Be Careful What You Wish For

At the end of last year, when COVID-19 vaccines were made available to the public, I swore I was not having any. I heard so many horrendous stories about the severe side effects and it scared me. I am one of those people who never volunteer to be first in the queue, and I was not going to change that. Better wait a few years until everything felt safe.

But when work invited me to register for the vaccine, I had a dilemma. I could refuse, but that would mean letting the team down. Reluctant to have a flu jab, for years I turned to natural medicine to fight off the symptoms. Could I do the same for COVID? I did not want to stand out as a sore thumb nor be the recipient of their disapproval.

Decisions, decisions . . .

I chose to support my team and went beyond that. Not only did I book a COVID vaccine but also my very first flu jab.  If I was going for one, I may as well go for the whole shebang. Was it a daredevil stunt or just stupidity to have both jabs barely spaced out? I considered I could tackle any challenge coming my way.

I went for the flu jab first, confident that all would be well as thousands before found it to be safe and effective. The result was a mild reaction consisting of a bruised arm and body ache, nothing that a painkiller would not cure.

Ten days later, it was time for the COVID vaccine. This was no simple flu jab. I listened to scaremongers talk about side effects and blood clots. Irrational thoughts spun a cycle inside my brain. I became afraid and worked myself up to a frenzy. I prepared for the inevitable by stocking up on groceries and doing all my chores and errands in advance, took a few days off work and cancelled meetings. Without thinking I was ready to feel miserable and relished to be a victim.

While I embarked on the fear route, a little voice of doubt kept nagging me. Like a persistent fly, I would try to swat it away, but it kept coming back more defiant than ever. I gave in and surrendered to the images that I created in my mind like a reel of old film unfolding in front of my eyes.

The Pfizer vaccine did not sting at all but the importance that I gave to the side effects propelled me into painful physical reality. I ended up creating what I believed. I got what I wanted. I woke up the next day, with a fever and a throbbing headache. My sore arm felt heavy. When I tried to walk, I felt weak and exhausted. I thought I was dying. Okay, maybe I am exaggerating, but my body felt like it was going through a storm. Ahh, I should be mindful of what I wish for.

I wanted to feel sorry for myself and plunge into a downward spiral. But if I were to have my second dose, I needed to stop my mind dictating how I should feel. I needed to be in control. The challenge was to change my thoughts and create a new belief, ditch any plans. I decided to veer from the path I needed to follow and embraced uncertainty.

Accept what it is, let go of what was, have faith in what will be.

I approached the second phase with acceptance. I let go of my ego and stopped giving importance to other people’s views. I had a choice, and it was up to me to act upon it. Instead of going safe, I went wild. I kicked healthy eating out of the window and indulged in rich food. If I was going to suffer, then it was better surrounded by chocolates and cupcakes. My anxiety vanished.

By not caring of what may happen, I let go of any resistance and turned my actions into positive thoughts and beliefs. I became comfortable with the knowledge that whatever the outcome, it would not last for ever. To my surprise I sailed through without any side effects. I was vaccinated and felt good. Mind over matter.

Shutting down the annoying voice that questioned my decisions was the key to stop focussing on the negative. Instead of resisting, I went with the flow. Lesson learnt.

Sucked in a Vaccum of Loneliness

I had been feeling a bit ‘meh’ these past few weeks as if I were being sucked in a vacuum of loneliness. Though surrounded by a loving family, a job and friends that kept me busy, I was losing my grip on reality. My world was sinking bit-by-bit. As the days went, it became difficult to get my butt into gear and I lost interest in anything that previously engaged me.

I did not pay any attention to my wellbeing until one morning I woke up with the feeling that I could not be bothered to get out of bed. On the first day I permitted myself a couple extra hours of lie-in, but when hours turned into days, I understood something was not right. Hard as I tried to stay in the present, my mind became overwhelmed by too many thoughts and doubts and I was sucked in the black hole.

Despite all that, I wanted to stay connected with family and friends and relied on social media as a form of communication. Barely out of bed, I got into the habit of checking Facebook posts and WhatsApp messages. I continued with videos on Youtube and TikTok. However, it got too much, because soon enough, I came to despise receiving calls and emails. I believe I was experiencing burnout.

Sometimes the worst place you can be is in your own head.

I am one of the sensitive people who gets affected by weather conditions, although never been diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). On and off I seem to experience a sort of depression. My ideal temperature is around 18-20 degrees Celsius. Anything higher gives me a rash and sun stroke. Anything below 10 degrees, feels like the artic.

In winter months, I always know when it will snow. My knees start to ache, and I feel a permanent chill in my back. Whenever I mention it, my kids roll their eyes. They think it is old wives’ tales, though science has proven that changes in the atmospheric pressure can affect the fluid in our bones. In cold weather, when the fluid decreases, our bones grind against each other and the pressure leads to pain.

We all know sunshine improves our moods and wellbeing. Nevertheless, when we get four seasons in a day or week, the weather can play a trick on our mental health. On Easter day, with a temperature of 18 degrees Celsius, the weather was glorious. While every English man and his dog were bathing in the midday sun, I was the unsociable one who hid within the safety of my home. I preferred venturing out at dawn or dusk. Could one of my ancestors originate from Transylvania?

The next day however, on Easter Monday, the temperature dropped by 10 degrees. A cold front from the Arctic spread across the UK making it feel more like below freezing. In the following days, we would see snow, rain, and wind. Then we were back to high 20s temperatures. With all these fluctuations, my mental state did not know which tune to dance to. I am certain my moodiness, irritability, and tiredness affected those close to me even though they never retaliated.

“It’s okay not to be okay as long as you’re not giving up.”- Karen Salmansohn

I appreciated I would not achieve anything productive if I let myself feel like that. My priority was to get out of that procrastination vacuum. If I did not do something about it, I would continue to suffer in silence and hurt my loved ones in the process. I took it upon myself to find a way to keep distracted and inspired. I set a goal as to what I could achieve. I made a small list while visualizing what I needed to do, at the same time accepting that not all had to be done on the same day. Baby steps.

But by putting my intention on paper, I had taken all those overwhelming thoughts out of my head. Hence, I felt less pressure. I then turned to the only therapy I felt happy with. Dance. I created a new vacuum but this time, full of happiness. Although not a great dancer but when I blared some hip music and gyrated around my kitchen, all fears disappeared. Plus, I did not need any equipment to feed my Fitbit and increase my serotonin level. All in all, it was a win-win.

We can’t always choose the music life plays for us, but we can choose how we dance it.

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.

In Honour of World Mental Health Day

Did you know that mental illness is connected to physical illness? Depression is a brain disorder that leads to emotional suffering. It can lead to a lot of physical problems that affect everything from your heart to your immune system. Changes in how your brain function can have a big effect on your body.

You will surely agree with me that life can be stressful. Sometimes you may feel so stressed that you cannot work out what to do as your brain is overanalysing. You might feel constantly tired and achy.  Your appetite for food and sex might decrease. You might have insomnia, or you might sleep too much. Whatever it is, I am sure you will want some explanations but will not find easy answers.

“Our life is shaped by our mind for we become what we think.” – Buddha

It is not easy to fit in with the crowd and we all want to feel accepted. I have known those who would do anything, from cracking silly jokes to saying ‘yes’ to every person. And when they fail to integrate, they feel unloved and misunderstood. They lose their identity and become depressed. They turn in on themselves and become a recluse.

Depression alters your brain structure. Your whole life is turned upside down. You experience fear and loneliness. You feel unmotivated. You become increasingly bad-tempered, snap at people and then feel guilty afterwards. You might bear someone a grudge for a long time even though you do not know the reason why you did it in the first place.

“Even though I walk through the dark valley of death because you are with me, I fear no harm. Your rod and your staff give me courage.”- Psalm 23:4

There is no fairy godmother with a magic wand to fix your life when you are going through your darkest moments. Some people, when they are suffering, sometimes draw closer to God and others walk away for good. Whether you are alone or surrounded by people, you have the choice to follow your own path. If you feel unsure, you can try to correct it with another choice and make it right. But it is up to you to take hold of your life and take charge of it.

You might say that it is not easy to do when you feel your world is crumbling. You will need help and support to change your attitude and create a more regular routine. Do not compare yourself to others, especially on social media. They only share the good things that happen to them. Reach out to those you trust and express your feelings. You might be surprised to find that you are not the only one who is feeling down. One phone call, one text message might make someone else feel less isolated.

“An empty lantern provides no light. Self-care is the fuel that allows your light to shine brightly.” –  The YogaMad

Learn the art of self-care and self-love and stay positive. Fill your time with things that you enjoy so you feel less lonely. Dance or exercise to music, moving your body to the point of losing yourself. It will lift your mood and take your mind off things. If you want something more calming, try meditation. Join an online community or support group. Just keep busy.

Take advantage of free online courses. Learn something new that you have always wanted to do. Join a choir or an art class and discover your hidden talents. Travel the world virtually and explore. Go on a tour of foreign cities and discover new languages and food. No matter what you choose, you are the driver of your own destiny.

Nothing lasts forever

Everything has a time limit – good and bad things.  No matter how bad something is in your life right now, it will not last for ever. You must accept there will be things at which you are not successful, but you will learn to become stronger with each failure. Buddha said, ‘Every morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.’ So, if things do not work out today, sleep on it and try again tomorrow!

Can You Turn Your Dreams Into Reality?

We are all familiar with dreams, but do you understand its mystery? Dreams are stories that you live through in a fantasy world. Your mind creates vivid images and feelings during certain stages of sleep. They are controlled by your subconscious.

“Dreams are as simple or as complicated as the dreamer” – Brian Herbert

Dreams can happen at any time while you are asleep. They are more vivid during the rapid eye movement stage of sleep. It is believed that you dream four to six times a night even though you might not recall any.  On the other hand, in a lucid dream, you are aware you are dreaming, and can experience feelings of happiness, love, sadness or terror.

Most dreams are quickly forgotten but one or two tend to remain vivid. Those are dreams of passion or fear. Out of nowhere you are chased by a monster. No matter how fast you run, he is still hot on your heels. Or you find yourself dropping from a height at a hundred miles an hour about to crash to the ground. You toss and turn in your sheets, sweat buckets and even scream. You are terrified. Then you wake up and feel silly.

“Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake” – Henry David Thoreau

If you are one of the dreamers who can influence your dreams, you can change the direction the story is going when you are not happy or feel threatened. You are not only the protagonist of your story but also the narrator. Unlike daydreaming you are in deep sleep and not fully conscious.

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” – Dumbledore

Daydreaming is a harmless activity and provides a safe place for your mind to wander. You are conscious because you are awake when it is taking place. You let your mind escape and slip in a new world and be distracted by your thoughts. Because you are detached from your present situation, you forget what you were doing five minutes previously.

Because of this lapse of concentration, others see you as disorganised and a time waster. Contrary to what they think, there is evidence that you have an intelligent and efficient brain. According to a study from journal Psychological Science, daydreaming makes you more creative. Your mind processes different modes of thinking and problem solving. It creates new ideas, not unlike a computer programme. This is your mode of coping with everyday life.

“Dreams are free therapy, but you can only get appointments at night” – Grey Livingston

Would you believe that half of your waking life is spent daydreaming? Escaping into a daydream about the future is normal when you feel stress or bored. It is therapeutic. Continuous daydreaming is a sign that you need to take up a new activity or change something in your life. By dreaming about different lives and different roles, you are craving for adventure. You need more stimulation.

Daydreaming and fantasising can be a brilliant source of creative inspiration and motivation resulting in great achievement. The Brontë sisters pretended to be children and produced successful novels. JRR Tolkien daydreamed and created fantasy worlds and characters for Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit. Albert Einstein conceived his theory of relativity when he allowed his thoughts to wander off from mathematics itself.

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream” – C.S. Lewis

As daydreaming is proven to improve creativity, do not feel guilty when your mind begins to wander. Whether you are doing the dishes, having a shower or staring into space at your desk, tap into your full potential and create the next masterpiece. This is the time when you are more receptive to ideas generated within your subconscious. Can you turn your dreams into reality?