How Do You Celebrate When The Magic Is Gone?

In less than a week we are saying goodbye to 2020. On the stroke of midnight, I will be relieved to see the back of this unfortunate year filled with upheaval and sorrow. For some of us, in the UK, there will be no fireworks, no big celebration. We are in Tier 4 lockdown. Each household will stick to their own bubble, no mixing for fear of catching the virus or, getting a hefty fine from the police.

How do we celebrate when the magic is gone? A few days before December 6th, my family decided that we would not be having our usual celebrations. Even worse, Christmas would be downsized to one single gift per person. I was devastated because I was looking forward to a merry time spent with the whole family. Surely, we cannot cancel Christmas!

“Some days there won’t be a song in your heart. Sing anyway.” – Emory Austin

December is special for me. Not only it is the month of my birth but, I also celebrate religious feasts weekly – from St. Nicolas on the 6th to the birth of Jesus on the 25th. A long period of excitement, non-stop organising and celebrating. The house would be warm throughout, and a nice aroma of baking would be wafting from the kitchen. Baubles would decorate the Christmas tree and stockings waiting to be filled, would hang by the chimney.

But this year, things have turned out differently. I found myself in a situation that I had no control over. My life has been impacted dramatically since the start of the pandemic. From being in a full-time job to being stuck at home, from being independent to relying on others. I have had to steer through ongoing adversity.

“Like tiny seeds with potent power to push through tough ground and become mighty trees, we hold innate reserves of imaginable strength. We are resilient.” – Catherine DeVrye

At times, I would wake up with a pang of anxiety and feel overwhelmed. I knew if I did not do something about it, I would soon feel worthless and desperate. I needed to manage my emotions and find a day-to-day purpose. By adapting to a new way to thinking, I could function normally. All I had to do was to look for the positive among the negative.

With the help of online communities, I soon learned to be resilient. With their help, I kept going, never gave up. I learned to work at every challenge that came my way, using different strategies that got me through the day. My strength was tested, and I learned the limit I could endure. Through our daily connections, I was able to grow stronger.

“Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.” – E.B White

What 2020 taught me is that things can get bad. But what I do with the constraints and stress is what defines who I am. I have stopped assuming and now, I let go of anything that is not within my control. I am grateful for each day where I learn to be stronger and wiser.

I have learned to live on less and give more to others. By minimalizing my expectations, I know where my limit lies. I have the power to be kind to myself and the responsibility to pick myself up when I fall.

As the year ends and I reflect on the past, I am glad that I listened to my heart. I had two choices: let bitter circumstances affect my celebrations or embellish them with love, joy, and happiness. I chose the second. St. Nicholas and Christmas were a success. Bring on 2021!

How I Visioned 2020 And How It Changed Me

On the stroke of midnight, as we clinked our champagne glasses, I made a toast to 2020; May it be a year full of promising projects. Excited, I read through my new year resolutions – travelling was on top of the list. The year had started well. Or so I thought. China and COVID-19 were far from my mind and life carried on through its normal course.

“All great changes are preceded by chaos.” – Deepak Chopra

It only took three months before my plans would be compromised. With the lockdown, everything I considered doing, any plans, any projects were put on hold. I postponed all immediate travel plans. It was too early to get upset. I had to find ways how to ride the anxiety and fear that I knew would soon grab hold of me. Would it be better to take on a project that I had put off for years or challenge myself to a brand new one?

When I was at work, feeling tired and unmotivated, I longed to be at home. I longed to be safe in my bubble, away from the frantic activities. But, once the tables had turned, and I was no longer allowed to leave the house and with social distancing, I craved interacting with others. Yes, human beings are ridiculous. We are never satisfied with what we have.

Being unchained, without any guidance, it was hard to keep to routine. I did not like my freedom. I felt lonely while being overwhelmed by the constant presence of family members. Though I took up several projects for the sake of keeping me grounded, I soon found that I was lacking patience. In my job, I need a bucketful of it to deal with clients. Alone, I find it hard to settle on a plan.

“You must be willing to give up what you are, to become what you want to be.” – Orrin Woodward

Being someone who craved human touch, I initially disapproved of the virtual world. But I needed to be part of a community which would be essential for my well-being. So, I decided to take up meditation and mindfulness. Being part of a tribe, each morning acknowledging each other’s weaknesses and strengths, gave me an energy boost for the day. I soon looked forward to the hourly session and forgot about my aversion to Zoom.  The support and reassurance I needed, were aplenty.

When it came to work alone, I found it difficult to be creative when surrounded by worries and doubts. Back in the summer, I set up my easel, eager to create a masterpiece. I assumed I could pick up from my college days … before babies and work/life challenges. I was kidding myself. So, what happened? In my mind I was still the talented artist I once were, but I lacked practice and motivation. The passion formerly there, has now disappeared.

Painting to an artist is as important as breathing, eating, and drinking. Too much of self-criticism stopped me growing. I did not commit or persevere – I was unfocused. Five months later, the canvas is still half painted and will remain such, until inspiration comes back.

Meditation opened my mind and taught me to be more flexible in my way of thinking and acting. My life has been steered in a new direction. I have learned to accept this new challenge and create new habits. Now I give myself time for reflection and simplify my projects.

Change your thinking and it will change your life.

Though I have not been able to get on a plane, I have travelled the world virtually. I now enjoy reaching and engaging with others remotely. I have made new friends via different virtual communities. I am more creative, flexible, and resilient. So, even if you are going through a bumpy ride, by changing your way of thinking, it will in turn change your life.

Remember, Remember the Fifth of November

Remember, remember the fifth of November. Gunpowder, treason, and plot. I see no reason why gunpowder, treason should ever be forgot.

I was looking forward to the fifth of November, a significant date to all British. Every year on this date we celebrate Bonfire Night. Also known as Guy Fawkes Night, it is a tradition dating back to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when Catholic conspirator Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament and King James 1.

When the gunpowder plot was unsuccessful, Fawkes was taken to the Tower of London where he was tortured. He was sentenced to death, hanged, drawn, and quartered. His body parts were sent to different parts of London for all to see and learn.

“Never throughout history has a man who lived a life of ease left a name worth remembering.” – Theodore Roosevelt

We remember this tradition when young and old get together, lighting an enormous bonfire, with an impressive effigy of Guy burning on top. We put aside any disagreements we might have had with family and friends during the year and share the goodwill by setting off spectacular fireworks. Furthermore, it is a great excuse to drink litres of mulled wine and gorge on toffee apples and roasted chestnuts.

“Sometimes something catastrophic can occur in a split second that changes a person’s life forever; Other times one minor incident can lead to another and then another and another, eventually setting off just as a big a change in a body’s life.” – Jeanette Walls

But this year, all professional events are cancelled as on the same day, we enter a second lockdown. Our mood has changed from excitement to gloom as we face tougher restrictions. Despite schools and offices being open, the rest of us are only allowed to leave the house if it is indispensable.

To make it worse, people are flocking to supermarkets to stockpile once more fearing their Christmas will be ruined. I am indifferent. I am staying calm. Thinking back about how first time around everybody’s focus was on toilet rolls, flour, and cans of tomatoes, I have decided to sit through this second wave as comfortable as I can. I will neither bake bread nor stuff my face with cakes and biscuits.

While I have mild concerns about this second wave, I fear the continuation of lockdown into the new year, because some people are not taking it seriously. A month ago, my family and I spent two weeks in isolation to protect others. We boosted each other’s spirit, and our mental health was not affected. Though we have bounced back as healthy as before, I cannot imagine what isolation would do to some poor lonely souls.

 “They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” – Andy Warhol

Life has changed drastically in 2020. Our level of distress has risen massively. We have been impacted by fear, loneliness, and anxiety. But what we should remember is that every day, is like any other day. Even though we might still be in the middle of a pandemic, we must reach out and lean in the support we get from others. Our spirits are thus lifted, and we are given the opportunity to move forward while feeling safe and secured.

“Difficulties are meant to rouse, not discourage. The human spirit is to grow strong by conflict.” – William Ellery Channing

So here I am, eyes fixed upwards, watching the colourful explosions in the sky. Covid-19 may have ruined the professional events, but my neighbours have blasted off sparklers, spinners, and rockets from their gardens, much to my delight. What a magical moment full of beauty for all to see! I forget the pandemic and let my heart be filled with hope and belief of a better day.

Mirror Mirror on the Wall, Who is the Most Perfect of Them All

Brene Brown suggests that ‘perfectionism’ is not the same thing as striving to be your best.

‘Perfectionism’ is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgement, and shame. It is a shield. It is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it is the thing that is really preventing us from flight.

A few years ago, I believed I was a perfectionist. I needed to appear perfect as I believed that I mattered only when I achieved great things. For me it was a positive trait rather than a flaw. Though I worked harder to achieve my personal best, I was never satisfied with the result. I kept telling myself I was not good enough. Insecurity gripped me as I feared disapproval from others.

What makes us aim to be perfect?

It is not clear what causes someone to become a perfectionist. Studies have found that high levels of perfectionism relate to depression, anxiety, eating disorders, deliberate self-harming and obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is a behaviour that we learn from our own inadequacy or when we copy someone close to us.

Our idea of perfectionism is based on our past actions. It is a combination of what we learned, imagined, and experienced in the past. It can be exhausting when we are trying to avoid repeat failures, but hopeful when we learn from our success. Depending on the outcome, our persona changes. We can become hypersensitive and defensive.

“When perfectionism exists, shame is always lurking” – Brene Brown

It took me years before I let go of the pressure. I no longer feel guilty when I leave my belongings scattered around the bedroom or dump piles of books on the table. I do not feel embarrassed when my family tells me I am a hoarder. Nor do I feel ashamed to say that I am not good at something which I am not particularly keen on.

And yet, when I am making art, I get frustrated and anxious when it does not turn out as I envisioned in my head. Even though others see a brilliant creation, I am critical of my own work. With advertising and social media, I am constantly reminded of all the things that I fall short. Self-doubt creeps in and I take a nose-dive into the pit of self-pity; I am not good enough.

“Have no fear of perfection- you’ll never reach it” – Salvador Dali

Perfection is not a quest to become the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough, that we should try harder. Perfectionism is unachievable. It is a function of the mind that can instigate defeat or success. It all depends on how we use it. Our goal is to reframe our mindset, shift our focus on living only in the present.

Therefore, we should not strive for perfection and we should not concern ourselves with what others think. The desire to achieve perfection can be a detriment to our health. It can cause us to lose our self-confidence and the ability to perform. Everyone has their own values and standards. Let us not second guess ourselves by trying to emulate others. We might end up becoming our worst enemy.

I am okay with not being perfect, because that is perfect to me.