Being Emotionally Honest

This week was Mental Health Awareness Week and all week I’ve been wanting and meaning to write something to share with you, my lovely readers. But I’ve had a funny mental health week and have just not quite been in the right frame of mind. I’ve felt edgy, restless and anxious, as if something is bubbling just under my surface. It’s an uncomfortable feeling.

When anxiety starts to prickle like this, I try to acknowledge the feeling. In the past, I used to work hard to ignore it, or would make myself feel guilty about it, which only made things worse. It has taken a surprising amount of effort to reach a point where I can allow myself to just feel what I feel, without judgement. Like much else in life, there always seem to be ‘should’s and ‘must’s crowding in, making me feel bad about my feelings, wants and needs. But by acknowledging the truth of what I’m feeling, without trying to tell myself I should feel something different, I’m far more able to deal with those emotions. This is true of more than just anxiety.

Emotions are human. And as humans we experience a full spectrum. It’s no good trying to repress what might be seen as ‘negative’ emotions. If you feel angry, be angry; if you feel resentful, be resentful; if you feel sad, be sad. These aren’t necessarily pleasant things to feel but feel them we do. If, when one of these emotions crops up, we tell ourselves we shouldn’t be angry, or we should be grateful, or we have no right to be sad, we are denying some of the truth of ourselves. And the real truth is that you can’t force an emotion away. You can pretend. You can try to bury it in falsehood. But that emotion will still be there and, if you let it, it will fester.

Like a festering wound, a festering emotion can make you very ill indeed. You have to let the ‘bad’ stuff out if you ever want to heal. One of the things that I used to worry about a lot was how my emotions might make other people feel. When something or someone made me angry, I didn’t want to be angry with them in case it upset them, especially if that person was someone I loved, who loved me, and who I knew probably didn’t mean to make me angry. When something or someone made me resentful, I didn’t want to behave resentfully towards them, and when something or someone (or often nothing) made me sad, I didn’t want to show that sadness because I thought my privileged life meant I had no right to be sad. But by being so focused on what other people might feel in response I put myself in some really dark and painful places. And the thing is, allowing yourself to feel what you feel isn’t about rubbing it in someone’s face. You don’t have to take the festering wound and smear it on the person who accidentally gave you a paper cut, or whose success distracted you from what you were doing so you accidentally gave yourself one.

It takes a conscious effort but I will now (most of the time) deal with those emotions in one of two ways: I will acknowledge it out loud or in writing, just to myself; or if it’s really eating at me, I will speak to a friend or family member who is outside the situation and, as honestly as I can, explain what I’m feeling. These acknowledgements are usually prefaced with lots of ‘I know I’m really lucky to have X, Y and Z, BUT…’ or ‘I feel like I’m being a bitch/ungrateful/overreacting, BUT…’. With the effort of being honest about my feelings, to someone else in particular, comes the need to qualify that I know I speak from a place of privilege. The process at the moment is still partly one if seeking approval for what I’m feeling, which I hope to move beyond eventually. But this has been a huge step forward for me because I used to keep everything I considered vaguely negative bottled up inside. I would not allow myself to be imperfect in my emotions. I would not allow myself to be human.

What I have found is that once I have acknowledged whatever it is out loud, I either feel better immediately and am able to move on, or it gets me to a place where I can then address the person/situation with a greater degree of honesty and clarity. My feelings will usually have subsided to a point where I can express them in what feels like a reasonable and healthy way. It’s a work in progress and sometimes it still takes me a while to realise I’m letting something fester, but I can feel the difference this has made to my emotional life.

I’m also getting much better at self-care and making time every most days to check in with myself and have a moment of honesty. Some of my favourite ways to do this are by reading, listening to a podcast, taking photographs, writing and journaling. Here’s what that looks like currently:

Reading:

The Self Care Project by Jayne Hardy

Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

Circe by Madeline Millar

(I know, I know, four books at once seems a lot. I always tend to have a lot of books on the go because I’m such a mood reader!)

Listening To:

The Happy Place

The Guilty Feminist

Harry Potter and The Sacred Text

The Quibbler

Made of Human

Photographing:

Books

Nature

My dog!

Writing:

Poetry

Blog posts

A young adult fantasy novel…

Journaling:

Quotes

Doodles

Tracking sleep, mood, steps

Daily gratitude

This Mental Health Awareness Week, and beyond, I encourage you to be emotionally honest with yourself, make the time for self care, and help continue the conversation about mental health, whether online, with friends and family, or even with strangers.

What do you think is important for maintaining mental health?

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There is Help and Hope

I have started writing this post several times and don’t quite know how to say what I want to say. I have heard and seen too many stories of people struggling with their mental health and not being able to find a way out; too many stories of people for whom the only escape they could see was through taking their own life. My heart breaks and bleeds for these people and their families and friends. I want to help. I’m not sure how. So for now I just want to say if you are suffering you need not suffer alone. If you are hurting there are people who want to try and help you heal. If you are struggling to see any light in the dark, please, please, call out and let someone – anyone, friend or family or stranger or professional – try to help light your way. Even if you feel totally alone, know that there are people who care.

Please don’t suffer in silence. Let in help. Let in hope.

If you’re unsure how or who to ask for help the resources and websites below might be a good place to start. Take care of yourselves and each other, lovely people. 💛

The Blurt Foundation – https://www.blurtitout.org

The Samaritans – http://www.samaritans.org

Mind – http://www.mind.org.uk

Young Minds – http://www.youngminds.org.uk

Papyrus (prevention of young suicide) – https://www.papyrus-uk.org

Self Harm UK – https://www.selfharm.co.uk

Time to Change – http://www.time-to-change.org.uk

Rethink Mental Illness – http://www.rethink.org

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – https://www.afsp.org

Reach Out

It’s so close you can taste it. You can see the possibility solidifying into a reality, just a little way ahead, but it’s fragile: fuzzy and fluctuating like a mirage in the desert heat. But it’s there. You could make it real. You have to reach out and grasp hold of that dream. You have to pull it from that sacred space of imagination and daydreaming into the clear light of day. It may not materialise with one tug. It may take dozens. Hundreds. It may take all your strength and discipline not to let go. Not to give up and let it drift back into that distant and untouchable plain. It may not look exactly how you imagined if you manage to wrench it forth into the world. But you may also find that you can shape it and grow into it. If you want to make it real you’ll have to hold to it with everything you can. Breathe life into it.

Whatever you do, don’t be afraid if it. It’s your dream. Reach out and make it real.

Work-Life Imagined – Career Visioning

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We spend so much of our lives working. Sometimes we just take a job that will pay the bills but, if we are lucky, or if it is in our power to do so, we can create opportunities for career development that will enable us to earn a living doing something we love. I’ve been in both these situations and I’ve recently found myself, once again, considering what it is I really want to do. What do I want my working life to look like? Where do my passions and skills lie? How can I create the career and life I imagine for myself when I’m daydreaming? I decided I wanted to share a bit about my process for career visioning on here but I’m going to indulge in a bit of reflection on my career journey so far first. This may end up being a bit of a rambling brain dump to begin with (which is part of my process) but if you’re interested some steps for career visioning but not my personal career history, feel free to skip the first bit and scroll doooowwn!

 

From Front to House to Head of House

Whilst I was in college, I had a few different part time and temp jobs: waitress, sales assistant, admin temp, and dance teacher’s assistant. When I left college, not sure what I wanted to do with myself and in need of money for rent, I started my full-time working life as a receptionist/administrator, and had several different roles of this ilk with the same company. Along side these pay-the-bills jobs, I was volunteering with a few different youth groups and projects. I found that I loved working with young people and the variety of jobs in this area interested me, so I took the plunge and decided this was what I wanted to do. I started looking into qualifying as a youth worker and with the support of my friends, family, and colleagues, I decided to embark on a Youth Work degree with The Open University.

To this day, I consider this one of the best decisions I ever made. I was still working full time and studying independently around my working and volunteer hours. It was hard work and I knew it was going to be a long haul (6 years in total), but it was so interesting and rewarding, and the OU was such a great institution to study with, that I knew I’d made the right choice. When I reached the third year of my degree, however, I was faced with a conundrum: I had to be working a minimum of 16 hours per week face to face with young people in order to qualify. Fitting that number of volunteer hours around my full time job was going to be nigh on impossible. If I wanted to continue my degree, I had to find paid work with young people.

One of my degree mentors, who had become a great friend, knew of a job coming up for a Lead Youth Worker at an ecumenical youth work project. I thought I would never get it but she convinced me to apply and, to my great surprise and pleasure, I got the job. The next three years were challenging, fulfilling, and (mostly) the best kind of exhausting. But as I reached the end of my three year contract I was once again faced with impending career change. Youth work funding across the country was being pulled; projects and youth centres were closing left, right, and centre; and, much though I loved the job, all the evening and weekend work was taking a lot of my time away from my friends, family, and lovely fiancé. I decided I wanted to find a way to continue working with young people whilst also freeing up more time to spend with the people I loved, who were working ‘normal’ hours. And that’s how I ended up doing the one thing I always swore blind I would never do: working in a secondary school.

I had to get my 16 year old inner-self to pipe-down in order to pursue this path. In spite of the fact that I have always loved learning, I was not a fan of secondary school – the best day of my secondary school career was the day I left! But it was the obvious solution and I actually decided that it was perfect for me because it would give me the chance to make school a little bit better for the young people who, like me, did not enjoy being there. So after a lot of applications and a handful of interviews I secured a post as a pastoral head of house and I was thrilled. I was convinced this was it: the start of my actual career.

It didn’t quite pan out the way I expected.

Just one year into the job, I found myself in a very unhappy place. I was stressed to high heaven because the workload was so demanding; the emotional intensity of the role meant I was sleeping terribly and spending the majority of my evenings in tears or a high state of anxiety. There were things I loved about the job. I loved working with the students and being able to provide them with support that they struggled to find anywhere else. But I was coming to realise that this was not healthy for me and that I needed to make a change.

And that terrified me.

I had just come to the end of six years of hard work to graduate from my youth work degree, there were barely any youth work jobs around and I felt completely unable to continue in a school based pastoral role. What on Earth was I going to do?

The answer arrived in a somewhat serendipitous manner. The school I was working at was looking to introduce a new role: HLTA in English. I have always loved English as a subject, adored reading, and enjoyed writing for pleasure. I kept thinking this could be something I could do. Something I would enjoy. Something I might be good at. But the post was only temporary and I wasn’t technically qualified, having done nothing related to English since I left college, not having either a TA or HLTA qualification, and having no experience of providing academic support. However, the school had had two rounds of  unsuccessful interviews and when I expressed a passing interest to my Deputy Head he said to leave it with him whilst he mulled it over. After a bit of back and forth and several conversations which I won’t bore you with here, I was offered a one year secondment to the HLTA post. Nervous about a role that was very different to any I had done before but feeling I had nothing to lose (and excited at the prospect of a change from the emotionally draining pastoral role), I leapt at the chance and a few months later I took up the post.

This is the job I still hold today. It is the role I have held longer than any other in my working life. It has offered me more opportunities that I would have anticipated and I have LOVED the variety, challenge, and development I have experienced through it. In this role I have qualified as a HLTA, undertaken a nationally recognised leadership and management qualification with ILM, taken on an additional role as Whole School Literacy Coordinator, and worked with the most amazing team of people. I have been given a huge amount of freedom and flexibility to develop the role and experiment with new forms of intervention and academic support. It has had it’s ups and downs but this job has been the right one for me for a long time.

But lately, I’ve been itching for another change.

I find myself increasingly disillusioned with our education system. So many top-down changes and demands are forced on our schools and – with the best will in the world from passionate, dedicated, and talented staff – it feels increasingly difficult to instil a love of learning, and share passion for your subject in creative and engaging ways, as well as checking all the necessary boxes. That is a whole conversation in and of itself (and not one for right now) but I also find that I’m contemplating what other opportunities I want to pursue for myself, and whether I will be able to find them in this role.

And this is where career visioning comes in. (Finally, I hear you say!)

 

Imagine The Work-Life You Want

If, like me, you feel yourself wanting to make changes to your work life but not really being sure what you want that to look like, I suggest starting by reflecting on your own work/career journey so far, then using the prompts below to explore what you might want to change. Please note that I offer this only as a process that has been useful to me, and only as a starting point. I’m not a career or life coach, and I definitely don’t have the answer for reaching that dream – in fact I am still in the middle of figuring this all out for myself – but I found this helpful for reflection on my own career and in identifying possible areas I could pursue.

I sat down with pen and paper (computer, tablet or phone would work just as well) and considered the following:

  1. Identify the things in your current job (if any) that you enjoy – think about your team/company/area of focus as well as aspects of the job itself.
  2. Come up with ideas for how you would change your current role if you had the freedom and opportunity to do so – would you take on more responsibility? Less? Do the hours suit you or would you want more flexibility? Are there areas of your current role you’d like to be able to give more time to?
  3. List the things (in work or otherwise) that you would like to do more of – are there any skills or knowledge that you’d really like to pursue or develop? Do you have any hobbies that you secretly would like to be able to make a living out of?
  4. Daydream your ideal work scenario – what does your dream work life look like? Part-time? Self-employed? Moving to a bigger company? Working from home? Do you want to continue in the same area but a different role or do you want to do something completely different?

Take your time considering these areas and answering these questions. Maybe jot down initial ideas then leave it for a few days and come back to it: do you still feel the same? Has anything else occurred to you? Do this a couple of times. After you’ve allowed yourself time and space for reflection consider your gathered ideas and look for threads of connection.

Is there anything you’ve identified that you could develop in your current role? If so, consider talking to your colleagues or line manager about whether there might be the opportunity to pursue this as part of your professional development. If it seems like there is nothing in your current role you could develop, look for any crossover in your answers to the other questions. Are there any areas that clearly emerge as having captured your interest? Are there any career/job possibilities that spring to mind which would incorporate this?

 

From Daydream to Reality

Getting these ideas together is all well and good but what do you do with them now? This is the tricky bit, partly because everyone’s current reality, and everyone’s daydream, will look completely different. Maybe your daydream is only a few steps from your current reality and all you need to do is widen your network, pitch an idea to your boss, or explore undertaking a training that would help you achieve promotion. On the other hand, maybe your daydream is a world away from your current reality and achieving it will involve retraining, or even going back to school. I am well aware that for many people, pursuing a daydream career seems impossible.

Getting from A to B when you’ve got bills to pay, a family to provide for, or limited opportunities to undertake further training can seem like an unbridgeable gulf. I know myself to be very privileged when it comes to the opportunities I have had and continue to have, but even though I can see where I want to get to, I struggled to imagine how I might get there. I need the full time wage I currently earn and achieving my dream work-life seemed to require more time and/or money than I have to give.

I had to acknowledge that if this was something I truly wanted, I would have to be in it for the long haul. I would have to find a way to create small stepping stones to get across that gulf and accept that it might take years to reach my end goal, if I got there at all. So that is what I’m doing.

I don’t have the answer. I don’t know if I will get there. I’m not even sure exactly what my stepping stones will look like, although some are starting to take form in my mind. But I do know that, whether it works or not, I want to put my energy into trying to create the work-life I want for myself. I want to live by the words of Henry David Thoreau:

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.”

Have you achieved your dream work-life or ever gone through a career change? What helped you get there? Say hi in the comments and share any pearls of wisdom!

Happy dreaming.

A Reader Wanders Iceland

Travelling, taking in the beauty of the world, is both one of my favourite things to do and one of my greatest sources of anxiety. I don’t know why exactly travelling fills me with such worry alongside the excitement, but it does. Nevertheless, I strive not to allow those anxieties to prevent me from travelling when the opportunity arises because, in the words of St Augustine, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – whoever heard of reading only one page of a book?

My latest travelling opportunity came in the form of a trip to Iceland, booked by my wonderful hubby as a present for my 30th birthday. It is a place we have often talked about visiting and I am so glad we got the chance to go. It is a wonderful place, filled with folklore, rugged and ethereal beauty, and friendly people.

I know of a few people planning trips there in the new people so a post combining some recommendations and sharing some highlights from our time there seemed fitting. We stayed in a wonderful Air BnB studio just 20 minutes walk outside the centre of Reykjavík- we rarely use anything other than Air BnB for our accommodation these days as it’s so easy to find comfortable, attractive, and functional accommodation at a fraction of the cost of hotels. Definitely recommended, especially if you’re travelling on a budget (particularly to somewhere like Iceland which is not cheap…). This was the idea base for our adventures as we could easily get into the city centre and were close to a supermarket, a couple of bakeries, and a restaurant, as well as being near the coast for some lovely views. We were staying for a week in total and had planned an itinerary that was equal parts mooching round Reykjavík, crashing out at the studio, and taking tours to explore further afield. It worked really well for what we wanted: the chance to see some of the best of the island and city as well as the opportunity to really relax.

Day One

Unwinding in our accommodation after a super early flight; a trip to the supermarket to pick up supplies; a wander down to the shore to admire the views and a self-catered dinner.

Day Two

Exploring Reykjavík! We bought a brilliant little Herb Lester map from Trouva.com which highlighted a great range of shops, cafes, restaurants etc in the city that we might otherwise have walked past. Reykjavík has plenty to offer by way of shops and cafes, everything from your typical tourist gift shops to elegant Scandinavian design stores.

If you’re heading into the city be sure to stop for a coffee or hot chocolate at Reykjavík Roasters, up near the Hallgrimskirkja church. Great hot drinks and cakes/pastries with a lovely atmosphere.

We dipped in and out of bookshops and gift shops, just soaking up the city and had a cheap and cheerful evening meal at Block Burger. (Cheap and cheerful doesn’t come easy in Reykjavík but this was actually really tasty and reasonable. Great chips and I highly recommend the veggie burger.)

One of my favourite things about wandering round the city was the street art hidden round every corner and the quirkiness and splendour of some of the architecture. We spent a lot of time just wandering aimlessly and enjoying the city as we found it.

Day Three

We had booked a few tours through Viator before we flew out, which I recommend doing as we were able to get decent prices and guaranteed spots – it seems like the tours can get pretty booked up so it’s worth having these planned before you go if you can. Our first tour was The Golden Circle day trip run by Greyline and we couldn’t fault them. Timely pick ups, informative and friendly tour guides, lots packed into the day!

First stop on our Golden Circle tour was Thingvellir – site of the first Icelandic Parliament, established in 930 AD, and also the point where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet. An area of outstanding natural beauty and fascinating history, it was a great starting point for the tour.

From Thingvellir we moved on to Gullfoss, a beautiful and dramatic waterfall which was one of the most impressive sights we saw. We were super lucky with the weather and so standing above the falls we were treated to not only the majesty of Gullfoss itself but rainbows dancing in the mist around it – spectacular! We could also glimpse a glacier over the mountains and the view all around the Gullfoss area was magnificent.

(If you do head to Gullfoss, I highly recommend getting a hot chocolate from the visitor centre – man do Icelanders do hot chocolate right?! Delicious!)

Final official stop on the Golden Circle tour was Geysir – the site of the geyser that all other geysers are named after! Although Geysir itself is no longer active we still got to witness some pretty impressive geyser eruptions and the steam rising from the pools and outlets of the surrounding geothermal area made the whole place otherworldly.

We also got a couple of unofficial stops along the way including getting to meet some Icelandic horses (super fluffy!) and stopping in at a lovely little church with a traditional Icelandic hut next to it.

We got back to Reykjavík around 6:30pm and headed back towards our Air BnB, stopping in at Bordid for dinner along the way and this was possibly THE best meal we had whilst we were out there. Bordid is a little bakery with a cafe-restaurant attached. The food is locally sourced and super fresh, with a small but varied menu and everything was absolutely amazing! It’s not open late and is outside the city but I highly recommend it if you get chance. Just amazing. For dessert, make sure you try the cinnamon buns!

Day Four

After our jam-packed day touring the Golden Circle we spent a lazy morning crashed out at our Air BnB, only venturing out for a wander and for some food early afternoon. We enjoyed another walk round Reykjavík, visiting the Harpa theatre and wandering along the front, admiring the view across the harbour and the many cairns that have been built in the bay, as well as the striking Viking ship sculpture which beautifully framed the mountains across the sea on a clear day.

Day Five

The second of our pre-booked tours, and the longest day of our stay, day five was for exploring the south coast of the island, seeing more magnificent waterfalls and, most excitingly, doing a glacier walk! This was a 12 hour tour with a couple of long stretches of driving time to get from one place to another but TOTALLY worth with because it was incredible.

First stop was Sejlalandsfoss, an tall and elegant waterfall that seems to sprout from nowhere. Not as impressive as Gullfoss but beautiful all the same.

Second stop was Skogafoss, another waterfall that pours dramatically into a cove carved out of the land and into a glacial river that snakes away through the surrounding plain. You can walk right up to this fall and get soaked in the process! (NB: pack waterproofs!)

Next was a trip to Reynisfjara, the black sands beach that plays host to some impressive land stacks. I have to admit we didn’t spend that much time down on the beach itself as it was very cold, very windy, and a little rainy. Nevertheless, the black beach was very dramatic and I can imagine it’s a great place to explore more thoroughly on a calmer day! There’s also a great little cafe at the car park which serves hot and cold food, including the most delicious chocolate muffins! Perfect for fuelling up ready for our glacier walk.

Final stop on the tour, and probably the highlight of our holiday, was the glacier walk on Solheimajokull. I have to admit I was more than a little apprehensive about this as I had NO idea how physically taxing it might be and was a little afraid I wouldn’t be able to do it. But I needn’t have worried because it was actually surprisingly physically undemanding. I had a moment of mild panic when the guide handed me an ice pick but was quickly reassured it was mainly a photo-prop and really just there for absolute emergencies! The glacier walk was an awesome experience. Our guide was knowledgeable, friendly, and careful to make sure everyone was safe and able to keep pace. We walked about 20 minutes from the car park to reach the face of the glacier, learning along the way that just 17 years ago you could walk straight into the ice from the car park, a sobering example of the impact of climate change. At the glacier face we got booted up with crampons and had some final safety check on our equipment before snaking our way, single file, up onto the glacier.

Standing on top of the glacier itself was like standing on an alien world. No sound but the crunch of our boots on the ice and the glare of the sun illuminating the huge frozen expanse around us. Our lovely guide paused at various points to furnish us with facts and folktales about the glacier: everything from factoids such as it taking 10 cubic meters of snow to create 1 cubic centimetre of glacier ice, to tales about rainbows being born in the glacier. He also shared some shocking insights into how climate change has impacted Solheimajokull: it is currently losing 15 metres of height every year. Solheimajokull is actually just a small tongue coming off the huge Myrdalsjokull icecap that sits over the top of the Katla volcano. As it melts, the pressure of this icecap lessens and eventually there will be no pressure left containing the huge energy bubbling under its surface. Our guide said he wouldn’t want to be there in 150 years: a sad and frightening thought.

The glacier is made all the more dramatic for the covering of black ash which sits in piles and nestles in grooves and gullies in the ice, remnants of the 1918 eruption of Katla. Interestingly, there is very little ash present from the 2010 eruption of Eijafjallajokkull. The landscape is awe inspiring, and has the power of making one feel both insignificant and privileged. It’s really impossible to describe the experience of standing on such a stunning, ancient, yet diminishing natural power. If you have the chance to do this, don’t miss it.

Day Six

Another lazy morning to recover from our long day of exploration, we lounged around our Air BnB in the morning before heading for lunch at Kaffihüs – another great coffee shop outside the centre of Reykjavík.

Here we had a relaxed bite to eat and drink ready for our final trip of the holiday, out to the Blue Lagoon. The lagoon trip was the most expensive for what it was but I’m so glad we did it. It was truly an amazing and wonderfully relaxing experience. Sitting in the steaming geothermal pools, surrounded by volcanic rocks and the tips of snowy mountains felt like being in a faery realm, it was so ethereal.

We had a basic entry package for the lagoon but we could stay as long as we liked and it included a free drink from the swim up bar (anything from slush puppy to prosecco) and a free silica mud mask whilst we bathed. It was wonderful. We soaked happily for about four hours and also took advantage of the steam baths and massage waterfall. It was a great place to people watch. Lots of people had their phones or cameras in waterproof cases with them in the pools and whilst it would have been nice to have some photos from in the pools themselves we chose to forgo our devices and just enjoy the experience. It was a lovely opportunity to connect and enjoy each other’s company and I would highly recommend going device free if you get the chance to indulge in a trip to the Blue Lagoon and immerse yourself in the moment.

There is a cafe, a restaurant, and a gift shop on site and whilst we didn’t eat there it looked like a lovely (if pricey) facility. (I managed to get one shot of the lagoon from the cafe so if your desperate for a photo there is the chance there!) There’s a wide range of Blue Lagoon skincare products available but you can pick them up for a fraction of the price at the airport so maybe hold off until your journey home if you plan on treating yourself.

We got a 9pm transfer back to Reykjavík and headed to the city centre for around 10:30pm, with the intention of having a late night meal, only to find that most places closed or stopped serving food at 10pm! So we ended up having pancakes for dinner (a great shame I know) and would recommend trying out the Eldur creperie if you’re a pancake fan. Sweet and savoury and a huge range of toppings, they also offer vegan pancakes and toppings so there are options for everyone.

Day Seven

Our final day in Iceland was another lazy morning and a last wander round the city. We revisited some of our favourite shops. A couple of mine were the Geysir Heima store – beautiful homeware- and Aurum – all sorts of bits and pieces from stationery and art prints to homeware and clothing.

We had an incredible lunch at Sparta Kaffid where they serve homemade soup in crust bread bowls – perfect warming meal on a chilly Icelandic day. After a little more wandering we ended our stay with dinner in an Icelandic tavern where we avoided the shark and whale fin but enjoyed the waffle fries!

All in all the whole trip was amazing. Great food, lovely people, incredible landscapes and natural wonders. It is expensive out there but I try to look at it as spending money on memories. If you’re fortunate enough to get to visit this wonderful place then plan your time, be selective about what to spend your pennies on, and savour every moment.

Poems From The Library

Today is World Poetry Day and I had the pleasure and privilege of accompanying a group of students to our local care home, where they performed poetry they had written for the residents. It was a wonderful and moving experience to see these young people engage with such care, kindness, and interest with the older generation in our community. It was also a true testament to the power of poetry to move and inspire.

The students involved revelled in the opportunity to create poetry, several of them never having attempted anything like it before. The whole experience reinforced my own love of the poetic word and prompted me to reflect on my own experience of writing poetry. Unlike with other forms of writing, I often find that poems materialise inside me in a very natural way. Writing stories, articles, and blog posts usually takes a conscious effort of considered construction, but poetry often seems gifted to me.

I heard a wonderful TED Talk by Elizabeth Gilbert in which she shares Ruth Stone’s poetic process:

“…when she felt it coming – because it would, like, shake the earth under her feet – she knew that she had only one thing to do at that point, and that was to – in her words – run like hell. And she would, like, run like hell to the house. And she’d be getting chased by this poem. And the whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper and a pencil fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. And other times, she wouldn’t be fast enough. So she’d be, like, running and running and running and the – she wouldn’t get to the house, and the poem would, like, barrel through her. And she would miss it. And she said it would continue on across the landscape looking, as she put it, for another poet.”

My own experience of being discovered (or chased!) by an emerging poem is not quite so dramatic but I can completely relate to the idea of a poem coming to the poet! Don’t get me wrong, my poems don’t just blink into life fully formed before me. I usually find that they sneak up on me and then just part of it will just appear to my consciousness very suddenly. It is like seeing something glinting in the grass and when I pick it up it becomes a thread for me to follow. I follow the thread and hope I can figure out where it was supposed to lead. I weave it into something new and hopefully capture that moment in time.

Lat summer, I was lucky enough to stay at Gladstone’s Library – something which I HIGHLY recommend to any writer or bookworm – and my time there really rekindled my love of writing poetry. One poem found me whilst I was writing in the library late one night and I thought I would share it with you today:

Night birds sing their sunset tune,

As the eloquence of trees is cloaked in shadow.

The final note rings out the day

And silence envelopes the warm, red brick.

But lights still glow through the leased windows,

And gentle figures sit in quiet reverence,

Breathing deep the ink and parchment dust

Of ages past.

Walked in by layers of words and prayers and panelled oak,

Held close by the carved pillars and balustrades

That guard the ancient knowledge of the library;

They sit

And seek

A knowledge of their own.

Outside the darkness creeps

And chases off the warmth of day

But inside the write by their own cones of light,

Cocooned in the low steady burn of ideas.

And even as the lights dim and blink out,

One

By one

By one,

And heavy heads hit feather pillows, to

Dream

And dream

And dream,

The seemingly slow and silent life of the library,

Carries on it’s endless forays into

History and Destiny and Fantasy,

Because imagination never sleeps.

Finding Happiness

Today is International Happiness Day. I have been thinking a lot about happiness recently; I think I am generally a happy sort of person. I have a wonderful life and there are many things in my everyday that make me very happy indeed. I also sometimes feel profoundly unhappy, for no discernible reason, and subsequently make myself feel even more unhappy by berating myself for feeling unhappy in the first place. I am surrounded by happy people, but I am struck by the fluctuations in their happiness too: one of my very dearest friends has recently suffered a blow which is causing her deep unhappiness, whilst another has just experienced what will probably be one of the happiest moments of her life. Happiness is a strange and intangible thing which can both live inside the darkest of times and can dominate whilst unhappiness resides within it.

I wanted to take a moment to reflect on some of the many small things that can be little happinesses in themselves and that can contribute to a bigger happiness. I believe these little everyday happinesses are fundamental to our ability to cope when we are faced with unhappy events and moments. I believe that everyday happinesses are different for everyone but that they DO exist for everyone. I encourage you to create a ‘happy list’ of your own, to help you find comfort when it seems there is none. For now, I’ll leave you with a snippet of mine:

– Watching a puppy chase it’s tail or run to its hearts content.

– Laughing until you cry and your sides hurt – especially if the thing that made you laugh wasn’t actually that funny…

– Reading something that speaks directly to your soul.

– Receiving one of those really great hugs that feels like it’s squeezed all of your brokenness back together and finding that afterwards you feel just a bit stronger than before.

– Seeing spring flowers begin to emerge.

– Hearing a certain song that you just can’t stop yourself from singing and dancing along to.

– Dancing.

– Singing songs from musicals at the top of your voice.

– The smell of that particular moisturiser that reminds you of mum and makes you feel like a child again.

– The taste of risotto that reminds you of dad and makes you feel like a child again.

– Toast with lots of lurpak, cut up into small squares, because that’s how gran used to make it.

– Knowing there are people who love you no matter what.

What are some of your everyday happinesses?

The Joy of A Moment

Yesterday, I walked in the spring sunshine with snow swirling round me on a wintry wind. I watched my spaniel companion try to catch snowflakes in her mouth and leap amongst the tussocks with sheer joy and abandon. I had taken my kindle with me because I was so engrossed in my current read (A Thousand Perfect Notes by C G Drews), and so I walked through two worlds, alternately losing myself in the music woven into the words of the story and revelling in the beauty of the snowy, sunny, spring world around me. I had the works of some of my favourite composers playing in my ears, the twining melodies and harmonies lifting me from the inside and somehow heightening the many and varied beauties around me. All these little, everyday things, in which I found such delight, came together, as I reached a small rise at the edge of the field, and I felt a profound moment of joy and peace.

In the chaos of everyday life, and particularly through the struggles of coping with mental illness, it is so easy to forget what an exquisitely beautiful place the world is, and just how miraculous it is that we exist at all. As the height of that poignant moment passed, and settled into a quiet contentment, I found myself wishing I had a way to catch that peace and carry it with me, a way to hold it inside me somehow and bring it out when I needed it.

I have a lot of joy in my life. I am exceptionally lucky in my friends and family, my love and livelihood. And yet I sometimes lose myself. I become mired in worry and fear and an unfounded conviction that life is just too difficult and I can’t do it, despite evidence to the contrary. I have come to realise that this is one of the reasons I write – one of the reasons I want to write more: so I can capture those moments of joy and peace, and so hold on to them. So I can capture those moments of panic and fear, and so let them go. Writing has the magical property of allowing me to do both.

I have recently been practising (albeit sporadically) mindful writing, a concept I discovered through the book ‘The Joy of Mindful Writing’ by Joy Kenward. I have found it invaluable in helping me focus on those small moments and recalling past joys. I have found that the exercises help me feel centred – in a way that other mindful practices have not – and have the dual benefit of getting me to write and getting me to engage in some meditative practice. If you’re looking for a way to combine creativity, particularly writing, with mindfulness, I would highly recommend giving this book a read.

I really just wanted to write this today as a reminder, both to myself and to anyone who happens to be reading, that there is joy to be found in the everyday, even when life is hard or the world seems dark or you just feel lost. When you notice it, do what you can to catch it and carry it with you.

Wishing you all a peaceful week.

International Women’s Day 2018

Happy International Women’s Day to my lovely readers.

I had had in my mind some vague idea about doing a big #IWD post: share some books by female authors I love, write about the many inspiring women in my life, give a little glimpse into some of the wonderful women-focused work I’ve been able to be involved in with my students this week…but it just didn’t happen. It’s been so ridiculously busy and I just haven’t had the time to put something together. And at first I was really annoyed with myself for not being organised enough to get it done, and disappointed that a day that means so much to me would go unnoticed on my blog. I considered staying up stupidly late just to get something in before midnight and had the absurd, if fleeting, thought that if I didn’t I would have ‘missed the opportunity’…and then I came to my senses. Because although International Women’s Day IS an important day on the calendar, it is NOT the only opportunity to talk about how awesome women are.

So instead of exhausting myself trying to throw something together I am going to go to bed. I am going to read a few pages of some wonderful books written by wonderful women. And I am going to drift off to sleep reflecting on the amazing conversations I have had today and the lovely moments and opportunities I have had and have been able to offer.

But I just wanted to say to all the incredible women out there, you are magic. I am constantly inspired by the achievements, resilience, and passion of the women I am lucky enough to encounter – thank you for being you.

Share a Story

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Hello lovely people. It’s been a whole month since I last spent any time in my little corner of the internet; I kept thinking about writing various posts but never actually managed to get around to doing it, partly because it’s been ridiculously busy and partly because I’ve had a bit of a rough mental health patch (ironic since my last blog series was all about mental health). But I’m here at last because it’s World Book Day and I couldn’t let it pass without a post.

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World Book Day is one of my favourite days. A whole day dedicated to celebrating books, and stories and reading – what more could a bookworm ask for? Aside from maybe the day off work to read…(a girl can dream). This year, I’m looking forward to my first World Book Day as Whole School Literacy Coordinator. We’ve not got anything spectacular planned but I’m still excited that my job for the day will be to talk about books, read with students, and do what I can to encourage staff and students alike to share stories. It’s absolutely freezing outside and curling up with a good book and a mug of something warm seems like the ideal way to spend these snowy days but if I have to leave the house I’m glad it’s to do something book related!

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The theme for this year’s World Book Day is “Share a Story” and I think it’s such a lovely concept. I’ve had great fun designing some lessons for KS3 and KS4 classes to get them thinking about the power of storytelling. (Shameless plug alert: if you’re planning last minute lessons you can get the powerpoint here and here.) I’ve been thinking a lot about how storytelling has evolved over time and how we are in fact surrounded by stories. Everyone and everything has a story and tells a story, from the history of the wheel that eventually evolved into the car or bike or bus you are getting to school or work in, to the ways we choose to dress or decorate our homes, stories are woven inextricably into everyday life – they are both mundane and magical. It’s so fascinating when you stop to think about all the millions of tiny stories that intersect with your own. I feel a bit like Alice falling down the rabbit hole when I consider it and I both want to keep on falling and worry that I might never stop!

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As usual, my own winding way of storytelling on this blog has lost it’s thread a little, but I hope you will take the time to consider the myriad of stories surrounding you today. You never know, you might discover something wonderful and unexpected.

I will be talking to students and colleagues about reading, and doing some reading and writing of my own. How will you be sharing stories today?