January Detox

This is probably not the blog you are expecting.

2018 is a year for detoxifying my body image. For changing my attitude towards the way my body looks; towards the food I eat.

I’m taking some steps – and most of them are pretty fun!

On 19th January I’m hosting a ‘leftover Christmas spirits’ cocktail party – after a local screening of Embrace

The Embrace film had a huge impact on me last year. Imploring women and girls (and to be fair, this applies to guys too) to spend the middle years of our lives loving and even relishing our bodies the way we do as children.  Pensioners in the film spoke with great acceptance and gratitude for their bodies – focusing more on what their body could still do and less on how it looked!

What freedom we could enjoy if we experimented with these ways of looking at ourselves. My body is capable; my body is fun; my body can do all this cool stuff!

This month I’ll be running one morning after school drop-off. Over tea, my running buddy and I will be taking part in an online  course produced by Taryn Brumfitt, the woman behind Embrace. We want to check in with our motives – are we running to be fitter, stronger, mentally refreshed or is it all about being ‘bikini-ready’?

Wild swimming will continue to be a completely freeing body image experience. Frankly if you’re going to walk into the winter sea with a swimming cap, wetsuit boots and a bikini on you really don’t need to give a cr*p what you look like as most passers by will think you are a nutter anyway.

I’m challenging myself this year to post more videos of my swims. Now, the ‘rear view’ as I enter the water isn’t remotely reminiscent of a Roxy surf girl ad – but the thing is I feel as free and connected to the world as these girls look, so why not share the joy?

a23c471436ad00e1a231ec0c83491d9d--surf-fashion-grunge-fashion

For Christmas my mum bought me a copy of the River Cottage Even More Veg cookbook. Everything in there looks so delicious and I am looking forward to planning meals that make our Riverford  box vegetables the star of the show.

Being on Olanzapine means that thinking about healthy eating is important as I’m at a higher risk of type 2 diabetes. This year I want to do this in a way that doesn’t put sweet foods and white carbs on a ‘banned list’ which I’m secretly hoping will reduce my waistline (and even more secretively enjoying the self-denial and control)

I want to model for Eldest a free and open approach to food, focusing on taste, enjoyment and variety. On the fact that a bikini body is never, ever worth hating yourself for every morsel of enjoyment.

And of course, I want to create more soup recipes!  I published a one-off cookbook for my friend this year and I’ll leave you with one of the quotes;

“Only the pure in heart can make a good soup” Ludwig van Beethoven

I’m hopeful this means my heart is in pretty good shape… More in January Detox #2

 

 

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Grace

We had an unusual talk for a festive day today.  After a beautiful, blustery Boxing Day walk and a couch-to-5K run for me, our conversation turned to funerals.  Little One had been asking about the grave stones she saw as we passed a church, remembering her Great-Grandpa’s burial early this year.

I confessed to my family that I already have a file on my laptop entitled ‘Funeral’.  I didn’t aim to write this in a macabre way, but in the hope of arranging things to celebrate good memories when the day arrives (hopefully many, many years in the future). 
Maybe having been very close to taking my own life has led me to think about things this way.  When the time comes, I want my family to experience grieving in the most thankful way possible.  It could have been so terribly different.

One of the things I’d love is for a family member or friend to sing these verses from the U2 song ‘Grace’ as part of the service.

Grace, she takes the blame
She covers the shame
Removes the stain
It could be her name

Grace, it’s the name for a girl
It’s also a thought that changed the world
And when she walks on the street
You can hear the strings
Grace finds goodness in everything

Grace, she carries a world on her hips
No champagne flute for her lips
No twirls or skips between her fingertips
She carries a pearl in perfect condition

What once was hurt
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stings
Because Grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things

Grace makes beauty out of ugly things

 

We listened to this song on Spotify in the car and I got a pang thinking about my Christmas Eve blog.

Do I believe in a Grace which makes beauty out of the ugliness of the Trump administration?  Out of the ugliness in the way I feel justified to judge the religious people I consider to be judgmental?

Grace finds beauty in everything… not only those who share my world-view.

This should be part of the message at my funeral – that Grace not only found me, but Grace changed me.

One of the three

trinity

You were one, one of the three
One in three must find some peace
You were one, one of the three
I need proof before belief
Oh, well, you just knew they’d come for you
So it was suicide, suicide
Oh, well, now you got just what you want
I hope you’re satisfied

One of the three

You were one, one of the three
One in three must find some peace
You were one, one of the three
I need proof before belief
Oh, well, I guess you’re not to blame for what they’ve
Done in your name, in your name
Oh, well, it’s a shame you got so famous for a sacrifice

One of the three

James, 1993

I’ve been pondering my faith again this Christmas time.  There was sadness and anger in Eldest’s face today in the pews.  We went to church for the first time in a long while.  For me today, there was peace in the liturgy.  Much more than I find in guitars and drums, worship that tends to focus on personal happiness as a natural consequence of faith.

It’s pretty hard for Eldest not to question God’s goodness, even existence.  She’s watched me cry out for mercy, wracked with pain in the midst of depression.  Five episodes in her twelve years as my daughter.  She’s learning that so many of her friends are hurting, with complicated lives and broken relationships. She’s living in a word rife with Islamophobia, political polarization and economic insecurity.

For me, it’s more nuanced.  I’ve definitely spent some years being angry and disillusioned – with both God and the church.  Yet there’s still something that draws me back to the fragile hope I feel when I think about God in human form.

The James song hits me right where it hurts at the moment –  I guess you’re not to blame for what they’ve done in your name.  The rhetoric of the Trump administration’s brand of evangelical ‘Christianity’ sickens me to my stomach.  The idea of a monopoly on Truth, the willingness of voters to ignore misogyny, racism and open hatred because of a stance on homosexuality or abortion.

But you see, that’s where the person of Jesus draws me again.  He was a fierce critic of the religious leaders of the time, who were more concerned that he’d broken a scriptural rule of healing on the Sabbath than they were about the brokenness of the people he sought to heal.

When I looked for an image of the Trinity from the film “The Shack”, the most frequent links were angry articles decrying its ‘heresy’.  For daring to portray God as a woman.  For daring to hope that God wants to see everyone healed of emotional pain and brought back into a relationship with the parent, son and Spirit.  For implying that maybe each person of the Trinity suffered on the cross.

Why are some Christians so scared of the idea of a God who is good and fair beyond our understanding?  Of a God who defies definition in human terms?  Of a God who transcends gender, despite the ineptitude of our pronouns to describe that?  Of a God who is love therefore whose very existence is relationship.

Why reduce the mystery of Jesus, fully God and fully human, to a simplistic ‘they’re going to hell and we’re going to heaven’ dichotomy?

I want to say to my friends and readers in the USA, and evangelical churchgoers here in the UK; I know Christianity isn’t as one-dimensional as this for many of you.  I know that we may differ on human issues but I hope we stand united in a belief in the goodness of Jesus – the angels declared his birth to be Good News for all humanity.  I can’t really say it better than Rachel Held Evans so I’ll leave you with her brave and beautiful blog.

 

Polarized

polarized

Life through a polarizing lens,

Contrast intensified

Darkness, darker.  Deeper

Pulling me under the water

Colour (and some may say)

Beauty heightened

Sunset full of the Spirit’s kiss

The clouds portent

Perhaps a storm is coming

 

This poem is something of a meditation on the diagnostic label versus the experience of bipolar disorder (if in fact that’s a thing)

 

An Inclusive Nativity

This is my dream

Angels with Asperger’s flap their hands

The audience hang on the words of stammering staccato narrators

Gabriel’s port-wine stained face is radiant with joy

The troublesome Holy Couple lay their babe tenderly in the straw

And we feel As One.

nativity

I know I’m not going to be alone in the community of special needs parents who feel a little heartbroken during these last weeks of term.  The empty school tray at Christmas Post collection time.  The Christmas cards that perhaps can’t be written independently.

I can’t help but feel that the nativity play could be such an opportunity to model to our children than no-one needs to be marginalised.  After all, isn’t that what the humility of the stable points to?  Kings and shepherds, Gold and sheep.  All are welcome.

I’m writing while it’s still raw.  I left the school hall having watched my last ever nativity play tonight. Only that wasn’t the reason for the tears.

Little One was a sheep, slender bare feet peeping out from her black leggings.  They’d lost her sheep headband that she had made at school.  She hadn’t been able to tell us that we were supposed to make her another one at home.

She is positioned by the door, TA close to hand.  We strain to see her enjoying the songs she’s been singing in random lines over the dinner table or in the car.  Her moment… up onto the stage, we try to catch her eye.  The Year 1 sheep come to the front for a song, but the Year 2 sheep don’t join them.  She sits beautifully, arms crossed, back upright.  Glancing up at the stars above her, awaiting the cue.  She has a chance to ‘baa’, sitting dutifully with her shepherds.  Time for the next number, she leaves the stage.

There are parents of other sheep out there tonight.  Little One wasn’t the only sheep singled out to miss an opportunity to sing or dance on stage.  But in this last year she’s learned so much and is able to be part of a performance, to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other children, to remember a few of the words.

It would have been so precious to us if she had been given the chance to “access the curriculum” in this – an area where she has strengths and abilities.  Love of music, intrinsic rhythm and the biggest smile you have ever seen on a sheep.

I’m keeping my dream.

 

 

 

 

 

The sorrow beneath the surface

He will wipe every tear from their eyes,

and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain

Revelation 21:4

sorrow

The thing is, there is sorrow.  So very close to the surface… we don’t often look for it in each other but most of us know it’s there in us.

Words we never said to those we loved.  Hurts we carry from our childhood.  Dreams that died under the pressure of our lives.  Loss, longing, love.  Unemployment, chronic illness, debt.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg even in our comfortable Western lives.

Yesterday my train journey to Devon was delayed by a fatality on the line in Darlington.  Just a month after a 51 year old man took his life on the same stretch of railway.  Just six months after another man aged 30 died on this line.

What I didn’t yet know as I sat down to read Faith Unraveled is that the lady sitting next to me had been widowed by suicide.

Some of you may know that my own faith has been unraveling over some years.  I’m done with a Christianity that offers blithe answers to the ‘problem of suffering’.  I am not ready yet to let go of the hope that our tears could someday be wiped away.  But we’re not living in someday, we’re living here.  A planet of individuals who know what it is to carry sorrow in one form or another.

The lady sitting next to me asked me a bit about my book, and what I do for work in the NHS.  When I talked a bit about using my experience of mental illness to teach others, there was something like relief on her face.  She poured out her story of the loss of her husband, in his fifties.  Earlier this year he took his own life after suffering from severe anxiety.

I have no answers, but I am finding the ability nowadays to sit with sorrow.  To hear this lady’s pain and not to try and say something uplifting or hopeful because it would ease my own discomfort.  To be a comfort just by being willing to hear her story.

There is death and sorrow and pain.  We don’t like to talk about these things but they are part of humanity.  I want to continue to learn to be a person who can listen, and accept sorrow just as it is.

Transition

During childbirth, there’s a phase called transition.  You move from riding contractions to the urge to push.  Often, this is a time when you feel utterly convinced that you can’t do this any more.  That your body wasn’t designed for this degree of effort.

I remember the sips of cold orange squash my husband gave me through a straw as I hit the wall during my own transition in labour just over 12 years ago.  The sweet, icy energy and the tenderness of a husband in waiting.  I stepped out of the birthing pool and into the bathroom of the delivery suite. From there my body took over.  Determination, resurgence of physical strength, intense focus.

And then she was here.  The moment of tearful announcement from my husband:

“it’s a little girl”

Holding her, wrapped in a towel, eyes dark as ink.  Our new life begun.

liminal

I find myself in another ‘liminal’ space now that the little bundle has begun her life as a high school student.  On the boundary between being needed and being in the way.  Between parent and confidante.  Sometimes the ‘cool mum’ who her friends like to be around, sometimes completely out of touch.

It’s definitely been unsettling, but most days it’s kind of fun.  Our new life begins.

 

Struggle

brain hurts

Little One is struggling.

Her ‘no’ is louder, more insistent – the frustration palpable when we can’t accommodate the refusal.  When it’s getting dressed for school.  When it’s time to go to bed and we can hear the exhaustion pouring out in her tears and protests.

Her body is stronger, like a bowstring tightened in anticipation of conflict.  We tighten in response – doing our best to placate and soothe, to make it clear what’s happening next, to avoid friction.  But all the while steeling ourselves, wondering how we’ll handle it the next time.  Questioning ourselves.  Feeling weary and tense.

School is boring.  School ‘makes my brain hurt’.  Maybe the world feels like a set of unattainable expectations at the moment.  I don’t know…

I’m not going to ask myself for solutions today.  I’m just going to feel.  I feel sad, a bit tired, and a bit lost for ideas.

As parents we are sometimes caught up in the struggle, sometimes able to see our way through it.  Little One had to go out with Dad and her Beaver Scout troop to join the Remembrance Day parade today.  It’s cold out there, late in the day, and I understand why staying at home seemed a far better option. For the rest of the day, Jaffa Cakes and TV on the sofa with warm blankets will probably get us all through.

 

The evolution of not giving a cr*p

benetton

Picture the scene – 1988 in the overheated foyer of a local swimming pool.  The place is heaving with high school students waiting for our swimming lesson.  I’m holding the plastic carrier bag containing my swimming things down low to the ground, hoping that this time it won’t be the subject of derision.  A Tesco bag was nearly as bad as a Grandways bag (ask your parents/a friend from Northern England over the age of 40)

The Pretty Ones have their green Benetton bags slung over their shoulders.  A proud marker of parental spending on the latest in European chic (or so it seemed to my insecure teenage mind).

Let’s fast-forward to 2017 – my first ‘adult improvers’ swimming lesson.  I have a fond chuckle to myself as I lift the reusable Aldi shopping bag from the passenger seat.  I have 3-weeks’ worth of stubble on my legs, unshaven armpits and a lovely Animal bikini that I bought on a recent mums’ surfing weekend.  I’m about to inhale serious amounts of water through my nose as I attempt front crawl for the first time.  I probably look rather strange in my black prescription goggles.  And I truly, deeply, do not give a cr*p about any of these things.

The lesson was one of the best things I’ve done for myself in a long time, and I can’t wait to go back next week.  I might even shave my legs, purely for streamlining purposes of course!