A Hundred Tiny Pleasures

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There is so much joy to be found in little things. This is a fact that seems to be popping up in front of me on a regular basis at the moment: in the final chapter of Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive he lists just that – reasons to stay alive – and for the most part they are tiny every day pleasures; in a bookshop in Bristol I came across a little box filled with little cards each of which had on one side a simple but appealing photograph and on the other a small pleasure; in one of my favourite writing companion books, The Five Minute Writer, the activity I came across this week was to list as many tiny pleasures as I could think of. It’s a message that comes up in podcasts and blog posts, novels and research papers, TED talks and tweets: it is the little things that make a happy life. So I decided, rather than completing that writing activity in my notebook, to list my tiny pleasures here. Sometimes we need reminding of where those tiny pleasures can be found so I hope this list helps you find some of your own. I plan to come back and add to this post whenever I think of more. Tell me your tiny pleasures in the comments.

Freshly washed bedding.

Walking in the sunshine with a slight breeze playing across your skin.

The joy of a puppy running through long grass.

A long hot shower.

The smell of a bookshop.

A new notebook.

A book that makes you laugh out loud.

A book that makes you cry.

Summer evenings in the garden.

The feeling of accomplishment that comes with creating something – anything – new. (It wouldn’t have existed without you.)

Fresh flowers.

Music that gives you goosebumps.

That certain slant of morning light.

The peaceful silence of a sacred space.

A child’s laughter.

Sweet, fresh watermelon.

The smell of freshly baked bread.

A handwritten letter.

Poetry that speaks to your soul.

A whispered “I love you”.

An unexpected compliment.

Knowing you made a difference.

Rediscovering a childhood favourite.

The steam rising from a cup of hot coffee.

The sweetness of chocolate as it melts on your tongue.

Standing on top of a hill or mountain, looking down on the world.

The sound of a stream bubbling in the country side.

Walking through a forest when no-one else is around.

The moment of silent solitude after you shut off the car engine but before you get out.

Fingertips grazing bare skin.

The crackling of a real fire.

The smell of woodsmoke.

Mum’s perfume.

Laughing until you cry and your belly aches.

Reading something that seems written just for you.

Unexpected quiet moments.

Walking barefoot on warm sand.

Sunset skies.

Moonshine on water.

The reflection of mountains in a perfectly still lake.

Reuniting with friends.

Having your hair brushed or played with.

Unusual cloud formations.

Watching fish swim.

The elegance of ballet dancers moving in perfect unison.

Reading something so immersive you forget you’re reading.

Finding someone you can be silent with.

Felling the intricate power of your own body.

Homemade soup.

Finding the perfect gift for someone.

A good night’s sleep.

Getting to finish work early.

The cool quiet of caves.

Lists.

The first time you hear birdsong in spring.

Blossom trees in full bloom.

The texture of tree bark.

Being able to see the stars.

Countries where the air smells of spices.

Watching a sleeping dog dream.

Finding the perfect pen.

A cold drink on a hot day.

Finding the perfect position in the bath.

The smell of Christmas.

Singing at the top of your voice.

Meeting someone who you feel instantly comfortable with.

Philosophical conversations at 3am.

Losing track of time.

Sitting round a bonfire with friends.

Chunky knit blankets.

Comfy boots.

Oversized sweaters.

The colour of the turning leaves in autumn.

The taste of parkin.

Scarves.

Finding a bargain.

Old leather.

Libraries.

The sharp and sweet taste of fruit dipped in chocolate.

Sitting down after a long day.

Curling up with a book whilst it rains outside.

The magic of thunderstorms.

The smell of petrichor.

Discovering a new recipe.

Whimsical art.

Finding someone who loves the same books/music/films as you and gushing together for hours.

Putting the finishing touches on a newly decorated room.

The ache in your legs after a long walk.

The smell of the circus.

Driving alone at night.

Snowfall.

Rainbows in waterfalls.

Finding the perfect Pooh-stick.

Successfully skimming a stone.

Days with no plans.

The first page of a new notebook.

Finding trousers that fit perfectly.

Exciting socks.

Old typewriters.

Really great hugs.

Stone cottages with roses growing round the door.

Realising you are not alone.

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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?

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.

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.

It’s #TimeToTalk, Now

It’s easy to be too busy

Or say

It’s not the right time

To worry that you’ll make it worse

So you accept their fumbled

“Fine.”

It’s hard to find the moment

For hearing truth

And depth

But really we’re just finding excuses

To keep ourselves

Deaf

To all the pain that gathers

When people can’t speak

Truth

And have to keep it bottled up

For fear of hurting

You

But what happens when you leave it?

When you let the silence

Grow?

What if their pain is your pain too

But not asking means

You’ll never

Know?

So let’s all breathe together

Hold hands and take

A dive

Into conversation

With neighbours

Strangers

Friends

And lovers

Because

Now

Is The Time.

  • JH

***

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health then please don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to someone. You are not alone and help is available. By opening up and starting the conversation we can move forward together and look to a mentally healthy future. Below are links to a range of fantastic organisations that can provide information, advice and services.

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

Please do not struggle alone.

It’s #TimeToTalk Switching Off

Sometimes, all is noise:

Busy

Bustling

Chaos.

The mad rush from here to

There.

The happy buzz,

The anxious struggle,

The beeping, bleeping, never ending

Asks and answers,

Frets and favours,

Coffee percolating,

Email answering,

Frantic searching,

Forgot what I was doing,

Hamster-wheeling,

Plate spinning

Noise.

And sometimes

There is

Silence.

  • JH

It seems a little ironic to talk about switching off when I’m typing a blog post on my phone (thanks to a broken laptop) which will be read online and shared through social media, but being switched on and plugged in all the time is not good for us. It can in fact be really damaging to our mental health. We are caught in a constant onslaught of exposure to anything and everything. Bad news, images of perfection, and unrealistic expectations are everywhere. It’s enough to make anyone feel inadequate and exhausted.

Being plugged in all the time also prevents us from really engaging with the people around us. Looking around a crowded train carriage on the way into town or even around a restaurant on a Friday night, you see people everywhere staring at screens. Don’t get me wrong, I love my screens and technology as much as the next person, and I’m guilty of checking my phone more than I need to, but sometimes it really is nice to step out of the digital world we’re so caught up in and take a moment to enjoy the reality around us.

So set yourself a challenge to unplug for a while, even just an hour, and start a conversation with someone. A real conversation. It’s time to talk.

***

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health then please don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to someone. You are not alone and help is available. By opening up and starting the conversation we can move forward together and look to a mentally healthy future. Below are links to a range of fantastic organisations that can provide information, advice and services.

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

Please do not struggle alone.

It’s #TimeToTalk About The Borderlands

This is a piece of writing I did when I was struggling, torn back and forth between being overwhelmed by negative thoughts and striving to remember the good and hold onto hope. It’s about being in the borderlands between dark and light and finding a way out. I have shared it on here before but thought it was worth sharing again.

***

You think it will never end.

You cower in shadow, fear and doubt, huddled in the corners of your own mind.

Some days you are screaming inside “LET ME OUT” “MAKE IT STOP” “SOMEONE HELP”…

Some days you are numb. Empty. The void itself.

Alternately wracked with pain and removed from all feeling.

You know it’s there. The good. Some happiness. The light. But it is removed from you. Unreachable. Shuttered behind a transparent wall. Taunting you. The happy sounds muffled to your ears.

The creeping cold down your spine.
The boiling fear in your gut.
The loathing and anger and confusion and pain and…emptiness.

You cry.

You sit, dry eyed, and wish you could cry.

You rage.

You wish you could summon the will to rage.

You wish for the feelings to go away.

You wish for the feelings to return.

It all feels so out of control.

You wonder in the darkness “Will it ever end?”…

You wait.

You give up.

You decide to try again.

And repeat…

And repeat…

And repeat…

Until…

A flicker of something in the abyss.

A waif of light.

So insubstantial, like a child’s bubble blown on the wind; you absently wonder if it’s real and how it got there.

It beckons.

Some warmth returns, just to the very tips of your fingers.

It’s enough.

Hope.

It casts enough light for you to see the good again.

“I remember this place.”

A soft smile.

A tug towards the light, and the shadows recede a little further.

Warmth spreading as feeling returns.

Raw, a little fearful, you step into the light and turn your face to it. Eyes closed, basking in the gentle caress of warmth. There’s still a chill in the background, still shadows behind you, but that’s ok. For now you face the sun.

Walk in it. Remember the flowers, the soft breeze, the ground underfoot, the sky overhead. Life flows back and the numbness, the rage, the pain shrinks further. A mere speck.

You fear it will return.

Don’t.

Be present in the warmth and light. Relish being able to see and hear and feel again.

The shadows may try to pull you back. Sometimes they may manage to wrap their ebony tendrils around you again. But that light will never be extinguished.

Look how it found you in the depths of the night.

So even though you’re afraid, even though it still hurts, even though there is still a numbness threatening the edges of your existence, look to the light of your own being and emerge from the shadows.

***

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health then please don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to someone. You are not alone and help is available. By opening up and starting the conversation we can move forward together and look to a mentally healthy future. Below are links to a range of fantastic organisations that can provide information, advice and services.

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

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

Please do not struggle alone.

It’s #TimeToTalk Rising Up

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As the sun will rise with each new day, so will I.

As the moon will rise with each new night, so will I.

As the waters rise with the tide,

As the birds rise on a breeze,

As a song rises on breath,

So will I.

  • JH

 

Even when it feels like the darkness will never end, hold onto the fact that you have come out of the other side of every dark day that has gone before this one, and you will rise from this one too.

***

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health then please don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to someone. You are not alone and help is available. By opening up and starting the conversation we can move forward together and look to a mentally healthy future. Below are links to a range of fantastic organisations that can provide information, advice and services.

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

Please do not struggle alone.

Come Home To Rest

The Earth smoulders

With the turning of the season

And the clouds drift down

To kiss the burning land.

A veil of tears

Lands softly on flaming leaves

But even heaven’s weeping

Cannot dull the

Rioting palette

Of autumn’s inferno.

And when the most parts,

Making way for the pale light

Of winter’s promise,

And the chill of year’s end

Arrives on the breath of the hills,

The leaves curl and crisp underfoot,

Rustling their accompaniment to fading birdsong.

Polished conkers gleam amongst summer’s debris.

Woodsmoke hangs in the air,

The crackle of logs echoing in the quiet.

The world exhales

A long sigh of letting go.

As though, after a long day,

She has come home to rest.