Glitter and barbed wire – welcome to my mind

Discipline, discipline, discipline. With those words I just forced myself to sit down behind my laptop to write another blog post. I don’t know what it is with me and writing. It scares me and it excites me and when I’m in a flow I don’t want to stop typing but sitting myself down to get the job done – it seems impossible at times. Reminding myself that I want to be disciplined and do things even when I’m not in the mood has helped me a lot this past month. I’ve gotten back into a routine of working out regularly again, spent a little time writing and a lot of time reading (I think I have to apologize to my wallet in advance because after reading The Goldfinch I feel like I’m obligated to buy all of Donna Tartt’s books, take a few weeks off, abandon my social life and be swept away to another world), continued with my bullet journal, practised my handwriting and spent precious time with my friends and family. Not bad right, looking back?

To tell you (whoever you may be) the truth, before starting again this journey of mine that would eventually lead me to a happy life, I was motivated and excited and I couldn’t wait for the month to start. I’d really love to write here about how everything has been so easy and natural so far and how I’m feeling just peachy all the time but honestly – I don’t. It really is a process. I realise that happiness is not something you feel constantly and certainly there were a few amazing moments this month and moments when I was overwhelmed with gratitude – but it takes time and effort and sometimes it’s beautiful and the next moment I want to cry in frustration. What I did learn is that that’s okay. I’ve finally found a little button that I can press in those moments, and that button is called acceptance. Okay, so, everything is not going exactly the way you want it? Deep breath, take a step back, see what you need to do to feel better today. Is that sleeping? Watching series? Stop feeling sorry for yourself and get your butt out the door? Whatever it is that I need in those moments, this month I’ve really tried listening to myself and allowed myself to choose what – in that moment – helped me hike up the mountain again after stumbling and falling a few metres down.

Allowing myself to be more ‘me’ has had its ups and its downs. The upside is definitely that I’ve started experiencing moments more deeply. By letting in my emotions instead of trying to shove all those fearful “negative” emotions away I’ve been able to enjoy certain moments more fully. (although I’ve also, as you can read above, come to the conclusion that emotions aren’t really ever “negative,” if you allow them they’re much easier to deal with than if you try to shove them into a deep, dark corner never to be touched again.) That being said, emotions being easier to deal with, doesn’t mean they’re always a joy to have around. I’m struggling to get my point across here but the bottom line is – my emotions help me appreciate beautiful moments more, and there can even be beauty in sadness, or anger, because feeling those things emphasises that you’re here and present and alive, but at the same time, they can be so overwhelming. Especially when you’ve been pushing all emotions away for a long time and they’re all hitting you in the face, all at once – some lovingly, with feathers and sunshine and glitter and jasmine, but others more forceful, with ropes and barbed wire and water and waves, and sometimes that just takes your breath away quite literally. My strategy, for a while, to avoid those last few emotions from reaching out their hands and grabbing me, was to drink and dance and just forget about it all. And in those moments it felt good – the alcohol numbing whatever I was trying to avoid, taking away parts of my shyness and awkwardness and the discomfort I feel being around unknown people. But. And of course there’s a but. After those nights, in the mornings it all came crashing down. And I’m not referring singularly to the hangovers – because believe me, they were bad. I’m referring to the rope and the barbed wire and the water and the waves finding me, strangling and scratching and suffocating. And that, together with the alcohol leaving my system and my body being in a state of utter dehydration and dealing with headaches that made me see black and white, made the mornings a lot worse. Not only did I feel miserable physically, I was also, most of the time, disappointed in myself. So – something needed to change. I still enjoy dancing with my closest friends because I love the feeling of freedom, but I’ve been steering clear of alcohol for a while and I have to say, waking up in the morning after only 4 hours of sleep does not seem as complicated when you feel that your head is still attached to the rest of your body. But I digress – the emotions are welcome, most of the time, but I’m still finding a way to deal with all of them. Which brings me to my decision to continue writing poetry. I’ve avoided poetry for a while because I was afraid to face all the emotions, but I can imagine writing about them helps untangle the mess that is forming in my head.

So, long story (not so) short – some things are good and some are not, but I’m determined to keep working on them. I feel more alive and aware, and if I’m sometimes only aware that I’m frustrated or sad or incredibly angry, it’s okay. I’m going to try and make sense of it all in some poetry, which will be a goal for next month, which I have called Self-care September. For now, I am done rambling, jotting down incoherent thoughts and contradicting myself – off to a new month, new goals and a lot of Leonard Cohen playing in the background to soothe my soul.

Breathe, release it all

Last Friday, in the middle of the night, my sister and I went outside, lay down on two benches and gazed at the sky. We went onto the streets in thick jumpers and for a minute it reminded me of going camping. That moment when you unzip your tent, walk across the campsite and it’s incredibly quiet apart from the occasional cough or gust of wind. We walked a few streets away from my house, looking for a place with the least street lights so that our view of the sky was as clear as possible. We sat down and as I started to lie down, tilting my head back, I saw a flash of gold in the sky. “Yes, there! I saw one! Did you see it too?” It had been fast, but I was sure I had seen one – a falling star. As we lay down and looked at the sky, the stars became all the clearer. The air around us was soft. The wooden bench beneath my back was not soft in the least but still, I felt extremely relaxed. We talked quietly and, now and again, pointed at the golden specks of light in the sky. Every time we saw another falling star, we would cry out (softly – it was late) and laugh and then discuss whether we thought it had been a real one or just our imagination playing up. When there was another unmistakable flash of light in the sky, my sister said: “Now you can make a wish.”

With all this free time on my hands, away from university, I have had a lot more time to think. My brain has been working overtime, trying to figure out what I want to be doing with my life, what the things are that I enjoy, and what I need to be doing in order to feel better. I realised that …

… I want to be a writer. I love reading. I’ve been feeling happier now that I’ve permitted myself to spend a few hours or even a day reading, without feeling that that day is lost. I figured that if I want to chase that dream of becoming a writer, besides writing more, reading more is a good start. I also love cooking. I love working out. I love how much better I feel when I eat healthily and get in some exercise. I love how, after deciding that this month I’m going to work on my discipline, on many occasions the question is not whether I’m going to do something, but rather when. I love yoga. Nature. Animals. Art. Museums. Learning. Meaningful conversations. Mountains. Thinking. Music. Silence. History. I love watching documentaries that change your awareness and understanding, and I love reading books that to the same. I love that although I’m not yet where I want to be, I know that I’m on the right track. I love that although I don’t know yet who I want to be, I’m learning and moving and creating and thereby getting closer and closer to the real me. In one of my favourite series (Sense8), one of the characters says: “The real violence, the violence I realised was unforgivable, is the violence we do to ourselves when we’re too afraid to be who we really are.” I love that I’m now in a place where I am, although not completely, but at least more accepting of myself, and as a result of that, I have become less afraid to be me. Baby steps. A positive side effect of admitting to myself what I want (writing), is that making decisions has become a lot easier. Sometimes, it’s almost like an automatic response. A while ago, I had a story idea and I thought to myself: “If I’m going to participate in NaNoWriMo again, I can work on that idea.” And then, in what felt like an effortless response to myself, I thought: “Not ‘if’ – when! Of course I’m going to do NaNoWriMo again.” For so long I’ve had a little negative voice in my head that kept me from doing things, and finally it feels like the positive voice is getting stronger.

Another thing that I feel like is coming more naturally to me is balance. I have always struggled with this, but with my newfound discipline I have also found some balance. Because I’m more disciplined, writing down all the things I want to do in a day and ticking them off my list one by one, I can also enjoy the times that I’m not doing anything productive. In a day where I’ve read a lot, worked out and tidied my room, I feel completely guilt-free when I spend the evening watching a series. And even if I haven’t done anything productive in a day, I feel less guilty. Take today, for example. I worked out in the morning, and I wanted to watch one episode of Sense8 with my breakfast. The series is so compelling that I couldn’t stop watching. In that moment, lying in bed with my laptop made me happy, so why wouldn’t I do it? What has changed is that previously, this would continue for days. I’d watch episode after episode all the while thinking I shouldn’t be doing that, whereas now I accepted that I would have a fairly unproductive day, knowing that tomorrow will be better. As long as I work on a few things that are important to me (which, for today, was working out and writing), I’m completely happy with this balance.

Yesterday evening, I had drinks with a friend and afterwards, she remarked that she thinks I’m doing well – we talked all night and I told her about what’s going on in my head, and apparently she could see that I was doing well. When I walked home from the station, I realised that I am doing well. I’m feeling better. Sometimes I’m still confused about life and what I want, but like my sad-happy feeling last week, this is a happily-confused – I know I’m on the right track, figuring things out, and it can only get better from here on out. I’m getting closer and I’m enjoying the way to wherever I’m heading. As I was walking and contemplated this, I felt liberated – and at that moment, I heard the following sentence through my headphones: “Breathe, release it all” (Rhodes – Breathe) and the timing was so great that I took a deep breath and threw back my head and smiled.

Lying on the wooden bench, the longer I stared at the vastness of the sky, the more I saw that it’s hard to worry about small things that bother you or stress you out when you’re engulfed by something that’s just so much bigger than that. We, two young people, with all of our daily problems and pointless struggles, looking up – so insignificant compared to nature and its power and the earth, the universe. Another flash in the sky. “A wish! Have you made your wish?” I felt light. I felt happy. I realised in that moment that I didn’t and don’t have much to wish for. And then I decided to make a wish, not for me, but for someone else.

The beauty of being alive

I’m going to do what I want to do. I’m going to
be who I really am.
I’m going to figure out what that is.
– Emma Watson

Since starting the Miracle Morning and taking up Bullet Journaling again, I’ve had – I think – one of the most productive weeks so far. Of course, all the things that are on my to do list now (such as tidying, writing, reading, finishing my photo album, working out…) arguably aren’t as important as the things I will need to do when I go back to uni, but for me the main thing is that I get them done. I’ve been able to cross off most things I listed in my bullet journal and I feel pretty good about it.

I haven’t done the Miracle Morning every single day, but I’m fine with that as long as I keep my focus throughout the day. My top priorities now are eating well and working out, because I know that those two factors have the power to instantly make me feel better. They say you should love the body you have while working for the body you want – and when I put the effort in, this is somehow manageable. Growing up, I’ve never really been able to love my body and I went around comparing myself to anyone and everyone. This is not to say that I don’t do that anymore, but I try to put things in their perspective now. I love the fact that I can work out – as cliché as it sounds, there are enough people who can’t. When I was in the mountains this summer to go hiking, I started appreciating my legs just a tiny bit more. Okay, so I’m not satisfied with the way they look, but they do their job pretty well – they took me up the mountain. Down the mountain. And up again. And even when I thought that I REALLY. COULDN’T. GO. ON. they always managed to bring me back safely. So yes, maybe the girl that I saw in the gym this morning, doing exactly the same program as me, could jump higher and squat lower and take fewer breaks; maybe my legs can’t do it that long or that fast – but at least they can do it. For me it’s quite an achievement to train legs in the first place, since I am one of those dreaded people that isn’t keen on listening to the well-known saying that one should “never skip leg day”. When it comes to my workouts, I’ve been trying very hard and body-wise, I’m starting to feel a little better. I think I can be quite proud of the 3 circuit workouts, 2 arm/pull-up workouts, an hour of squash and 1 yoga session I did, after around a month and a half of not going to the gym.

Mentally it’s going okay as well. When it comes to feeling better mentally it’s always a slow process for me, and it’s going with ups and downs but the ups are outweighing the downs which is, frankly, great. A part of this is deciding that I’m not doing to do things I don’t feel like doing. Of course I also want to get out of my comfort zone, but in my day to day life, I want to listen to myself better. I’m always very fast saying “yes” to people asking me whether I want to hang out, but now I try to ask myself what I feel like doing. Do I really want to hang out with someone the day after coming back from holiday and having spent 4 weeks surrounded by people? Hm, maybe not. When someone asked me to hang out and I later realised the answer was, in fact, no, I spoke to her and explained that I really wanted to have fun with her soon but I just needed a day to myself first. She was very understanding and we hung out this weekend which was so much fun. I was able to enjoy things more after being on my own for a while. We went to a nearby city to browse around and the next day we went to a fashion exhibition with a collection that I wouldn’t have gone to see myself, but when I was there it was surprisingly nice to see. My friend – with a love for all things fashion, extravagant and glitter – was so happy and excited, which made it so easy for me to enjoy myself as well – her enthusiasm was definitely contagious.

After a week of doing all the things I planned on doing, there was this moment yesterday. I was sitting in my comfortable reading chair with a cosy blanket around my legs, had some piano and violin/cello music playing and a book on my lap, and I felt – sad? Of course I have experienced sadness before but this moment was different. Usually I feel really overwhelmed and at the same time really empty, but now I felt a really, weird as it may sound, wonderful kind of sad. I felt in the moment, and there, and connected, and I was completely okay with experiencing those feelings of sadness. It was a kind of sad that I accepted because I knew it was just temporary and part of life and there was no use of fighting it. And maybe because I accepted it, it almost became a feeling of being happy to be sad, because it made me feel very aware of everything around me, but mostly, within me. It may not make sense at all, but to me, in that moment, it all made sense. I texted my friend and her reply was wonderfully simple and true: “It’s the beauty of being alive.”

 

Why did I get out of bed this morning?

Every time you choose to do the easy thing, instead of the right thing, you are shaping your identity, becoming the type of person who does what’s easy, rather than what’s right.
~Hal Elrod, The Miracle Morning

I guess I’ve been gone for a while – I intended to start writing regularly again in April but then life (my thesis) got in the way. It’s not an excuse, but that’s what happened. I almost stopped my creative writing altogether, apart from a few poems here and there. I played with the thought of writing new blog posts a few times, but the lack of things to write about, the lack of discipline and, I have to admit, plain laziness stopped me. Sometime in July I figured that enough was enough – I had to get my life back on track. And then I read this amazing book and everything seemed to fall into place.

The book I’m talking about is Hal Elrod’s The Miracle Morning. My sister and her boyfriend gave it to me for my birthday a while ago, and while I was away on holiday I dived into it. I finished it in two days (in between enjoying the sun and hiking) and just like when I started eating vegan, I was so enthusiastic again. The Miracle Morning is basically a ritual that shapes your morning (or afternoon, or evening, depending on when you do it). It consists of 6 different aspects: silence, affirmations, visualisation, reading, journaling and exercise. You can choose to do a short version of the morning ritual, by doing just 1 minute of all the different tasks, but generally people choose to do it for about an hour. What this ritual mainly provides you with is a greater focus on your purpose, which in turn helps you to go for it 100%. That’s just the short version (go read it!), but I was so intrigued that I wanted to give it a try. In fact – I couldn’t wait and didn’t want to, but I was away on holiday so to prevent myself from quitting after a few days, I decided to start on August 1st. Which was this morning. And I have to admit – it was harder than I thought. One of the things Elrod wrote about was the power of positive thinking, and how it really changes the way you feel things. I wanted to use that when I went to bed, as the book describes that the thought that you go to bed with, is the thought that’s on your mind when you wake up. So when I was setting my alarm clock for 6am the next morning (this morning) I tried to think – you still have more than 7 hours to sleep! You’ll be so well rested in the morning. However, when it got to, Hey, you still have 4 hours of sleep! I found it pretty hard to believe that I’d wake up full of energy. Sleeping has always been an issue for me but I didn’t want to give up on the first day. So when my alarm clock went off (set at 6am, 6.02 and 6.05 to make sure I would really get out of bed) I thought about the list I had made the day before. I had created a list with goals (both mental and physical) and also jotted down some values that were important to me. One thing I really wanted to work on was having discipline. And with that word in my mind, and everything set up in my room for my new ritual, I dragged myself out of bed. It was with the thought, “I’ll go back to bed when I’m done,” but at least I got up. And as it turned out, after my ritual I didn’t even want to go back to bed.

One of the things from the book that really stood out to me was when Hal Elrod talked about the process of getting up. He writes, “Why do you wake up most mornings? […] Is it because you want to? Or do you delay waking up until you absolutely have to?” He then talks about the fact that most people only get up because they have to “be somewhere, do something, answer to – or take care of – someone else”. I had never really thought about it before, but he’s right – in a way it doesn’t make sense to want to stay in bed. Yes, it may be cosy and comfortable, and yes, you may be tired, but if you want to (truly want to) pursue your goals and create the life you want, you have to want to get up in the morning. So that’s what I focused on this morning. I’ve given up so many times (the lack of blog posts the past few months being a painful reminder of that), but I wanted this time to be different. I got up, sat in silence for a few minutes, visualised who I needed to be to achieve my goals, did some positive affirmations (this still feels a bit odd, but it’s said that they work so I couldn’t ignore them any longer). After that, I did some journaling (maybe I can finally fill up an entire notebook instead of buying new ones all the time), finished a book that I was reading and then I dragged my butt to the gym. I still felt tired and had every intention to go back to bed afterwards, but once I was outside (it was now around 7am), did my workout in the gym and returned back home, I didn’t want to anymore. And as a result, I got so much done today. I took up bullet journaling a while ago, so yesterday, to prepare for my morning ritual, I created a list of all the things that needed to be done. And now that the day is coming to an end, I have done almost all of them. I had written down that I needed to write a blog post, and although I procrastinated a bit, the reminder in my journal that I need to be disciplined if I want this time to be any different from others, got me to open my laptop and just do it.

So here I am, on the first of August, ready to take on my life and create the one that I want. Like Hal Elrod, I want to …

… do what I ha[ve] never done before: to venture from my painfully comfortable realm of mediocrity – from which I operated my entire life – into the space of being extraordinary.

Yes Please

As always it’s been quite a struggle to sit down behind my computer to write a blogpost, but here I am. 9 days into April, trying to remind myself that I started this blog to make myself write more, and that it doesn’t matter that already I missed the goal of writing 1 post a week. But – better late than never. April has been a busy month so far. I passed my Old English exam, which was a relief, but now I need to do something far more daunting – write my BA thesis. Besides reading a countless amount of articles and books about Dracula and Victorian times, I’ve been working a lot too and trying to maintain a somewhat social life. Although I haven’t technically really stuck to my April goals, I don’t feel all that bad about it. I’ve had some bad days where I couldn’t get myself to stop watching television (mostly after a long day of work), but also some better days where I really wanted to be lazy and watch reruns of Catfish but forced myself to do something else. I’ve finally managed to finish the first volume of Game of Thrones. I know lots of people rave about it and can’t get enough, but I just couldn’t get into it. I think part of the reason for that is because I only picked it up a few times per month, reading a few chapters at a time – I just sort of lost track of what was happening. Anyway, finishing that one meant that I could finally start with another book that has been high on my to-read list for a while (no matter how much I dislike a book, I always do want to finish it before starting another one): Yes Please by Amy Poehler.

So far, I love it. I took the beautiful hard cover edition from my book shelf two days ago and this time, I have to force myself to put it down and focus on other things. I’ve read about 1/3 so far and I think it’s brilliant. Everything she writes feels so relatable, and the way she puts her thoughts into words is incredibly entertaining. I even brought the book to uni so that I could continue reading (while my brain was pleading, please work on your thesis, and then my heart went all like NO THIS IS INCREDIBLE I LOVE YOU AMY POEHLER) and I sat there in the cafeteria, laughing out loud. At the moment, the book is lying next to me and I’m trying to ignore the little voice that says please read me now. Yes please, let’s read now… No – focus. The reason I have it right here is because I wanted to quote a passage from the preface, where Amy discusses how difficult it is to actually write a book. She gives advice on how to do it and more specifically, how to deal with your brain in the process. “What do we do when the voice in our head is yelling that WE ARE NEVER GONNA MAKE IT?” This caught my attention because basically, this is my brain 24/7. Then, the advice: “Well, the first thing we do is take our brain out and put it in a drawer. Stick it somewhere and let it tantrum until it wears itself out. You may still hear the brain and all the shitty things it is saying to you, but it will be muffled … And then you just do it. You dig in and write.” I took Amy’s advice (of course it’s totally legit to talk about her like she’s my best friend), stuffed my brain in a cupboard for a little nap, and sat down to write this blogpost. Now that we’re on the topic of writing – although I haven’t been able to do weekly posts yet, I have in fact been writing more. One of my teachers is helping me with my writing, and knowing that he expects me to actually put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) is a good incentive to write. Generally speaking, this is how it goes: I go and see him, ask for a deadline, complain a little when he does so while at the same time I know it will help, procrastinate until two or three hours before said deadline, stress out a little because of the pressure of that ticking clock, send the written pieces to him and then wait with a sick feeling in my stomach for the feedback. It’s been good, though. Scary as hell, but good. The feedback has been really helpful so far and it feels nice to work on my poetry and short story skills again. So I’ve started writing again – the next step is to find the motivation and discipline to write purely for my own pleasure, because I can’t not write, instead of needing the pressure of a deadline.

Next week is going to be busy again, with two full days of work, a couple of workouts, lectures, homework and the first important thesis deadline looming around the corner. I’m going to have to be disciplined in order to finish everything but I’m going to go for it. It does help that I love me some mysticism and vampires, so working on my thesis isn’t the worst thing. Tomorrow, I’m going to make a schedule for the week in my new Bullet Journal. I came across this concept a while ago on YouTube (I found Boho Berry’s account). Basically, it is a journal in which you track a myriad of different things: long term goals, things you need to do, read, buy, etc. The reason why I like this so much is because the Bullet Journals I have seen so far, look amazing – it’s a great way to get creative (making banners, headings, doodles, different lay-outs, practise handwriting, writing quotations and poems etc.). You can draw or write down monthly memories, create a page to track your habits, write down challenges you want to take part in – the options are endless and I can’t wait to get started. Of course I just had to buy a new Moleskine notebook with a nice new pen, so now there aren’t any excuses left not to.

But for now, I’m going to get ready to see one of my best friends, go out and dance like no one’s watching, before facing life and responsibilities again in the morning.