A moment of calm in a social media storm

Slow down, you move too fast
You got to make the morning last
Just kicking down the cobble stones
Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy

I found myself at the sea again today, sea-softened pebble stones under my feet.  Immersing myself in the cool churning water it felt beautiful to just have space.  The wind murmured ‘restore’ to me.  The sun kissed my face.

My brain finds it terribly easy to run on warp speed.  It’s kind of why psychosis crept up on me ten years ago.  I often jump from one stream of thought to another, films and music intertwine, I get incredibly passionate about politics one minute and suddenly realise I’m in tears about the Kids in Crisis programme I watched last week.

I think social media is tricky for a brain like this.  Especially Twitter.  It’s been an interesting insight into how overworked my brain becomes now that I’m spending a month campaigning hard on social media.  Sea swims and extended screen breaks are going to be really important.  A period of more intense busyness makes me look forward to the gap year even more. Come July 29th I’ll be clicking an all important button – ‘delete’ on my Twitter account.

Turn on, tune in, drop out

Music is becoming an increasingly important part of my gap year preparations.  In the transition from CDs to streaming and Spotify, I’d kind of forgotten how much I enjoy pottering around the house with music on and how relaxing it is to cook or do the packed lunches with some tunes.  I’d also forgotten how much I love to sing.  Last night I took to the mic for the first time in about ten years, and sang some folk songs with Gallant Grandpa at Boston Tea Party’s Play On.  It was great to sing about feisty young women of the 17th century, and I tested out my red lippy again which was fun.  It definitely is like putting on an instant slick of confidence (thank you YSL!)

Going to see live music was a massive part of my teenage years in Leeds, and I had the privilege of seeing both Madonna and U2 outdoors at Roundhay Park.  I now have two live music events to look forward to in the gap year – The Dixie Chicks at the O2 next year and Farmfest in August.  After singing last night, GH and I watched a brilliant BBC documentary about the evolution of music festivals and it really inspired me about the heady mix of hope, politics, fields, music and dancing (Bad Brain means no recreational drugs on my menu!)

For the last few months I’ve been challenging my vocal cords and sight-reading skills in a local jazz choir, Harmoni.  It’s so much fun practising discordant harmonies and lots of “doo-be-doos” as we work through the arrangements together.  I’ll be getting out that red lippy again for our performance at the local community centre in July.  Using the musical side of my brain is so relaxing and such an antidote to busy days of writing as I finish my contract with Action on Postpartum Psychosis.  If music be the food of love, let’s play on.

Barefoot in the kitchen

With my trusty ancient copy of Cordon Rouge in hand, I’ve spent a peaceful afternoon cooking today.  A dear friend is going away on holiday and I wanted to make something delicious for her to take to the cottage.  I’ve been practising ‘slowment’ as I cook, a concept shared with me by a wonderful colleague from my Rethink days.  Bare feet touching the floor, I’ve taken the time to dice the vegetables slowly and purposefully, enjoying every sensation.  With accompaniment from Molten Meditation it’s felt a very Zen way to cook, in comparison with my normal flurry of pots and pans.  It’s a rare treat for me to take time out to cook without Little One tangled around my feet asking if she can help out!

The Cordon Rouge cookbook came from a (sadly now departed) cafe called The Red Herring from my Newcastle Uni days. The vegetarian and vegan food there was out of this world, and the whole place ran on ‘love, pure love’ as a worker’s co-operative.  When I cook one of their recipes it instantly transports me back to the feeling of wellbeing and comfort promoted by the delicious food and the staff.  Recently, I’ve found my goodgirlgapyear solution to Red Herring nostalgia; Herbies vegetarian cafe in Exeter.  The most fantastic dhal and delicious salads, an incredibly warm welcome (especially for Little One) and free cakes with a drink before 12pm.  It’s the perfect way to round off my day when I pop into Exeter for yoga.

What did I cook while barefoot in the kitchen?  Well that’s a surprise for my special friend.  If you love veggie food, I’d definitely recommend treating yourself to a copy of this legendary book. x

Shin splints

Body, you are trying to tell me something

When I rush it, guns blazing

You complain.

You are teaching me

Pace, gentleness

Time, spaciousness

Bones, you are taking your own sweet time to strengthen

Just like my heart, my mind

Recovery and rest hand in hand


Little One calls me ‘mumma’.  I love to hear her say that word, it took so long to come in those months when we were hanging on every syllable.  Today has held real joy in the simple moments with my girls.  Watching Little One splash around, full of delight, at the swimming pool.  Seeing the water jets tickle her legs and tummy and watching her jump and twirl in the fountains.  Watching her grow in confidence with each soaking.

I help Eldest with her underwater handstands.  She asks me to twirl her around by her hands like a ballet dancer in the water, just like we used to do when she was small.  I find myself marvelling at the graceful, tall young person she is becoming; I remember so clearly her clinging on to my shoulders in the pool as a little girl, now she is a confident mermaid.

Back at home, Little One loves to cook with me.  She peels the leeks, cuts up the green beans with scissors and we peel carrots together.  She’s so content in these moments.  I need more of this in my gap year, more time to simply be ‘mumma’.

Sea swimming

Today I choose

Rock shoes, bikini and towel

Down jacket ready to shield me from the wind

Pack a bag, set my mind to it

Choose to awaken the senses

Watch the waves in their sets of three

Feel the stones tumbling in the breakers

Push out beyond

A perfect few minutes in the wild

Peace beyond the crashing shoreline

Rise up on a wave

Scramble back to shore

Choose to feel alive again

Surf’s Up!

Exhilarating, humbling.

It’s an April Saturday, glorious sunshine and I have to say – despite being ten degrees celsius – the water looks beautiful and I can’t wait to get in.  Winter wetsuits are more forgiving than I had remembered, and easier to get into.  Topped off with hawaiian shirt style rash vests, and after lugging the huge foamies down to the beach, the day has arrived and we are ready to take the plunge!

The sun sparkles on the sea and there are perfect little white breakers.  By the time we’re waist deep we all have huge smiles and are thanking the neoprene Gods for amazing winter wetsuits, gloves and booties; we can barely feel the cold. Awesome. We’ve been guided through the anatomy of our boards, the timing of catching a wave and how to give a little push forward into the water before we jump on to ride the wave lying down.  I’m exhilarated to catch the first wave I try and get a surprisingly fast ride in towards the shore.  It fools me for a moment into thinking this is going to be easy!

About halfway into the lesson I notice some writing on our instructor’s rash vest – the mind unshackled; let it be free – and this phrase really stays with me through the weekend as I start to come up against my body’s limitations.  Surfing is the most physically demanding sport I have ever tried, and by the end of our first two hours I feel a glorious ache of effort in my arms, shoulders and core.  We have learned to ‘pop up’ on dry land but I find my muscles just won’t do that in the water! Similarly sliding to my knees from the press-up position feels smooth and eminently possible on land, but combining it with catching a wave, getting my body balanced and keeping momentum is so difficult!  By the end of the lesson I have made it up to my knees although standing up remains elusive.  There’s a twinge of disappointment.

We celebrate with Kelly’s ice creams and zoom back to the cottage and the hot tub.  It feels amazing to look up at the sunset-streaked sky and soak in the peace of the countryside as day one ends.

Day two begins bleary eyed for me.  I’m frustrated that my mind had raced through the night.  I can feel that my body is sore and exhausted.  I think about that phrase again, about unshackling my mind and being free.  I know that it’s really important to encourage myself to enjoy the time in the water, regardless of outcome.  It’s a really hard thing for a perfectionist I realise, to accept the uncertainty that I might get to stand up today, and I might not.  There’s a pinch more trepidation this time as I zip up my wetsuit, adjust the gloves and head out.  As soon as we get into the water I know this is not going to be ‘my time to shine’ as our instructor might say.  It’s messy, big and windy.  The power of the waves takes me aback and I’m getting beaten up by the board.  I am struggling to get onto the deck of the board in the right position, our instructor holds the board for me and encourages me that there are no mistakes here; only practice.  I can feel my body is reaching its limits.  Let it be free.

A couple of tears are beginning to prick in my eyes.  I swallow my pride and ask our instructor if it’s okay to get out of the water for a few minutes.  He asks if I want a bodyboard and honestly, relief washes over me like one of those messy waves! I spend a wonderful half an hour regaining my confidence with the waves, getting one fantastic ride where I manage to steer the bodyboard left and right.  My aching body says thank you for the smaller, lighter board to manoeuvre in the water and I have space to reflect on letting that feeling of failure go.

I head back to the lesson without a board.  It’s an opportunity for a bit of conversation with our instructor about the gap year, why I’m doing it and some of the too familiar sense of failure that has come before with my history of mental illness. But the beautiful thing – in between snippets of conversation he teaches me to bodysurf.  When two waves arrive close together I go for it, diving head first into the water and I suddenly feel an incredible sense of the wave’s power pulling me forward and icy cold bubbles rushing across my face. Incredible. Humbling. Peaceful.

I know it’s going to be a process of unshackling my mind, but that Sunday I think I made a step in the right direction.

Hot yoga

60 minutes, 35 degree heat, 26 Hatha yoga poses.  An incredible way to spend an hour.

Students Practice The Unique Bikram Yoga

Yes, I did sweat and I felt proud (I love the strapline ‘damn right I look hot’ from the This Girl Can campaign).  This was an intense class with the determination, focus and relationship between you and your body only heightened by the heat.  I surprised myself with both mental and physical suppleness and strength.  The practice was a timely reminder that taking time out for me to be just with myself, deeply focused is a really good thing for my mental health.

My body image during the class also surprised me.  I could see I was curvier and indeed jigglier than most of the more accomplished yogis in the studio, however it didn’t feel like it mattered.  I felt beautiful and I felt strong, particularly through the skill and encouragement of the teacher leading the class.  Despite the huge alterations that mood stabilising medication has caused to my body shape, I could appreciate a defined waist, leg muscles beginning to strengthen from my running. Deeper than that though, a growing confidence that I can try new things, hard things and succeed.

I was massively disappointed to find that there are no hot yoga classes closer than an hour and a half’s drive from home but I’m already planning how to build some Hatha yoga, on which Bikram (hot yoga) is based, into my weekly routine.  UK friends – if you are ever anywhere near Truro go and try a class at Breathe.

Wabi-Sabi at the Welcome Cafe

Tulips are quietly fading in a vase on a shelf.  Little One is being noisy and wobbling precariously on her chair, and I feel conscious of all the other people around us wanting to relax with their cups of tea.  We’ve come to shelter from the cold and to share scones, cream, jam, tea and hot chocolate.  I feel aware my heart’s not fully in it today.

You’re used to grey England Skies

Cloudy days, colder nights

And your heart’s not right

On the way home, I’m reminded of the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, a kind of unique beauty of the imperfect and transient. The fading vase of tulips or the ‘grey England Skies’*

I was thinking how this concept could help me to appreciate moments of imperfect beauty more.  Reading the more detailed description of a wabi-sabi approach to life and aesthetics I was really interested to find out that ‘wabi’ used to be associated with sadness and loneliness, and ‘sabi’ with desolation but the meanings are now transformed to a way of looking at life which accepts transience and looks for beauty in the faded.

In my gap year there are going to be moments of pleasure and beauty which are inherently transient.  I want to really live in those moments rather than grieving their passing.  In myself I feel I need to look for the deeper beauty in a life that has felt weathered and eroded by mental illness.  I still need to learn more about appreciating moments of joy amidst the challenges of parenting a Little One with learning difficulties.  I’m planning to go back to the Welcome Cafe and contemplate those tulips some more, maybe with a notepad and my camera phone.

*Lyrics from England Skies by Shake Shake Go