Sweet repose

IMG_9048

Sleep.

It is a hot topic amongst people in all stages of life, and from my experience the primary theme is not getting enough of it.  Whether it’s the 20-somethings foregoing sleep for socialising, parents wishing for a night without having to attend to a child, people with chronic illness or pain trying to remember when they had their last unbroken night of slumber, or older generations settling into life requiring less time in the world of dreams,  sleep is something that can be quite defining in our lives, and it’s an area full of unknowns and wonderings.

February’s focus for Ways of Wellbeing is sleep, particularly how important it is, good sleep hygiene, and how we can improve our sleeping experiences.  We’ll look at what sleep does for our brains and bodies, what happens if we don’t enough of it, what is sleep hygiene (hint: it’s not clean sheets and pillowcases), and what we can do to to optimise our experience.

My sleep story has had many ups and downs over my lifetime.  I was the kid who never wanted to get up in the morning, but could lay awake for hours in bed at night.  As a teenager, I struggled to get to sleep, but never felt tired, and never had any problem sleeping in until lunchtime if I could. When I became a parent at 21, broken sleep didn’t bother me, and on reflection I can say that the best period of sleep experience in my life is when my kids were babies and toddlers and early school years.  I never had any trouble actually sleeping, I could stay up late and live well on about 7 hours sleep a night (often less), and didn’t have any health issues.

It was when I hurt my back nearly 10 years ago that my journey into the world of problematic sleep began.  Pain would keep me from getting to sleep and then wake me through the night, and just as that settled I developed Psoriatic Arthritis, which while it made me so fatigued, I couldn’t sleep well enough to overcome the constant deep tiredness.  Over the past 10 years, I’ve gone through ups and downs of some times being better than others, with a good period of about 4 years or so being pretty problem-free, but the past few years have been the most challenging, with my experiences ranging from struggling to fall asleep, to waking frequently through the night, constant fatigue, never feeling rested, and just generally sleep deprived.  And in the middle of this time, I thought working night shift would be a good idea (it wasn’t)!

I’m now in a time where going to sleep is (usually) no problem, but staying asleep and having good quality sleep cycles sometimes feels impossible – I can be asleep for 8 hours and wake up feeling like I nodded off for half an hour, possibly with having run a marathon during that time (and according to my sleep tracker, I can sometimes have been restless enough to account for nearly 10,000 steps worth of movement through the night!).  So I’m on a mission to improve my sleep quality, to feel better and more awake and energised through the day, and I’m starting with implementing good sleep hygiene practices.  It will take more than a month to turn the tables, but this month will be a good start, and hopefully we’ll find out some interesting things along the way!

I’d love for you to share your experiences, good, not so great or otherwise, I know I’m not the only one who longs for the land of sweet dreams!

Advertisements

Move-ish

IMG_8941

(Gratuitous pic of my walking buddies)

So January didn’t go quite to plan.  My month of ‘Move’ came to a bit of a halt 19 days in when I aggravated my back, an injury I had nearly 10 years ago but which reminded me it can still knock me down nearly as much as when it first happened.

I am a huge advocate of continuing to move despite pain, within your own limits, of listening to your body and doing what you can wishing your own pain experience, all the while understanding that when it comes to chronic pain, hurt does not (usually) mean harm (further tissue damage).  I’ve had to put my now beliefs into practice more consciously over the past 10 days, because I can tell you, laying on the couch seems the best option most of the time!

I live on a hill, so my usual morning walk has been put on hold until I feel walking down and then back up the hill won’t result in another flare-up, so I’ve been trying to be active in other ways – walking around town while doing jobs, standing more than sitting when I’m working, parking the car further away from my destination where I can.  I’m the first to admit that I haven’t done as much as I could have, but in conjunction with reading a book called ‘No Sweat’, I’ve been re-thinking what daily movement looks like in my life, movement with the aim of being active and contributing to my wellbeing.

We tend to think of movement as ‘exercise’, and that we need to schedule a certain activity for a certain amount of times per day/week/ etc, and there are certainly evidence-based recommendations and guidelines to this effect.  For the record, the Australian government (based on researched evidence) advises the following:

  • Doing any physical activity is better than doing none. If you currently do no physical activity, start by doing some, and gradually build up to the recommended amount.

  • Be active on most, preferably all, days every week.

  • Accumulate 150 to 300 minutes (2 ½ to 5 hours) of moderate intensity physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes (1 ¼ to 2 ½ hours) of vigorous intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both moderate and vigorous activities, each week.

  • Do muscle strengthening activities on at least 2 days each week.

(For the record, they also say that absolutely any amount of exercise is better then none!).

These are perfectly reasonable and achievable guidelines, especially when we think about them in the context of activity and movement as opposed to specifically structured exercise.  I have tried to go to 2-3 gym classes or workouts a week for more than 10 years, and have always struggled to maintain the program.  However, I can maintain a daily walk for 20-30 minutes a day (sometimes more), plus walking whenever I can in other environments (e.g. around town doing jobs), plus gardening (which can certainly involve strengthening activities), even carrying the shopping requires strengthening movements! Of course there are many other activities that people engage in that probably wouldn’t be considered ‘exercise’ as such, but which keep up active and moving – golf, dance classes, housework, running around after kids (quite literally sometimes!), swimming at the beach – basically if you’re not sitting, lying down or standing still, you’re moving, and it counts!

What I like about the current guidelines is that they recommend an amount of movement per week, as opposed to certain amounts of time per day per week, which means that movement accumulated through the day ‘counts’ as much as if you have a 1 hour session of exercise structured exercise.  Of course, if structured exercise is you thing, then great, that’s what works for you!  That’s what this whole journey is about, finding what works for you and embracing it.

One of the key philosophies of Michelle Segar’s ‘No Sweat’ is looking at why we don’t sustain particular exercise programs, even when we have the best of intentions.  What she says really resonated with me, because the stories of her clients was just so familiar to me – set good intentions, for really good reasons (lose weight, become more healthy etc), and continually fail to stick with the program.  She suggests that the reasons we make decisions to exercise (generally all reasonable and good) aren’t actually effective motivators for behaviour change because they’re usually aimed at outcomes that are based in the future, and we don’t feel like we’re getting any immediate benefit, therefore we are more likely to stop what we intended to do.  However, by taking a step back and really looking at our motivations, we can identify what we want to achieve or how we want to feel now, in the present, and that becomes a more powerful motivator.

What I’m particularly loving as I read this book is how I can see the philosophy of motivation impacting all behaviour change in life, not just movement, because our actions come from motivations, and understanding our motivations will shape the outcomes we desire.  For example, my reasons for exercise/activity.moving have always been the same – lose weight, become more healthy, ward off any health issues in older age, keep fit to manage the chronic condition I have etc etc.  And yet I’ve never managed to maintain consistent, active behaviour.  So I’ve been asking myself ‘why do I want to move?’.  My answer was actually ‘I don’t want to, I’d rather lay on the couch and read a book at any given point in time’.  Ouch.  Talk about a reality bite!  So I reframed the question to ‘why do I want to make regular movement a part of my life every day?’, the answer to which surprised me – ‘because I want to achieve a goal (in this case of daily movement)’.  My motivation has nothing to do with health or anything physical – it has more to do with the satisfaction of ticking off a daily activity on a habit-tracker and achieving a goal, which comes from a life-long sense of disappointment at not achieving goals I set (for  whole variety of reasons), and feeling like I constantly fail and what I want to to.

Michelle also goes into looking at our perspective on the activity before us, and evaluating if we feel it is something we should do or something we want to do, because how we see what we do makes all the difference. For example, if I think ‘I have to go for a walk’, I’m going to immediately be resistant to the idea, because I feel like it is something I should do, as opposed to something I’m choosing to do, whereas if I think ‘I get to go for  walk’, my perspective is immediately flipped, because the same activity has now become something I am choosing to do (because I want to, not because I feel I have to), and I’m thinking of all the good things that will come with the chosen activity.  The possibilities of how we can apply this perspective to all areas of our lives is endless!!

So there you have it.  Whilst this month’s Way of Wellbeing didn’t exactly go to plan, I’ve still learnt a lot about myself, and gained some insight on behaviour motivation and how to apply that to probably nearly every area of my life, which can only be a good thing!  Next month I’ll be focusing on Sleep, and I for one will be interested to see what happens, I’m hoping you’ll join me and share your stories along the way!

 

Ways of Wellbeing

IMG_5980

In the interests of full disclosure, this is not a representation of how I feel right now – certainly not physically anyway, but I am just a little bit excited on the inside about what has been brewing in my heart over the past couple of days, a culmination of ponderings and musings that have been simmering away for, well, for a long time.

As I wrote in my previous post, I am making a commitment to improving my wellbeing by making purposeful, intentional changes to live a wholehearted life.  And I actually have a plan – well, somewhat of a plan, anyway!! It might be better to say I have some sign posts, some markers to guide me along a path of discovery which I believe will lead me to a life of thriving, the abundant life that Jesus speaks of when He said the enemy comes to steal and kill and destroy, but He came, Jesus, the Son of God came so that we may have life and have it to the full.  To the full.  The definition of ‘full’ is ‘containing or holding as much or as many as possible; having no empty space; not lacking or omitting anything; complete’.  

Having no empty space.

Not lacking or omitting anything.

Complete.

This is how I want my life to look.  Full of Jesus.  Full of life.  Life abundant.  Just as God intended. Just as Jesus promised.  Who am I to turn away from that, to reject it in preference for anything that cannot fill me, cannot satisfy me no matter how appealing it might look at the time?

As I thought about all this, I read about a blogger’s year of wellness journey, and the idea of focusing on a particular area of life a month at a time really appealed to me, having time to explore that part of my life and working out what works and what doesn’t, what changes would benefit and what could stay the same, what can stay and what can go.  Then as I was out walking yesterday morning (I’ve already started making some changes!) the particular areas I want to focus on became more clear, and I knew I had the bare bones of the journey ahead – and I even had a name for it.

And thus, the Ways of Wellbeing came to life, and for the first time in a long time, I began to feel excited about something, truly excited about possibility, the good ‘what ifs?’ of life, the potential of lasting change and what it would mean to thrive rather than just survive.

So what is wellbeing?  The dictionary definitions of wellbeing generally describes it as the ‘state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy’.  But that doesn’t sit with me as a thorough definition, because I believe an abundant life is about much more than just being comfortable, healthy and happy, that thriving is more than just feeling good.  It’s also about accepting that much of life *doesn’t* feel good and learning how to not to let circumstances define our feelings and actions, challenging deep-seated habits that aren’t healthy and pushing out of our comfort zones. My list of life areas gives a much more wholistic overview of what makes up a full life, and I’ve opted to focus on one area each month, starting with what has been my biggest frustration – moving (or the lack thereof!).  So here’s what my journey in 2018 looks like –

January      – Move      (Increasing daily movement)

February    – Sleep      (Improving sleep habits and quality)

March         – Eat          (Refining what my body does and doesn’t tolerate)

April            – Grow     (Personal and professional learning and development)

May              – Play       (Bringing more fun into life)

June             – Create    (Prioritising daily creating)

July              – Spend     (Budgeting and financial planning)

August         – Give       (Exploring ways of serving the community)

September  – Pray       (Focusing on daily spiritual growth activities)

October       – Think     (Challenging unhealthy thought patterns)

November  – Breathe  (Slowing down, being intentional, noticing the world around me)

December   – Love       (Intentional connections in my relationships)

I plan to document my experiences on Instagram with a few posts each week and a weekly review here on the blog, and each month I’ll share my ‘why’ for choosing that area of life to focus on, why it’s important to me and how I believe it contributes to wellbeing.  I’ll also share resources, podcasts, blogs and articles I find helpful for each topic, and I plan to read a book relative to each area during that month, some that will be new to me and some I’ve already read and found beneficial. And because I love to hear people’s stories, I’ll be talking to people whom I admire in these areas for their experience and skills, and who inspire me with their love for what they do.

I would *so* love for you to join me, because you are part of my why – the reason I’m embarking on this journey is much bigger than just my own transformation, it’s about encouraging and uplifting others in their own journeys, fulfilling the calling God has placed on my life to love and serve others whenever I can, in all the ways I can (however imperfectly that may be).  Please join in the conversation on IG at @alison_jane_again, or leave me a comment here, I would love to hear what wellbeing means for you and perhaps what areas of your life you’d like to see transformed.

‘If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together’

– African Proverb

 

 

 

 

;

IMG_8914

I have a fondness for the semi-colon, how it allows a bit longer pause between sentences without interrupting the flow of the story, how they allow related parts to remain connected but can also allow the story to take a different turn while retaining its relevance to what has already taken place. And how it means the story isn’t finished, but there’s more to come.

The beginning of 2018 feels like a semi-colon, a pause in the story right before it’s about to take a new direction, taking me along a path toward a destination I don’t see clearly yet. Which is at the same time exciting and daunting, but in the best way!!! I’m comfortable with change (in fact I get antsy when thingsstay the same longer than I’m used to!), and I’m used to dealing with the unexpected and stepping into the unknown, so not having a step-by-step plan for the year ahead is not unfamiliar territory, and I’m learning to embrace this reality. But this year, I’m determined to be intentional in what I *can* do, what I *can* make happen, and for me that’s about my wellbeing, seeking the fullness of life Jesus has promised us.

I’ve lived reactively and in response to what goes on around me for most of my life, and while I’ve made significant changes in some fundamental areas of my life, my wellbeing is not what I want it to be. It’s more surviving than thriving, and that’s not what my life has been created for.I know, I know, anyone who knows me or has followed me here for any length of time has heard this before, has been witness to my intentions to change and the subsequent loss of momentum. And I can’t promise it won’t happen again, but I can say today, this is where I am, and this is what I intend to do. Well, I will when I gather all my thoughts and pull them into some semblance of a plan 😊 But for now, I’ll leave this as my intent for 2018 – to improve my wellbeing by making purposeful, intentional changes to live a wholehearted life. Will you join me?

Same but different

I’ve had this post mulling around in my head for a while, and when I sat down to write it, I looked out my front window, a beautifully big picture window that overlooks our town, the side of the mountain our town is set upon and through which I can see the glory of God in the skies every day.

sunset

This view is to the right of my my front yard, to the left is the town nestled below me (I live on a hill) and as I looked out my window this evening, it was that time of day called ‘the golden hour’, when the evening sun bathes the world in that beautiful, golden glow that you could just bask in forever, and you wish it would just stay like that.  But this window of time is brief, and disappears as you watch.  As I saw the swathe of golden light wash over the roofs below me and fade quickly, it struck me how this moment in time visually represented the stage of my parenting journey I’m currently living.

My eldest son left home two weeks ago, to enlist in the Australian Army, his dream since he was about 4 years old (and we have the photos to prove it!).  We spent the last few weeks buying everything he needed, making sure all the required paperwork was completed, nagging him about the jobs around the house he needed to do before he left and having many, many conversations about all things of life.  All the time I was wishing for more time, wishing for so many do-overs, realising there was so much in my parenting that I had made big deals of that just weren’t big deals, I could have let go for the sake of building our relationship rather than having to exert my authority and demand respect.  So many times I disengaged and put my needs first.  So many reactions from my own emotions that I know have left their mark.  So many things that reflect my broken human-ness and complete and utter imperfection.

I’m not beating myself up over any of this, I’ve healed from the shame and guilt and sense of failure that has embedded itself in my parenting over the years.  I’ve never strived to be a perfect parent as such, but a misunderstood drive for perfection and subsequent sense of failure has crippled me so many times in my life, and fortunately the past couple of years have brought increasing freedom and peace from the weight of condemnation, myself being my own worst critic.  My parenting is of course still far from perfect, but it does involve a lot less yelling and much more listening and thinking before I respond, lots and lots of breathing and a desire to show grace rather than enforce consequences just because I can.

All this to say that as my eldest son was the subject of my first venture into parenting, he was the one for whom I made so many mistakes as I learnt how to be a mum.  But my God is in the business of healing and redemption, and as I grew in God I grew into the mum I am now (a process that will continue for life, I’m sure), and our relationship healed as he grew into a young adult, deepening as he started his own adventure into adulthood and for me this made it so much more bittersweet as I counted down to his leaving home.  Realising how much would be the same but different, as we all found our new ‘normal’.

That was my golden hour with him.  The time of our life together – when I was still responsible for him as a parent – that felt bathed in love and understanding and grace and compassion, and I loved every minute of it.  It was the time where I still had opportunity to invest time and emotion and energy into him while he was home, to pour into him and hopefully influence him in ways that would equip him for adulthood, to speak life and God and love into him and hope that was greater than all that came out when my less-than-stellar parenting took over.  The golden hour that was all too short, and over all too soon.

I am so very grateful that was how that stage of our life together as mother and son ended, that that was the foundation we built that the next phase of our relationship will grow on, more as equals and friends than parent and child.  I am so proud of this child of mine who is fully embracing his life and all that it is offering him, I’m proud of us as parents for raising the boy into the man he is now (and that he can cook, clean, iron and generally organise himself!), that he is respectful and kind and compassionate and takes responsibility for his actions because that is what we value in our family.  And yet I do feel sadness for opportunities lost, the time I can’t get back or re-do, the mistakes and hurts that I can’t undo, that I can’t make our golden hour longer.  That’s the nature of life I suppose, celebrating our successes and mourning our losses, and accepting that both come by virtue of living and breathing.

I have learnt to focus on the joy more than the sorrow, to learn from my mistakes and do better next time (without aiming for perfect).  My daughter and youngest son are reaping the benefits of my lessons learned the first time round, they know my presence and listening ear more than my distraction and raised voice, are far more likely to find me next to them on the couch than being busy elsewhere and know that they can come to me with anything, without fear of criticism or judgement.  It feels like this time in their lives is already the golden hour, as much as I still get things wrong and need to apologise and ask their forgiveness.  After my relationship with God,  the time spent plugging in to them and sowing into their lives is the greatest investment I am making at the moment, the most important use of my time and energy and I am so glad I know this now, and not as they’re getting ready to leave home.

Knowing what I know now, what would I say to my younger self?  Breathe.  Keep remembering to breathe.  Pray first, then speak.  Most of what seem like the big things aren’t really that big a deal, and a grace-filled response will always have more effect than a raised voice or harsh words.  Your kids want you, just you, your time and your presence more than anything else, more than any thing or experience.  Spending time being more than doing is better for everyone.  Time spent without a specific purpose gives life to everyone.  Rest is good.  No-one expects you to be perfect, so why should you?  And for that matter, what does it matter what anyone else thinks?  Whose opinion is more important, theirs or God’s?  The big things that you know are important, they are worth standing your ground and fighting for, investing your time and energy into.  When you feel angry or upset at your kids (or anyone else), ask yourself why, because it’s usually more about you than them.  Laugh about something every. single. day. Go looking for adventures, starting with your own backyard.  Be spontaneous and do the things that seem inconvenient and messy, it’s worth it!  Spend as much time as possible outside – even when it’s wet and cold.  Make the effort now even when you don’t feel like it, because you have no idea of the effect it will have later.  Give your kids as much affection as they will let you, especially as they get older.  The more you listen when they’re little, the more they’ll talk when they’re older.  Don’t stop reading to them when they can do it themselves. Always, always, always let love be your guide.  Be love, do love, live love.

There is so much more I could add to this list, so much more I wish I knew then but have learnt and know now.  I certainly don’t know everything and don’t have all the answers by any means, I have grown from being encouraged and supported by people who love me, so if I can encourage even one mum by sharing my hard-learned lessons, then it’s been worth it.  Make your golden hour last as long as possible, it truly is a beautiful time.

Half-way to beginning

IMG_4350

So here’s this thing that I can’t seem to make sense of.  Anyone who knows me or has read this blog knows that I’m not particularly great at achieving goals I set for myself, whether due to crises that arise or getting bored or just giving up on persevering with them.  I have read just about every known goal-setting and achieving philosophy known to man and set my intentions accordingly, generally pretty realistic goals and hopes, nothing too huge or out there, identified the steps required and followed the SMART format and so on and so on and so on – and yet.  Nothing has ‘stuck’.  I’m yet to find that ‘way’ that works for me, but the reality is I probably never will, because ultimately fulfilling intentions and achieving goals comes down to self-control and discipline, two areas of my life that could do with a great deal of improvement.

The point I’m getting to is that as of today, I’m half-way to my goal of reading 100 books this year.  Yesterday I listed my 50th book on Goodreads, and I am fully confident of hitting 100 by December 31st.  Last year I only got to 57, and I honestly can’t tell you what has made the difference this time around.  The fact I love reading is a no-brainer, but that’s no different to this time last year, nor is the fact that I’m dealing with an upheaval in life amongst all the normal duties of parenting and living.  My intentions are no different, my ability is no different and my access to resources is just the same.  So why am I succeeding now when I didn’t then?  I don’t know.  I can’t even put it down to an eternal obligation like tracking on  Goodreads – being an absolute obliger means that to fulfil any commitment, to myself or anyone else, I need something outside of myself holding me accountable.  The only thing I can think of is that I am absolutely determined to get to 100.  That’s it.

My question is – how do I apply that determination and commitment to everything else I want to achieve or complete?  How to I change my diet to what nourishes me, write regularly, create something every day, move every day, finish and start all those household projects that excite me, learn more about things that excites me – not huge tasks or transformations, but small, everyday good things that align with my beliefs in living well and fully into my life’s purpose?  I have an accountability partner who does, well, hold me accountable to what I say I’ll do, but there’s no sting if I don’t fulfil my commitment or intent, and apparently even knowing it’s usually to my own detriment isn’t enough to stop me from eating what actually harms me or spending more hours online or on my phone than in Scripture or reading another book or creating.  The sting of physical pain and emotional dissatisfaction and discontent I live with as a result of my choices doesn’t seem to be enough alone to provoke change.  Why?  Who in their right mind would keep doing what hurts, especially when they have the ability to make changes that heal?  That would be me, and yes, I’m very aware of the propensity of humans to resist getting out of their comfort zones in a bid to avoid any form of discomfort, even if those zones are made up of unhealthy coping strategies and ways of living, even knowing that changes would lead to a life lived fully alive and thriving.  Again, that would be me.

I don’t have the answers I’m looking for right now, but as I count down this last week to turning 40, I’m unplugging from the noise of the world to listen for whispers, to make way for the Spirit of Life to dwell where He is usually drowned out and made quiet by my distraction and looking at all the shiny things that grab my attention.  As I reviewed the first half of 2016 earlier tonight, and saw all the intentions and hopes laying idle and forgotten, I took heart in knowing that tomorrow is another gift from the One who loves me unfailingly, another new beginning and chance to live as fully as He intends for me, and I will embrace that with everything I have.

40 is the beginning of the rest of my life and I can’t wait to see the story unfold.

In the midnight

Lamp-in-the-Dark

via

It’s 3:50 AM and I give up.  Apparently my body’s switched over to night-shift mode even though I’m nowhere near work, yet the last 5.5 hours of trying to get to sleep have been completely and utterly pointless, so I’m giving in and getting several hours worth of words out of my head.  The irony of this right now?  I’m managing a relapse of fatigue symptoms and can’t do much more that the basic daily necessities, resting and sleeping during the day as I need to, and yet tonight I can’t shut down to get the deep, restorative rest I so desperately need.

It’s funny, this time in the cycle of the day, a time I’m usually unaware of as my brain and body go into rest mode between the what was of yesterday and what will be of tomorrow.  A time when the doing of life pauses and the simply being takes over, no awareness or processing of my surroundings required, nothing expected of me except to just be still and let go.

My whole life is in that state of in-between right now, a time between what was and what will be, I’m waiting in the pause and trying to be still and let go of the doing, to focus on just being in this moment, however long it lasts.  And ohhhh, my goodness, it is hard, so hard, to settle into the waiting and trust God that it will all be ok.  I know that to be completely true in my head, but a lifetime of planning for the what ifs and reacting to things happening out of my control and waiting for the next crisis to have to deal with has left me with deeply entrenched reactions and coping strategies that really aren’t helpful.  I am leaning into God and consciously trusting that His plans for me are only for good, to give me hope and a future, but when it gets hard and hurting I keep trying to take back the control and do things my way, despite knowing how that usually ends (spoiler alert: not well).

So here I am, in the midnight, in the waiting, both literally and figuratively, still trying to make things happen my way, and I give in.  The only way through now is stillness, releasing what was never meant for me to hold on to and embracing the grace and hope and healing I find in my God, who loves me with an everlasting love.

Now it’s time to rest.