A few weeks ago an email landed in my inbox and the next day I quit the job I’ve been doing for three days a week for the last year.

It wasn’t my boss saying something horrendous, she’s perfectly lovely, it was an email newsletter from writer Oliver Burkeman. In it he quoted the late American psychotherapist Sheldon Kopp:

‘You are free to do whatever you want. You need only face the consequences.’

I read and reread that quote several times, letting it sink in.

At first I felt a bit defensive about it to be honest, like I wanted to say ‘yeah that’s all very well, but I can’t possibly do x, y and z.’ It’s a symptom of the modern world that we’re fed a myth of being able to ‘have it all’. As women especially, we’re presented with this ludicrous idea that we can, and by implication we should, have a successful and fulfilling career AND be a fully present parent AND have some kind of side hustle making our own hand poured soy candles.

Being ‘free’ to do whatever you want can feel like a pressure to do everything at once and when you choose not to, or aren’t able to, it can feel like a failure.

That’s not what Kopp is saying though. He’s not saying you can do whatever you like and therefore you must, he’s just saying go for it if you like, just decide if it’s worth the consequences.

Alongside the myth of having it all of course goes the guilt, and it’s when the consequence of our actions is guilt that we so often feel crippled. How can we be ‘good’ people if we don’t put others first?

‘Oh of course my dream is a travel the world in a campervan, taking photographs of the local wildlife,’ says the mum of teenagers, ‘but I can’t possibly do that because the kids need me to support them through university.’

She could though.

(I said that in a excited but whispery voice, can you tell?)

The consequences might be many, but she could. It’s kind of crazy and wildly exciting when you actually start to think about all the things you could do or say or be if you were prepared to accept the consequences.

I’d been holding back on quitting my job specifically because I was afraid of the consequences. I felt a sense of obligation, (that guilt again), I was worried about my boss’s reaction, I didn’t want to feel like I had let anyone down – it was a lot of feelings that really say more about me and my overgrown sense of responsibility than about anything else.

After reading Oliver Burkeman’s email though, it suddenly felt so much clearer. It became a simple equation, (I like equations) – was the sum of the benefits worth more to me than the potential short term awkwardness? Of course it was. I handed in my notice.

The next time you find yourself wrangling internally over a decision that doesn’t immediately sit comfortably with you, or that causes pangs of guilt, just consider the consequences and ask yourself ‘is it worth it?’

If the answer is yes then to hell with the rest.

 

freedom of choice

 

Photo by Nathan McBride on Unsplash

Also I totally stole the subject line. Sorry Oliver Burkeman. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and all that.

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A few weeks ago I listened to Oliver Burkeman’s new book, Four Thousand Weeks. It’s about how much time we have to live on average, (the clue is in the title), and how to use it. Generally I have to say I found it more terrifying than liberating, but it was just before I started HRT so maybe I was peak hormonal midlife crisis.

One phrase stuck out for me at the time and has been swooshing around my brain ever since – it’s the idea of always trying to clear the decks.

Most of us I’m sure do this a lot. We literally clear our desks before we start work or we clean the kitchen before we sit down to relax in front of the TV. Sometimes it’s a procrastination tool, sometimes it’s a feeling that we have to do something we don’t want to do in order to earn the ‘reward’, whatever that may be.

Sometimes though it’s bigger. Sometimes clearing the decks can be a feeling of needing to wait until something has happened in order to do something else.

‘Once I’ve lost a stone I will feel better about myself and will start dating again.’

‘I just need to finish up this big project at work and then I can make time for family.’

‘The kids will be leaving home in a few years, that will be the time to pursue my own dreams.’

We’re scared of starting something, of taking a risk, of just enjoying ourselves, so we wait for the perfect moment. We wait until we’ve accomplished the things we feel we need to accomplish. We feel like if we can just clear the inbox, THEN we will start that creative project we honestly really do want to do. We just need to finish the house renovations and THEN we can start having friends and family to stay. We just need to clear the decks first, then we can properly start.

SPOILER: The decks will never be cleared.

Life doesn’t work like that. You can empty your inbox but the emails will keep coming. Lose that stone and what a surprise, you won’t instantly feel confident about dating. Nothing is really ever finished. There is never a right time.

I think the idea of never being able to clear the decks stuck with me because it aligns with my own personal motto.

(Yes, I have a personal motto. I am THAT person and I’m not even sorry about it. I don’t have it in swirly writing above my front door or anything, but I carry it in the back of my head, quietly, just as a guide.)

Ready, fire, aim.

I know, I’m awesome right? You’re welcome to share.

If I had spent my life waiting until I knew exactly where I was going before I started anything then I would never have taken any of the first steps that have led me into exciting adventures, new opportunities and, admittedly, disastrous relationships. I wouldn’t be here, writing this blog, that’s for sure. The career’s test at school told me I should be an insurance underwriter and the internet hadn’t even been invented.

When people ask me how I came up with my blog name I shrug and say ‘it was available and I’d had a glass of wine.’ I could have spent ages choosing a name and designing a logo and getting everything just so, but then I would never have begun. I would never have asked Antonio Banderas if he thought that if birds ruled the world, they would leave food out for humans.

We have four thousand weeks people.

We can’t afford to wait until we feel 100% ready because what if that time never comes? This isn’t a dress rehearsal, life isn’t just around the corner waiting to start just as soon as you’ve sent the kids of the university, retiled the kitchen and joined the gym. It’s happening right now. This is it, it’s started, and the clock is ticking.

You should probably stop reading this and get on with it.

Ready, fire, aim

The link to Oliver Burkeman’s book is an affiliate link so if it’s on your wishlist, buy it through me and I get a few pennies. Photo by Todd Quackenbush on Unsplash  

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I’ve been struggling for a long time now to feel creative.

There are loads of excuses I could come up with, like a global pandemic, significant parenting and grandparenting responsibilities, stress, I don’t know, there’s plenty to pin it on, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more I come to the conclusion that it’s something bigger than that.

I’ve been feeling this same kind of ‘God I wish I could just sit and stare at an unopened book and eat bourbons’ vibe probably, if I’m honest, since I wrote this post, which is before I’d even heard of the phrase ‘social distancing’, so it hardly seems fair to blame my lack of creative inspiration on Covid.

At the time I called it a midlife unravelling, because a friend had told me about this article and everything I read resonated with me so much, but since I wrote the post over two years ago a new word for it has been blipping more and more frequently on my radar – PERIMENOPAUSE.

If you follow me on Instagram you’ll know I talk about the perimenopause quite a lot over there, which is fine – the lack of flow in the creative juice department lends itself well to a few sparsely worded Instagram stories, but I’ve written less about it here, probably because the sheer volume of words required makes it feel impossible.

While I do feel that the whole concept of perimenopause has gained more and more publicity over the last couple of years, I think there’s still a huge lack of understanding around what exactly the perimenopause is, and what it means for all the people who go through it.

If you think perimenopause, what do you think? Can you reel of some of the common effects or do you just think hot flushes? (Which actually are more common during menopause that perimenopause.) Do you know how long it can last? (Up to ten years God help us.)

I was listening to a podcast today that used an expression that really stuck with me – they called perimenopause an ‘all systems’ condition. Perimenopause isn’t just a gynaecological issue, it’s an EVERYTHING issue. It impacts every area of your life, from sleep to libido. It can cause joint pain, lethargy, anxiety, skin and hair changes, even tinnitus.

Perimenopause can effect your energy levels and your motivation. It gives you BRAIN FOG. It makes life sometimes feel overwhelming or infuriating or pointless.

Perimenopause gets EVERYWHERE, in every bit of you.

There are women who’ve given up jobs because perimenopause symptoms have made them feel like they’re no longer capable, like they might be going crazy, like they might have dementia, like they are drowning.

Is it really any wonder that when I wake up multiple times every single night, lie awake for sometimes hours at a time, unable to find a place to lie that isn’t too hot or too painful for my hips, that I might feel a tad lack lustre? Can I really be blamed for not wanting to sit down and bash out creative stories everyday when sometimes even opening my laptop makes me furious and exhausted all at once?

No.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this post to be honest, I think I just wanted to start talking here more about what’s going on for me right now and to give some insight for people who might be feeling that same lack of motivation and direction, some reassurance that if this is you, you’re not alone, you’re not crazy.

Over HALF the world’s population experience the perimenopause, so it’s time we started talking about it. If any of this resonates with you I’d love to hear from you – you can leave a comment on this post.

 

perimenopause symptoms

PS. My Menopause Doctor is a great source of information on the menopause and perimenopause and a great place to start if you want to find out more.

 

 

 

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I was struck by this analogy this week and it has stayed with me – life at the moment feels like being handed the menu at a Hungry Horse pub.

You know when you go into a super fancy restaurant and they present you with a menu on one sheet of thick, cream A4 paper? There are four options for the main course – probably pork, chicken, fish, and something for the vegetarians. The prices are given just as whole numbers – a solitary 17 – because this place is too fancy for pound signs or pence.

It feels special doesn’t it? You feel like those four options are all going to be delicious, that someone has taken care over them, put thought into them.

And then you go to a Hungry Horse.

They take you to your table, your feet sticking a little to the carpet along the way, and they present you with the menu. There are about 47,000 choices, everything comes with a side of chips and garlic bread and somehow everything is £3.49, even the steak.

(Nobody ever needs chips and garlic bread. Especially not when the main dish is already pasta.)

If you compare the menus, the Hungry Horse gives you more choice. The multiple dinner options should give you a sense of freedom surely? Apparently not. Something I’ve learned, just in the last few months really, is that choice doesn’t equal freedom. In the case of the Hungry Horse menu, choice makes everything feel less.

The Hungry Horse feels like life feels to me since the easing of lockdown – overwhelming, cheap and way too heavy on the carbs.

This sounds like I’m just being terribly snobby, possibly I was a little with the sticky carpet comment, but it’s not really about price, it’s more just supply and demand I guess – basic economics. While options have been limited in the big wide world it’s given the choices that are available more significance and made them feel more valuable. Going out for a walk on a Saturday morning and finding a vintage truck selling coffee and teacakes in a garden centre car park feels so much more magical then walking down a busy High Street, cafés either side of you. With choice, it feels to me, comes the cheapening of individual options.

I know that in theory I should be able to hold onto that magic and to see those special moments regardless of the noise around them, but it’s hard. Imagine a tiny farm shop selling freshly baked bread, milk, apples, and local cheese. Then imagine Tesco. Those things exist within Tesco but it’s not the same – they’re harder to find and you feel less connected to them when you do.

I guess we just have to try to hold those simple pleasures close, to seek them out and to cherish them when we find them. How you do that as the noise of life and of choice starts to build I don’t know, but I do know that chips and garlic bread is never the answer.

too much choice

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I had a boyfriend once who used the phrase ‘a waste’ to describe the times when we saw each other and didn’t have sex.

It was a sunny afternoon when he said it. We’d just been for a walk along the beach and were sat on the grass with coffee and ice creams. I was lying with my head on his thigh, watching the clouds, the sun warm on my face. His comment ruined the vibe to be honest.

We weren’t living together and we both had other things in our lives, like work and families and friends, so sometimes we might spend the night together, sometimes I’d go to his house during the day, other times we’d go on what I thought were lovely outings – an opportunity to spend some time together and do nice things like lie on the grass and eat ice creams.

He tried to justify it, and talked about ’emotional connection’ and other things that to me felt like him just digging a bigger hole. It stuck with me. It hurt if I’m honest. Was that what it came down to for him? Was simply spending time with me not enough? If we stayed together would I always feel the pressure to perform, even years down the line?

Now I’m not saying that I was looking to put in a solid year and then never have sex again, but I appreciate that sex evolves over the course of a long term relationship, and in very different ways for different couples as well as the individuals within the couple. But how important exactly is sex in a long term relationship?

When I talk to friends about their sex lives, the message is, as you might expect, mixed.

Some friends barely do it at all but claim to be completely happy with that – they say it’s just not an important part of their relationship anymore. Others might make the effort on birthdays or holidays. A couple of married people I know haven’t had sex in over a decade.

I decided to do some research. (Research being the technical term for ‘nosing about into other people’s sex lives’.)

I started with some Twitter polls. Not exactly SCIENCE, but I thought it would be a good place to start to get an overview of exactly how important sex is to people in a long term relationship. I appreciate that it’s a bit of a self-selecting survey, and the people doing it once a year might not be the most willing to take part, but hey ho.

Here’s what I found:

How often do people have sex View Post

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A little while ago I bought myself these cards that ask you questions, designed to make you think about yourself. I have a tendency with things like this to like the ‘idea’ more than the actual thinking. I knew that my instinct would be to flick through them all, thinking ‘oh yes, that’s a good question’, without taking proper time to actually answer it.

I promised myself that I would only turn one card over at a time, and that I wouldn’t turn over another until I had properly thought about the question. The first card I had was ‘What do I love most about myself?’ and the second was this one – ‘How do I show myself love?’ It’s been sat on my desk for over three weeks now, which shows I was right not to trust myself to get around to the thinking part very quickly.

How do I show love to myself?

I thought it was interesting that both of the first questions were about self-love. I don’t imagine the rest of pack is as generous, so it feels like the cards might be encouraging me to lay some good foundations.

I’ve thought about this question a lot over the last few weeks. I started off with answers like ‘I go for a walk’ or ‘I take time to read’, but they felt lame to be honest. I thought about the times when I’ve helped Belle with school work, encouraging her to go deeper, always telling her to ask ‘and what else?’ We can take the first answer that comes into our head, sure, or we can let that sit a little bit and then take another step in our thinking – and what else? Why do we do that? How does that mean that we are showing ourselves love?

I unpicked and unpicked in my head.

Okay, so I take the time to read because that’s something that I enjoy, it’s something that’s just for me, and it’s a way of making time for myself and prioritising myself. Better. So I show myself love by prioritising myself. What else? To prioritise myself I need to have good boundaries, I need to acknowledge that I am important, that actually I am the MOST important. Oooh… that’s a tricky one as a parent isn’t it? Can you really tell yourself you are the MOST important? You kind of have to don’t you? You can’t pour from an empty cup and all that?

So now I’m thinking about the things that get in the way of that, that make it hard for me to have boundaries, that stop me prioritising me, and do you know where I kept ending up? View Post

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What do you love most about yourself? That’s a good question isn’t it? Today I explore the idea and come up with three things which could be perceived as weaknesses, but that I consider strengths.

 

What with life being completely tedious lately, I’ve been struggling to think about things to write on my blog. I did the whole banana bread thing, then I did MINI banana breads… there’s not really anywhere to go after that is there?

‘Wow guess what guys? I sat about at home today! It was so inspiring!’

No.

Instead I thought perhaps the time had come to start thinking about STUFF. You know, STUFF. The inside bits, the big questions. My word of the year is SELF after all, and as this hasn’t been able to translate itself yet into spa days, maybe for now it needs to be a bit more introspective.

To spur me on, I bought a pack of ‘Questions to Empower‘ cards from Mål Paper. It’s 52 cards, each with a different question on it, designed to encourage self reflection. Perfect, just what I need to save me having to come up with original ideas. The cards arrived. I opened them. I gave them a shuffle and turned over the top card.

What do you love most about yourself?

‘What do I love most about myself?’

I felt relieved, like the cards were easing me in gently, because to be completely honest there are a lot of things I love about myself. I know the done thing if someone asks ‘what do you love most about yourself?’ is to point out your flaws and be secretly full of self loathing but I generally think I’m pretty great. I’m nearly 43, I’ve been a parent since I was 17, I’m kind, generous, smart, funny, modest… I’m a solid 9/10. (You have to keep something back otherwise you get lazy.)

I gave the question time to settle though, and mulled it over a bit. I wanted to think about some of the things I loved about myself that could be perceived by other people as flaws – the less obvious things that nonetheless make me who I am. Here are a few of the things that I came up with. View Post

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If you follow me on Instagram stories, you’ll know that I accidentally stayed in bed until lunchtime one day this week reading The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. I’ve read a few Matt Haig books before and I always really enjoy them. He just makes the whole thing so easy. There aren’t those difficult chapters at the beginning where you have to get to know the characters, you never say ‘it took me a while to get into but…’ you’re just THERE, in the story from page one.

The basic premise is that a woman called Nora decides to kill herself, and before she dies she finds herself in the Midnight Library. The library offers her the chance to reflect on her life and her regrets and to try different lives, lives where she’d made different choices.

When I started reading The Midnight Library I figured I knew exactly what was coming – it’s a lesson in living life with no regrets, of not always wishing the grass was greener or imagining what your life might be like if only…

And yes, it is about that – the plot isn’t surprising in that sense – but it’s about something else too, which I’m not sure I had expected or appreciated quite as much.

One of the pivotal moments in the book happens when, in one of her parallel lives, Nora is confronted by a polar bear.

The Midnight Library polar bear

I don’t think polar bears look this chummy in real life

As you might expect, she’s terrified – properly beside herself with fear – but this moment is also the first moment where she realises that she doesn’t want to die, that life might be worth living after all. It’s no coincidence that this strong emotion triggers such a powerful feeling in her, but I’m just not sure I’ve given this enough thought lately. View Post

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A little while ago I found myself having drinks with a friend. The subject got onto men, as it often does, and specifically my apparent lack of skill when it comes to identifying good ones.

Belle was there too, and she’s always happy to feed into a conversation about my failings, so the stage was set.

We were talking about an ex partner of mine, and I was revealing something they had done early in the relationship which, when it happened, I had chosen to ignore.

‘What the FUCK dude?’ said the friend. ‘Why didn’t you tell me that at the time?? I’d have made you leave him.’

I sighed.

‘Seriously,’ she said, ‘you can’t ignore things like that!’

I can’t remember what it was exactly – it may have felt insignificant at the time – but it was an excellent example of why I end up in these odd and unsatisfying relationships. It’s because I choose to ignore the relationship red flags.

I like the see the best in people, I empathise, I understand. I think to myself ‘okay so that’s not ideal, but I can totally see why their experiences as a child/low self-esteem/borderline personality disorder etc etc might make them behave like that, and so it’s really not their fault and I have to let that go.’

WRONG. View Post

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Do you have a word for 2021?

It might feel a bit of a naff idea, but choosing a word for the year isn’t just about making a Pinterest board of inspirational quotes, or getting your word made into vinyl wall art, it’s about the intention behind the word.

My word for 2021 is SELF.

SELF as a word is not as selfish as it might first seem. (And is it actually a bad thing to be selfish? That’s for another blog post maybe.) SELF to me is about investing in yourself, understanding yourself, and in doing so becoming the best version of yourself that you can be. Doing this is just about the least selfish thing you can do if you think about it, because it’s only when you are at your best that you can be the best friend, parent, employee, and all of those other roles which we assign ourselves.

On the same day that I decided on SELF as my word of the year, my Dad sent me a picture. It was a picture of me, which my Uncle John had only just had developed from a (very) old roll of film.

Word of the year 2021

If that’s not the universe saying ‘great choice with your word Joey’ then I don’t know what kind of sign I should be waiting for. View Post

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