see the stray dogs and cats; old, young, desperately thin and more often than not, injured. I think of the shameful cost of buying the latest most fashionable breed of dog in England. I see filth and chaos, the high rise buildings alongside the shacks, I smell the drains competing with the sweetness of frangipani, and whilst the senses are being attacked from every angle, I see two tiny barefoot women under a makeshift covering talking together.

The older one has her eyes half closed as she lies sprawled on the cracked concrete. The younger one fans her and as I pass, she looks up at me and grins widely, her lined face lighting up. “Welcome to Manila” she beams and waves a bony hand, never pausing from her fanning. I smile back at her, pause beside her, unsure, wanting to help, not wanting to offend, but she waves me on, the moment has passed and she is already chatting again to the woman, fanning away the flies from her face and making her more comfortable by creating the lightest of breezes on her skin.

And what do I wish for? I wish that in the future, in the dark days, I remember her; her smile, her dry, dusty, thin skin stretched taut over her fragile bones and I remember that my life is so very easy and sometimes it’s good just to keep a little perspective.

Katie xx

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P.R.O.M.I.S.E.

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Make this promise every single day.

Make a commitment to yourself, your mind and body. Make a promise to put on those rose-tinted glasses that you once, where the world was a wonderful and happy place.

What have YOU done for your mental health today? Can you make this promise to yourself?

P. Prescriptions

If you need them, take them. If they’re not working, change them. Your doctor is your friend – your job is together to find what works for you. And if the doctor doesn’t work, change them.

R. Re-setting The Thought Patterns

Go to therapy, talk to a psychiatrist, talk to a psychologist, learn about CBT and practise, practise, practise every day until your brain starts to ‘unlearn’ the bad habits and learn the good. It works.

O. Outside

Get outside, get some fresh air in your lungs and find the light. Just to let you know, bright moonlight gives you 1 lux, normal living room lighting gives you 100 lux, but being outside on a sunny day gives you 20,000 to 100,000 lux … monumental difference and we need it more than most.

M. Mindfulness

Yoga, meditation, deep breathing, whatever you need to practise daily to start to control the anxiety .. Nb Don’t do the audio cds in the car. I nearly crashed I was so relaxed, and they keep telling you to close your eyes … enough said.

I. Instil proper eating habits

Invest in your body. Think you can live on processed food and feel good? Cooking is for everyone, for you and your family. If your own parents have brought you up on Macdonalds, crisps and ice cream, shoot them (Nb Yes that is a joke) or better still, educate them. If your mind and your body is out of sorts, it’s going to be even harder to get back on an even keel. (Ginger nuts don’t count as long as the whole packet isn’t eaten in one sitting.)

S. Social Interaction

Have a proper chatter and a natter with at least one other human being every single day. The dog does not count, neither does talking to yourself.

E. Exercise

Whatever floats your boat as long as it raises your heart rate and gets the endorphins and dopamine kicking in. Find something, anything that you’re going to stick at.

Make the promise that you’re going to do this every single day and see through those rose-tinted glasses …

Katie x

“And The Sun Shineth …”

 

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London is bathed in the comforting warmth of the spring sun and whilst the pavements are a multitude of light and dark stretched and tangled streaks from the dappled shade of the budding trees, the air is still. My son and I are walking towards another coffee shop to find somewhere to tap away the rambling nonsense which fills the fluffy void between my ears; I am feeling a wonderful sense of being able to breathe and relax and enjoy just this very moment in time.

The world isn’t perfect, parts of my past are black and painful, the future is of course unknown and yet …. and yet … at this moment I feel happy. I am loathe to point out the stain on my character for all and sundry to see, however, I must confess that it’s odd to feel happy when my default setting is the polar opposite.

“Hardships there are but the land is green and the sun shineth”

(As stated in the government Ministry Paper 28 relating to the Jamaican flag.)

The gold recalls the shining sun, black reflects hardships, and green represents the land. It was slightly altered in 1996, but for me, the simplicity of this statement sums up my state of mind … yes, there are hardships and troubles to endure, but the world is good right now and the future I hope is as rosy as it can be.

And what of you? Is your mind akin to the Jamaican flag or am I just barking mad?

Katie xx

Time …

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My late mother’s beautiful clock was broken on our previous move, and despite a lengthy stay in the clock hospital, it never recovered. However, as I sit around the boxes stacked up high, I can hear a gentle ticking. And every half hour the beautiful ting, ting, tinging chime of mother’s clock can be heard from the depths of one of those boxes. The fact that it has got the hour completely wrong is immaterial and merely receives a raised eyebrow from the Colonel following a glance at his watch, and a smile from me.

Just the familiar sound of ticking is comforting. I have missed it, and the gentle, regular sound takes me back to my mother’s house and the peace and serenity that prevailed there. The safety and reassurance. The complete quiet, except the ticking of the clock.

So this is mindfulness! …. At last I understand it.

In a troubled world where nothing is certain and the future is a fictional imagining based on what we’ve worked for, what we hope for and a smattering of luck, sometimes the constancy and familiarity of a person or even a silly old clock ticking along in the background is not only soothing, but part of the multifaceted foundations essential for a balanced life.

Katie

Saying goodbye

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This weekend we had a final lunch with the Colonel’s work colleagues whom, over the last year and a half, have welcomed me into their world. The world of the military. A life where there are rules, many unspoken, there is hierarchy, also unspoken and there is a system. A system that works. It is a life of order and precision in a world of chaos, unsettled politics and endless conflicts.

Their kindness have at times overwhelmed me and their patience never-ending, when I have asked them yet again to translate the letters and numbers that relate to places, people and events which dominate conversations. I try to remember that they work on the 24 hour clock and punctuality is expected and the norm, whereas ‘fashionably late’ is simply ‘intolerably late’.

Words are chosen carefully so that any potential confusion is eliminated. Of course this is all drummed into them from the very beginning of their training. Precise and clear instructions and not a lot of waffle. It’s laughable to try to imagine CGS (Chief of the General Staff) issuing vague orders … it simply would never happen! The chaos that would ensue…!

I recall one early meeting with them, and as the Colonel went to the bar to order more drinks, he asked a colleague to ‘look after me’ as he left my side for a just few minutes. This was executed naturally and smoothly without a pause in the conversation and said colleague without any hesitation chatted happily, asking me questions until the Colonel returned to me and he then slipped quietly away. From young subalterns they learn how to look after their guests. They have by then, enough life experience and confidence to be able to talk easily and more than enough manners to engage with their companions and make everyone around them feel comfortable as though their guests are as interesting as Mandela or Gandhi, as amusing as Chaplin or Robin Williams and as respectful and important to them as their own wife or mother. Manners maketh man and all that …

They have a unique sense of humour and a banter all of their own, formulated from extreme situations within the cramped metal confines of tanks or in any of those dire places in 45 degree heat in full combat gear, where at any moment they can be under attack with IEDs causing complete and lethal devastation. Where they, and they alone, are responsible for keeping each other alive as one of them begs for a trigger to be pulled as the tourniquet is tightened further and his muffled screams fill the dusty air yet again, but knowing that it’s only minutes before he’ll bleed out. There are fine sand covered body parts spread over the filth as they wait for the longed for throbbing of the chopper to take them within the golden hour, to relative safety. Time is the killer now.

So whilst I pack my boxes, organise and make lists, and my anxiety and stress levels are wanting to creep up the scale, I think of those soldiers and officers and am able to keep it marginally into perspective. It is simply moving again. That’s all. We all have different levels of pressure and stress that we are able to cope with, mine being fairly low. But that’s ok, I’m working on it. And once I’ve waved goodbye to our lovely home here and I’ve managed to pack up the house without tears, tantrums or actually packing the Colonel into a box, I’d say I’ve done rather well …

Katie xx

56. A Massage For Depression?

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I’ve been reading through my posts lately and had rather forgotten about this one – I hope you don’t mind me reposting!

Research says that a part of the treatment of depression and anxiety is to indulge in massage. Fabulous! However, I’m a middle class, middle aged woman and I don’t just take my clothes off for anyone. I’m rather British and frankly going to a therapist for the first time was bad enough – stiff upper lip and all that. Talking about one’s feelings? Are you clinically insane? I went to a Victorian boarding school on the southernmost cliffs of England where crying oneself to sleep was the norm, but one never talked about it.

So to be completely starkers, be kneaded and pummelled like a lump of dough was definitely going to take some pluck and courage.

The Technical Paragraph … skip this para if you have a low boredom threshold (I do if it’s any consolation).

The Mayo Clinic claim that a 60 minute massage can lower cortisol (the hormone that’s produced when stressed) by an average of 30 per cent, (although the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine found the therapy lowered levels by 53 per cent … bit of a difference but it’s all going down and that’s what matters in my book). And when cortisol lowers, serotonin and dopamine increase. The combination of all this thereby boosting the body’s ability to fight off pain, anxiety and feelings of sadness. Win, win, win! Definitely worth ripping my clothes off for.

Ok … enough of the dull bit … carry on now.

So off I trundle to visit ‘Michelle’. Michelle is stunning. Michelle has a sing-song voice calming voice and in the warm, whale music of her scented room, I lie on a bed with only a couple of tiny towels covering the important bits. Now, to be clear, prevention.com say that the word massage comes from the Arabic word mass’h which means “press gently“. I since have looked into this further, and there are definitely some discrepancies over this. But as far as I am concerned … “gently” sounds good.

Are you joking? Face down with my head poking through a hole in the bed, I am oiled, squeezed, stretched, pummelled and beaten within an inch of my life. And I feel fan-bloody-tastic! I feel slightly drunk and my legs certainly can’t hold me up. No wonder the Chinese have been doing this for the last 2,500 years …. who needs alcohol when you have Michelle in your life?

I’m beyond relaxed, lying legs akimbo, tiny towels long since disappeared and I suspect that at some point my damp cheek indicates that I might have dribbled, so given the option of sliding my oily body and matted hair (yes, the head got a going over too) into my clothes again, I slurrily asked if she could perform any other beauty miracles on me. “A leg and bikini wax mightn’t go amiss” she said in her sing-song voice just a tad too quickly. But hey, I’m agreeing to anything and with whale music drifting through me she paints me with warm soothing wax until …. ARGHHHH! Holy God …. “Just a bit nippy!” she laughs as every morsel of hair is ripped from my below my waist. The tiny towel which had once covered my modesty is now gripped between my clenched teeth whilst I, unable to utter a word, make Neanderthal moaning noises as she chatters away happily about her camping holiday last summer.

An hour later I return home, with a gait akin to John Wayne, resembling an oil slick from the waist up and a bald, plucked chicken from the waist down. All benefits of my massage long since gone. And when I delicately crawl my fragile body into bed and cuddle up next to the Colonel as his arms wrap around me, he suddenly pauses, then lifts the duvet, peers down and reappears with a grin. “Don’t even think about it!” I mutter with veritable force from between clenched teeth. He looks like a berated puppy but I am practising deep breathing so I think he thinks I’m asleep, and even he wouldn’t risk the wrath of a hostile, woman in recovery from a major ordeal.

Katie xx

55. Dirty Weekend!

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Ooooh! Advice to anyone …. when your husband is just a teensy bit tipsy, starts telling you how much he loves you and suggests a romantic weekend away, say yes and start packing.

Which is how I now come to be in the most glorious hotel overlooking the snow-covered Cairngorms with a bed that could fit an entire family plus a couple of dogs, and a bathroom to die for. I’m writing this, The Colonel is watching the rugby … can things get any better?

But what about the anxiety? Did I stress about leaving the house, hiding the silver in the fridge, the potato basket and the wellington boots (until the Colonel thought we should bring them with us, so I had to empty them again … I managed to ignore his raised eyebrows and twitching mouth this time). Did I stress about the fridge freezer setting fire, or have to go and check three times that the front and back doors were closed, locked and double bolted? Did I worry that I’d forget to pack something of vital importance and then have to drive back, collect it and go through all the door closing, locking and double bolting three times more?

Well, I certainly thought about these things, but I know a good opportunity when I see one and the best thing was that I had no time to stress. I didn’t have days and days for the thoughts to fester and grow in my mind in a downward spiral until I’d be dreading the event. Because to be honest, that’s what usually happens. Actually, it’s what always happens. I’m pretty sure that’s what happened when we last went away … too much time to think about it all, and whoosh! My mind went on a fictional nightmare of an adventure of its own.

To make matters even better, we went via Edinburgh with its stunning castle, cobbled streets and abundance of cashmere and tweed shops. I’m afraid the shallow side of me took over, the shops won, the tourists were pushed aside and I am now the proud owner of a discounted cashmere cardigan and a half price stunning, yes darn stunning, tweed, fitted, just above the knee coat! Sod anxiety …. bring on the shopping.

I tend to be a very nervous passenger in the car … the hangover from a nasty accident in the late ’80’s. I have a tendency to shriek rather a lot and put my hands over my eyes. Apparently it’s rather off putting to the driver.

The drive north from Edinburgh however was glorious. The vast and bleak open hills and spaces, barren and devoid of the softening effect of any trees. It looks so inhospitable, almost frightening. They’re exposed and raw without a single nook or cranny in which to hide from the biting winds and harsh weather. It’s no wonder that nothing but the toughest of plants grow here, and any that do grow, grow low, low to protect themselves.

The roads are narrow and twisting and from the great heights we then drop down into the forests. Within the endless dense forests, the ground is a mass of thick leaf litter and pine needles and there are rocky streams meandering through. From time to time we pass tiny villages and hamlets with houses all built of the same solid thick stone with slate roofs and chimneys spiralling smoke. Mossy stone walls follow the roads with occasional stone pillars and lodges indicating the entrance to yet another vast estate. I try to look down the driveways, but they’re miles long and hidden from sight from nosy southerners like myself.

The people who live here are miles and miles from anywhere. It’s remote and they’re tough. I wonder whether they suffer from anxiety or whether they have more important things to worry about, like if the sheep are lambing and stuck in snowdrifts, or whether the generator will work properly when the electricity fails again. Perhaps they worry about how much food they have stored in their larders, but somehow I suspect that their log stores are full, the larders are bursting and the fires permanently lit.

Perhaps I need to get things just a teensy bit into perspective and stop worrying as to whether an axe-wielding thief is going to break into the house, rifle through the potatoes, find the silver and set fire to the house, and instead spend more time in this beautiful place and get filling my larder and log store and frankly write a book. Bet I wouldn’t have quite so much to stress about then, and if it all gets too much, I can put on my lovely new tweed coat and stroke my discounted cashmere cardigan. Bliss!

Katie xx