Ecotherapy

” Exposure to nature and the outdoors as a form or component of psychotherapy “

Full springtime immersion, feeding spring lambs and poking my fingers deep into their already thick fleecy head.

Local walks stolen between school drop-off and the various obligations of the day. Over the grimy crossroad and away from the the chip-shop stink. Tripping down concrete steps littered in broken plates ’til I reach the river path. The quiet. The wild place right on my doorstep. Coming nose to nose with buds and blossoms. Feeling the tickle of the catkin pollen and fur on my cheek. Pressing my ear, my chest into the thick trunk of a tree. Guessing the things it’s seen. Whispering in it’s scaly ear… thank you.

Rare child-free weekend away. Decadent in both it’s fine hostelry and it’s long fell top walks. Hours spent drinking local ale in a cosy pub and talking, talking, talking. Baths for no other reason than the time to do so and a really large claw foot bath that needed filling with hot lakeland water. Afternoon snoozes. Books. Poems.

Muddying boots and roseying cheeks and gritting up bitten fingernails with wet moss as I scramble and scrape my way over rocky fells.

Heart thudding, breath heaving, boots marching. Up. Up. Up. Relentless. Telling myself to just keep putting one boot in front of the other and I will get there.

I will.

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Happy Things #7

Here I shall represent in pictures, a stubborn refusal to yield to the blues of the season.

They were pretty on their own, but then this happened and my heart went POP!

Hugging trees and snuggling up the ivy. I know – such a cliche… but you will find no apology here.

Hot choc dates with my girl in cafes with steamed up windows and free books.

Trying to run again. Or at least be active more. This particular run was fun. I got lost and had to run through a boggy stream. Both of which I feel are essential for a sound mind.

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On full blast, while dancing alone in the kitchen! Need I say more?

It’s all working by the way. Black dogs may bite at my heels but none of those fuckers are getting any where near my shoulders!

Habits for My Wellbeing

2 days in to reducing my antidepressants and I felt irritable, angry, just generally het-up. I’m not sure if it was the medication change or just other stuff. The news for example. Trump – say no more. Brexit – what a bloody cock-up. Theresa May makes me feel sick. Trump makes me want to hang my head in despair.

Was it other factors? We were all tired and run-down and Mister had a horrible cold. Girl child is not going to bed when we want her to and basically runs rings around us all day long (so it feels sometimes).

Am I missing some other purpose? My voluntary role has been pretty all consuming for the last year, but recently, things seem to have finally fallen into place. I have an enormous sense of satisfaction from this, but now that we don’t have weekly (daily…?) crisis meetings about one thing or another, I feel a bit bereft. I miss my committee buddies, and my messenger app pinging all day long and the sense of camaraderie that brings.

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Aside from these more general observations, there are four areas I have decided to prioritise.

Meditation & Mindfulness

I have practised these on and off over the last couple of years, but I know that to get the most from it, I need to practice everyday, so I treated myself to a Headspace subscription while it was on special offer. The mindfulness practice fell by the wayside in a sense, as I wasn’t scheduling, or following a program. Yet, I realised recently, that I do practice it. It’s just more spontaneous, more nuanced than following a set of instructions. I’m quite pleased to think that it has evolved into one of my little coping mechanisms. If I feel myself getting monkey-minded, I’ll focus on my breath for a minute, or watch the birds in the garden, or just close my eyes and listen to the sounds around me. Funnily enough, I’ve spent a lot of time since my mindfullness program, wondering how on earth to incorporate it into my life as a Mum. But the truth is, it’s tiny fragments of mindfulness throughout the day, rather than a big set aside block. And thats actually more beneficial for me.

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Sleep

Really, really, really, trying not to go to sleep during the day. I know lack of sleep (at night) exacerbates my low mood. However I am also guilty of confusing tiredness with low mood and heading for a lie down, thus beginning a vicious circle. My current experiment is to try and stay awake during the day, with gentle pottering and faffing. In CBT terms this is the thin edge of the ‘behaviour activation’ wedge. I think. I’m no pro…

Exercise

When a friend was having difficulties last year, I suggested we go for a walk, because I knew that the fresh air, the exercise would help her to feel better. In doing this I realised that I NEVER practice what I preach! Its so hard to motivate myself. That is my biggest challenge when I feel down. Several times a year I “resolve” to be more active and really make exercise a habit in my life. If I’m honest with myself though, what have I really done? I haven’t really made an effort. I have not made any sacrifice or overcome any hurdles to make it happen. I allow the barriers to stay just that, and make no attempt to break them down. I know from my CBT that the motivation does not come first in depression. You have to act first, even if the motivation is not there.

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Writing it Down

Hello WordPress. Hello lovely notebook. Hello note taking app. By the end of my recent therapy sessions, I came to the conclusion that it was essential for me to get my thoughts and feelings out of my head. Talking therapy is great, but comes at a cost. If I could afford it I would just go once a month and just have a big brain dump on somebody, but I can’t, so I have to re-commit to regularly writing things down. I’m not going to worry about where, or how good it is. I’m just going to do it. I KNOW from past experience that writing it all down, helps me to detangle and see things as they really are.

 

Wish me luck!

p.s. Sorry for the crap title….

…..and the mixed-up tense’s…..

….and any spelling mistakes…..

Shall I?

Shall I start this again? I asked myself loads of times over the last year. By ‘this’, I mean this thing that you are reading now. This blog. Whoever *you* are. So I suppose the question has now been answered because here it is.

This time last year was a flurry of activity. Girl-child had just reached the point of being really engaged and motivated to make stuff. To create. So we got messy and covered in glitter and went out collecting things that we could stick either together, or glitter all over. It felt wonderful. Quiet, gentle hours spent at the kitchen table together, creating.

And then came Christmas, and the flood, and multiple house moves and here we are one year later. Also, I got busy again. Like I was in the beginning, when D was a baby. This time, not nappies, purees and breastfeeding though. This time I volunteered, and in doing so, I entered into a commitment that is at once stimulating, rewarding, frustrating, time consuming and more responsibility than I ever thought possible for an unpaid role for parents. So I suppose I’ve concluded after a couple of months of feeling stressed, that I am missing an outlet. So in the absence of loads of time to get stuck into a visual project, the easiest and most flexible thing to do for me, is string words together. Again.

Already the pages of my private journal have started to fill up again after a very long period of nothingness. Because I missed having the little details of life to look back on, and becauseI miss this sense of untangling and perspective that comes from writing down my worries. In fact, I have been having some therapy again recently, which always helps with the untangling. Sometimes, as I leave the session, feeling lighter and surprised at my own realisations, I wonder if I shouldn’t just carve out one hour per week to scribble and save myself the money (not that I worry about that – it is money well spent) Carving out time is easier said than done. There are distractions outside of the four walls of the therapy room and reasons to let myself down, which don’t apply when I know somebody is waiting for me to turn up.

Showing up for myself is hard.

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My top 5 meat-free meals.

It’s Nation Vegetarian Week! Still. Just. We are not vegetarians, but we have gradually cut the frequency that we eat meat, primarily for health reasons. We eat more fish than we used to, and when we do have meat we try to buy higher welfare. I’ll be honest though – it’s not always convenient to source it as part of our weekly shop without going out of our way. We started the year trying to make January an almost meat-free month – saving meat only for weekends and trying new veggie recipes each week. I wanted to explore some different veggie options to the ones we usually fell back on. We did find some new recipes that we loved (Ottolenghi’s green couscous in ‘Plenty’) but were just too much of a faff for everyday cooking. Also, a fussy toddler meant I was making two separate meals, and her diet became very freezer based, so I reverted back to hearty stews and casseroles that we could all enjoy without too much fuss. I still go easy on the meat, but also bulk out with pulses, pearl barley and loads of veg.

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Anyway, back to the veg-a-thon. We still fall back on a few meat-free delights on a regular basis, so I thought I’d share them here. I’m not going to give you exact quantities, but I will link to recipes where I can.

Rustic veg pasta

Let us meat-eaters try not to get to stressed about this whole thing & reinvent the wheel, okay? But also, don’t just stew all your veg in tinned tomatoes and then feel disappointed with the whole watery mess and order a lamb curry delivery instead. You’ve got to think flavour and texture at every step and this method keeps the bite on the veg and brings out their flavours too. Yes it’s an extra pan, but who really cleans griddle pans anyway?

Chuck a few sliced garlic cloves into a couple of lugs of oil, maybe a pinch of dried chilli and a spoonful of smoked paprika to boot. Once it become fragrant, add a tin of chopped tomatoes. While this grooves on a low heat, prepare some courgette, onion and pepper for griddling. I like mine chunky, so I go for half moon-ish courgette slices, onion cut into eight segments with root still attached, and peppers in approximate 1″ x 2″ pieces. Some might say you should toss the veg in oil before griddling. I couldn’t possibly comment*. Actually I can – I don’t bother. The veg gets smokier quicker as long as you don’t try to move the veg about until its got properly black lines on it. Otherwise its all a sticky mess. Once griddled, chuck the veg into the sauce and season to taste. Lob some fresh basil in just before serving. I prefer Penne.

Lentil Dhal with Veg Shashlik

This is now one of our top meat-free meals. There are loads of variations on dhal. I can never remember which one I used the last time, so it’s different each time, but always scrummy. Amoung our shelf of chefs we have Hugh F-W’s one and Jack Monroe’s version. In my experience, there isn’t much that can’t be tweaked or saved at the final stage anyway, so just Google one and start trying. Just don’t scrimp on the salt.

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For the shashlik, cut your veg into large chunks, eg. onions quartered, small tomato halves, pepper quartered, courgettes 2cm thick slices. Use whatever you have or like – cauliflower & aubergine are other good flavours if you have them. Place chunky veg pieces into a bowl and coat in oil, a liberal sprinkling of paprika (I use a mix of regular and smoked) and a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice (or squeezy lemon if you don’t have fresh). Salt to taste – don’t scrimp! Once coated, griddle on a medium heat until cooked. You may have to batch cook this and remove to a warming drawer or low oven. Serve the shashlik with the dhal and rice.

I also like some fresh chopped tomatoes and onion, and some home made cucumber raita: Dice a few inches of cucumber into 1cm cubes, then sprinkle with salt. Leave for five or so minutes so the salt can help the juices to flow. Dollop on a couple of tablespoons or more of plain yogurt (I use Greek). Add a little splash of milk to thin if necessary – depends on your preference.

Broccoli Pasta

Ok this one is not 100% meat free due to the anchovies, but I have heard some people say you can make it without. I wouldn’t dream of it, but maybe you don’t like anchovies. Anyway, I like to court controversy, so here it is!

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It’s a Jamie Oliver recipe from Happy Days and is another regular on our meal plan. It’s thrifty, tasty and quick. At Christmas we subbed the broccoli for shredded sprouts and it was even better! A tip – I find I need a full tin of anchovies and more garlic and chilli than he suggests, but you know, thats just me. If Jamie can’t handle it….

Salad

Sounds boring doesn’t it? We call it mega-salad and in this house, it is never anything less. I’m not going to teach you to suck eggs here, but use your imagination and choose flavours you enjoy. There is a great infographic to help you hone your salad-building prowess. A typical meat-free example in this house would be Spinach leaves, cucumber, spring onions, green beans, soya beans, boiled eggs, toasted walnuts or pistachios, basil and mint leaves, roasted butternut or beetroot, grilled halloumi, toasted seeds. Sprinkled with fresh chopped red chilli and large salt flakes for crunch, then drizzled with a dressing like this one or this one or just a good shop-bought one. Don’t make life too difficult for yourself. The virtue of the salad outweighs any slacker-guilt you may experience.

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I know I said five meals, but the salad counts as at least two because it is so infinitely adaptable (see photographic evidence above).

So, there you have it carnivorous compadres. My meat-lovers meat-free must-munch meals. You’re most welcome.

*still loving House of Cards.

Coming clean.

I read a post this morning which inspired me to write this. Beth’s honest post on why it’s okay if you don’t enjoy every minute of being a parent mainly focuses on the newborn phase, but I think it’s still relevant in this toddler phase. Every stage of being a parent has it’s challenges, at that moment that I opened the link, it just made me feel like I was not alone.

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Mostly on this blog, I write about, and photograph the snippets of life that bring me joy. I sometimes write about parenthood and occasionally about Mum. Lately I’ve mainly being writing up my Happy Things lists and my instagram account reflects the same ethos. Why? Partially because we no longer have nap times and I’m too knackered in the evening to even think about anything else. But also, because I have to. I need to remind myself of those things because right now, I’m depressed. There. I said it*

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Looking back on that first year of motherhood I can’t help experience a pang of regret. About all the ways I believe I failed my daughter, all the things I did wrong, the expectations I’d set for myself that were not achieved, the tears, the endless days at home alone, depressed, but unable to put it into words. I feel guilty about not enjoying it more (you *should* enjoy it, right?) I feel guilty about not being able to see the positives so clearly, because when I scan the photo library for evidence, there were some really fun times (albeit with unkempt hair and unwashed clothes). I began writing this blog (and simultaneously wearing red lipstick) as a catharsis, as a way to motivate myself to have things to write about (i.e. get out of the house), and as a way to have something positive to look back on. I wish I had started it much sooner, because, those early posts offer me some concrete evidence that it wasn’t all bad. Indeed, things got much better.

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When I’m feeling low, I find it extremely difficult to write about anything apart from how rubbish I feel. So I blanket censor all of that stuff, because I worry about how family or friends might feel. I worry about the girl-child reading it one day and feeling upset or to blame. Frequently (daily), I wonder who my own mother really was – did she have these experiences? Is that why I get like this? Am I going to pass this on to my daughter? When I was about 8 years old, I saw my Mum through a crack in a door, crying. My Grandma was sat beside her, comforting her. I’d never seen my Mum cry before. To my knowledge she was the life and soul of the party, always encouraging me to get involved and make the most of life. As an adult, I miss her in every possible way. I miss her stories and I crave to know more about her. One of the reasons I began to write was to cope with losing my Mum in those early months. One of the reasons I kept writing was in case I died young and left any future children clueless as to what their mother thought, felt and experienced in life. So, I am going to try harder to write more honestly. I think it’s important for myself, my daughter, and for any struggling parent who (like I once did) stumbles across a blog post looking for some hope, some solidarity.

We are not alone.

*It’s like Voldemort. He whose name shall not be mentioned. Only the more I say it, the better I feel. Duh. Obvs, innit.

5 reasons I’m sticking with running.

(For now at least) I’ve tried running lots of times, and I haven’t really got on with it.

People, I’m proud to say I have been running regularly since January! Apart from being active (walking or cycling most places) it’s the longest time I’ve stuck to cardiovascular exercise since leaving school. Hurrah! So, here are the secrets of my (so far so good) success!

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1. I have a coach.

Of sorts. I’m using the NHS Couch to 5k program. It gradually builds stamina week by week. It’s simple – the podcast tells me when to run and when to walk. Crucially for me, the gentle start over the first 3 or 4 weeks has enabled me to form a habit of getting out and doing it, and has boosted my running confidence. Without the hideous, off-putting muscle soreness that I previously experienced with pushing myself to fast too soon.

2. I’ve changed my mindset.

I had one day in January, where I longed for hills and fresh country air and camping under starlight and adventures. I couldn’t make that happen in time to stop me going stir-crazy. One particularly blue day, I found myself sobbing for no reason on my way into town (“why is everything so dark? And cold? And where IS everybody? *sniffle sniffle*) So I made a split decision to go running. That night. In the freezing cold. It wasn’t about changing my body, there was no big build up or fanfare or drastic health kick. It was, and it is about getting out of the house by myself, breathing hard and deep, looking up at the stars and feeling alive.

3. I’m multitasking.

I began meditating last year, but since Christmas, I’ve found it difficult to fit in along all the other bits and bobs of life. But I know I feel better when I do it. So now, I meditate while I run. Either by watching the breath – listening to it’s rhythm alongside the pounding of my feet on the ground, or just feeling the air moving in and out of my airways. When my body starts to ‘hurt’ I start a body scan. Not only does the time pass really quickly, but I realise my body doesn’t really hurt, but my muscles are working hard and I feel alive.

4. Speed and affordability are King.

It probably takes me 45 – 50 minutes from the start of getting changed into my running gear to getting out of the shower. Decent trainers and sports bra are my only essentials. My running outfit is a ridiculous combination of holey old leggings, dayglo running top, and Girl Guide fleece gilet with “GuidesMaids” written across the back in gold glitter. From a hen do. If I start to struggle, I think of how silly I look and imagine my university mates having a good laugh about it and that makes me giggle as I’m running along. You might say thats my extra 1%. Thanks Crazies 😉

5. I let myself off the hook.

In the past, if I’ve have a week of illness or just scheduling clashes that meant I didn’t get out for a run, I tended to have unhelpful thoughts like “I might as well give up if I’m going to have to start from scratch again”. This time, I just pick up where I left off. Yes, it feels a bit tougher, but I get over it, and then wonder why on earth did I make such a fuss about it before? Duh.

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Overall, I’m feeling good about it. I’m not as evangelical about it as I can be about some things – I feel quite calm about it. It’s just something that I’m getting on with and I don’t really think about it until I’m doing it, but I always feel great afterwards. Mentally and physically.

Now, where did I put that foam roller…?

Have you set to any big exercise goals this year? How is it going? What has helped you to stay on track? Leave comments below, I’d love to hear your experiences too.

Mami 2 Five