Happy New Year to you lovelies! I’m so delighted to have you here, and so thrilled to be back writing for A Life Loved after a much needed festive-break, time spent seeing in the New Year with my family and first week of January catching up on work. An invigorating walk through the countryside last weekend followed by a slap up full-English at the fabulous Yorkshire Cycle Hub was exactly what I needed to banish any stubborn end-of-year worries.
It was a break that had been far more needed than wanted, if I’m honest. For the duration of Christmas 2016, only 12 months prior, I’d spent the entire two week ‘holiday’ feeling horrible. A knackered, exhausted mess, unable to really engage with or enjoy the festivities. I vividly recall finally getting round to opening my gifts in the evening, surrounded by my loved ones all eagerly egging me on, and feeling nothing but an overwhelming sense of ‘I don’t want to be here. I can’t keep my eyes open. I just want to sleep’. After a terrible few days of migraine, and endless apologies to my family members for being so pitiful, I promised myself on New Years Day, January 2017, that Christmas this year would be different, that I’d arrive at the holidays feeling well slept, healthier and all together more seasonally jolly.
Oh, the great plans of Mice and Men.
Come mid December 2017, I was once again worn out and beyond desperate for time away from ‘everything’.
But why, when my team has expanded in size throughout 2017 and I have more opportunity than ever to delegate is this still happening? Why, when I have the most supportive husband and dream ‘work from home set up’ with no boss telling me what I can and can’t do, do I keep arriving at the end of the year totally and utterly done in?
It’s easy to consider things in hindsight once you’ve had a little time to rest, recoup and reflect and it didn’t take more than a few days into the Christmas holiday for me to realise I was burnt out – and to see with the kind of crystal clarity that had been lacking entirely up to then, exactly why. Clarity confirmed by four simple words from my husband, delivered with a deadpan kind of ‘I’ve been telling you this for ever’ weariness; “You have no routine.”
He was right, and despite me having recognised my struggle with work/life balance and routine as far back as 2014 when I wrote this piece for Love My Dress, here I was, in the last month of 2017, feeling like a failure.
In an attempt to gather some form of coherent wordage for A Life Loved, the unsettling realisation that I’ve been living a life without proper routine for years now had started to sink in. Like a lead weight. It’s a fact I’ve found immensely difficult to have to admit to myself. I’ve been working unwieldy work hours which have led to far too much screen time and far too little sleep, which has led to not enough quality time with my family or friends, and certainly, never enough time for me. I fully believe that the combined effects of all of this have contributed to my migraine hell of the past few years and inability to stay focussed and work productively for more than just short periods of time.
But if accepting that I’ve been struggling with routine was hard, facing the fact that I have far too much screen time was an even more difficult pill to swallow. My business is 100% based online and largely technology dependent – the thought of enforcing less screen time honestly scared the shit out of me.
‘Why don’t you just get to bed earlier?’, I hear you say?
Why indeed. I’ve enough life experience under my belt to know how easy it is to find yourself stuck in a rut though bad habit or poor decision making, and how hard it is to acknowledge that rut and find a way out of it. And my rut was this: I thought that by eeking out every spare second of work that I could each day, that I’d get more done. And thus, every spare second of my life up to now has been consumed with work, from dawn to dusk, sat at my desk, starting at my screen. I’d been running on 5 or 6 (sometimes as little as 4) hours sleep a night. I mean, is it any wonder I was reaching the end of the year feeling so ruddy awful?
Talking is one thing though – doing is something altogether different. Recognising you have a weakness or are struggling is all fine and well. But taking action to resolve that weakness, well therein lies a challenge. Furthermore, I’m an entrepreneur and so by nature, I find it pretty hard to admit weaknesses or failure. Setting up my own business was a declaration of my independence and admitting I’m struggling feels like an admission of weakness.
But I’m also human – a wife, a Mummy, a daughter and friend. And it is the relationships that I have with all of these people, my husband, my daughters, my dear friends and family that mean the world to me, more than anything else. Bar none.
We are so hard on ourselves – as small business owners we allow ourselves to be accessible almost all of the time, mostly to the detriment of our personal health and relationships. I am sure there are many of you who are better than me and find it much easier to switch off when you need to, but equally, I’m pretty certain there are many of you just like me who struggle to stay away from the handheld devices that make it easy to check in on email and social media and all those other distractions through fear of missing out.
– Me, in this post dated 2014 –
I really don’t want this next bit to sound self-piteous, but I feel it’s important to add some context here. This is real-life shit I’m talking about that doesn’t just impact on my own life, but the lives of those I love too. I’ve sat for a long time with some very unsettling truths over the Christmas holiday, as I’ve unpacked my situation to try to work out a way forward. And I have concluded this: If I carry on as is, my migraines are likely to get worse. If I carry on as is, my health will deteriorate. I’m 43 years old, if I carry on with such little sleep and high levels of screen time, I could end up having a stroke through stress. If I carry on as is, I may make myself unfit to work at all. If I carry on as is, my children will miss out on precious family time. If I carry on as is, my marriage may be at risk because I have so little quality time to dedicate to nurturing it.
In writing this post, I want to hold myself to account in making urgent and immediate changes that will turn my situation around and put me on the path to a more productive, healthy and routine driven lifestyle.
I have so much love for my job, for my family, I have everything I need and could want for in life. It’s time to start taking control and to stop being concerned about failing or having gotten it wrong. In fact, through talking about my migraines in the A Life Loved Facebook group (something I was incredibly fearful of opening up about incase outsiders judged me incapable of doing my job, or wallowing in self pity), I have sought so much solace and comfort and support from others.
On 1st January, I sat and made a note of all the changes I wanted to make with absolutely immediacy, and it went like this;
- A Screen Free Bedroom
- No work after 8pm
- Minimum 7 hours sleep a night
- Read every day
- Water, Water and more Water
- Screen-free Sunday
- More Physical Exercise
- Daily Meditation
- Be kinder to myself
I wrote this piece 6 days after making the list above and cannot tell you what a different woman I feel in such a short space of time. Holy guacamole; the power of good night sleep!
Since last Sunday, I’ve made it my golden life rule to ensure a minimum of 7 hours a night sleep, come what may. During the week, I’ve not worked past 8pm and I’ve also, somehow managed to adhere to my self-imposed screen-free bedroom rule – the one change I thought I’d struggle with.
All we need is the commitment to get enough sleep, take time to recharge our mental and emotional batteries, put away our phones and laptops and tablets regularly, and try to introduce some stress-reduction tools into our lives.
– From the amazing book ‘Thrive’, by Arianna Huffington. So good, I’ve read it twice! –
I had gotten into such a habit of scrolling first thing in the morning and last thing at night, I wasn’t sure how truly achievable this condition would be. Oh my, I cannot tell you how FREE OF FOMO I feel just a week after not allowing my mobile phone into my bedroom. I’ve gone a step further too and followed the advice in this post by the wonderful Nicola Rae Wickham to steer clear of social media for the first 20 minutes of every day. Whilst my job might rely on social media, I have no wish to enslaven myself to it. This, so far, has been the most surprisingly empowering change of all. I urge you all to give it a go.
I’m drinking more water, I’ve taken 5 minutes at the start and end of each day to meditate daily and I’ve read every damn day. It’s been utter bliss crawling into bed at a decent time and allowing myself a half hour to read before sleep instead of clambering into bed in the dark and scrolling my social feeds whilst struggling to keep my eyes open. And today, as you read this, I’ll be contributing towards the exercise target I’ve set myself by walking with my family through the glorious North Yorkshire countryside, during a screen-free family Sunday. I cannot ruddy wait.
The physiological changes have been swift too; I’m more alert, focussed and aware of things like hunger (I’m snacking less and feel much healthier as a result). I’ve been so productive this week, it seems ridiculous. I’ve achieved twice as much in half the time, literally.
I’ve had time to spend with my husband in the evenings, I’ve had time to play with my children.
Seven days and I feel like a new woman. Can you imagine what I’m going to feel like next Christmas? 😍🙅
I wanted to end this piece by talking a little on the final item on my list; ‘be kinder to myself’…
If we could really see what love and work were like for most people, we’d be so much less sad about our own situation and attainments. If we could fly across the world and peer into everyone’s lives and minds, we’d perceive how very frequent disappointment is, how much unfulfilled ambition is circulating, how much confusion and uncertainty is being played out in private and how many breakdowns and intemperate arguments unfold with each new day. And then we’d realise just how – statistically speaking – abnormal and therefore cruel the goals we have set ourselves really are.
– Alain de Botton, via The Kinfolk Entrepreneur –
Reading the above has reminded me of the importance of not comparing ourselves with others (to the detriment of our confidence and even our mental health) and that we never truly know what goes on behind the closed doors of people we know (or people whose lives we voyeuristically peer into through the screens of our mobiles phones). Of course, ‘breakdowns’ might sound a little dramatic, but truth be known, none of us have a clue what goes on in the private lives of others – none of us can be witness to that person’s internal chatter or truly be aware of the personal struggles they may harbour. We’re all as vulnerable as the next person – and prone to failure, mistakes, self doubt and finding ourselves caught in shitty ruts that leave us feeling exhausted.
What I’m trying to say is, I’m starting to feel much more comfortable in accepting my struggles and failures and in admitting when I’ve got things wrong. Being kinder on myself too is very much about working less to achieve more.
This piece wasn’t easy to write and I am absolutely not claiming to have cracked my issues in a single week, but I feel so encouraged by the actions I have taken the past 7 days, and absolutely committed to maintaining these positive changes going forward. I’m striving to make A Life Loved a space where we can feel comfortable opening up about personal struggle and fears of failure without feeling like we’ve failed at life. Our modern day lives place us under so much pressure to be flawless, to achieve and to compare ourselves to the seemingly perfect lives of others. I say we should all be kinder to ourselves – allow ourselves a breather and permission to say ‘I’m stuck in a rut and need to find a way out!’
My friend Mona, and fellow A Life Loved community member, shared this image on Instagram this week. Within the caption, she talked about how she had emerged from her holiday experience as a human being, rather than a human doing. I fully intend to emerge from 2018 feeling the same way.
The image of the moon at the start, by the way, was taken on Tuesday morning this week. I got up early after a blissful 7 hours of sleep and it was glowing with such intensity and beauty in the quiet early morning darkness that is seemed symbolic somehow – a shining light of hope, representing a brighter, bolder, and altogether more organised future. I’ll take rising early and alert for more light from the moon over staying up late in the light of my screen this year please.
I would absolutely love to receive your thoughts in the comments section below and am especially keen to hear from those of you starting out in 2018 with a focus on better life balance, health and wellbeing.
Have the loveliest Sunday,