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Welcome back!

Ahead of the second season of Behind the Hashtag, I’ve been revisiting all my previous articles; they are a powerful reminder of the journey I started some years ago. Many of the struggles I faced make more sense to me now.

Since I last shared an article with you all, it’s been a time of incredible growth, AND you can bet your sweet ass that growth has NOT been comfortable. No question, it has most definitely been worth it, though I’ll never pretend it’s been easy.

Most annoyingly, I have come to accept that growth can never stop. If we want to experience all that life offers growth must be part of that journey. Acknowledging that truth also means understanding that I don’t have to LIKE something to accept it.

The Behind the Hashtag season one cliffhanger ending had me “wrestling a greased pig in the dark”, a term I borrowed from Bréne Brown to describe personal growth. In hindsight, I needed to step away and make enough sense of what I was working through before writing about it – hoping that would allow the shared experience to be vaguely useful to the Behind the Hashtag community when I returned. Being useful is the hope and intention of all the writing I share.

I’ve been working on the struggle between my head and my heart – and what a Game of Thrones-level battle that turned out to be! At times, it is fun and funny but also brutal and very difficult. Thankfully, I did not do this alone; to say it took a village would be an understatement – this was a global support effort from family, friends, fellowship, therapy and even a horse (more on that later). And yes, I do realise how high maintenance this makes me sound … all I can do is own that, be incredibly grateful and pay it forward in any way I can.

So, I return once again from a place of “Love and Loss”, where this journey began in honour of my late friend Chrissie, who always wanted me to get started with blogging. I still hear Chrissie’s encouragement and down-to-earth advice as I reflect on life. However, this particular return to writing is a very different version from the first one. Behind the Hashtag came back into my heart on a day when I was processing the death of my dad and, at the same time, ending another relationship which had been beautiful and powerful but ultimately would not be healthy for me in the long term.   

Love and loss indeed – but a moment where I was the most open-hearted I think I’ve ever been in my life. A moment when I realised that the armour I’d built and held around my heart for years had quietly fallen away, one final large chunk of armour came off when I least expected it amid grief, and I simply did not see it coming. It was emotionally raw, and I felt exposed in a way I had never experienced before. It was both beautiful and a complete bitch, to be honest.   

What helped me was having the humility to accept that this really was the cost of admission to a happy and honest life. An open heart isn’t always going to feel happy. An honest heart, however, would always be healthy. I could celebrate that being a people pleaser was now firmly in my past. I was willing to do whatever it took to live the life I had worked so very hard to build – even when that felt difficult and painful in the moment.

In the coming weeks and months, I’d love to share the recent chapter I’ve been living through. The past year, in particular, has had the most incredible adventures, brutally difficult life events, some of the most glorious fun I’ve ever had and, above all, given me an understanding of how I have been getting in my own way for most of my life! As Taylor Swift sings in her song Anti-Hero…” It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me…”

I’m looking forward to taking the journey with you all and hopefully opening YOUR hearts along the way.

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Last year I asked a question in one of my articles – “Can you really set boundaries without feeling like a bitch?

I had some interesting conversations with people after posing this question – and I also thought that badass was so much better a description than bitch. I’m not going to get into the gender debate that I believe lives in the topic of boundaries for today – but we’ll maybe come back to that one in the future!

What got me thinking about boundaries again was a recent family health situation – requiring much more reactive than pro-active boundaries.

I noticed that I could be a wee bit triggered under certain stressful conditions – probably a control thing. At times, it can feel as though I’m channelling Lady Grantham’s character from the Downton Abbey TV show. However, I remained very polite – there a definite shift towards frosty.

Once the immediate stress had passed, I got curious… What triggered me to get my Lady Grantham on? On a dog walk in the woods with my mind wandering, I had a lightbulb moment. In one of my most stressful life situations a few years ago, I recalled the baseline ask I put to my now ex-husband to help navigate the divorce. “There are only two things I ask of you: Don’t take me for granted, and be kind”. That was it. Not a huge ask – but they were table stakes. Absolute deal breakers.

It seems that these two asks are still my table stakes – in particular when there is a lack of kindness being shown by someone else. Whether intentional or not, a lack of kindness will set off all of my boundary alarms – particularly if I’m already at the edge of my stress capacity. Enter Lady Grantham!

Sound familiar? You will have your own “table stakes” – it’s a very personal thing. As long as you express them and ask for what you need, there should be no difficulty for someone with good intentions to respond and adapt.

There’s the key folks – good intentions. I’ve seen a mix when it comes to this. When I’ve had a friend giving unsolicited advice or guidance, and I’ve had up my hand to say, “This is actually making me feel worse, I don’t think this is what I need right now”… or know they are a real friend – a kind friend when their response is “I’m so sorry, what do you need right now?”

It’s one thing to know what’s needed, another to learn how to do that, but what happens when you try to put that into action?

Boundaries must have a purpose. When you have a clear ‘why,’ it makes the creation of boundaries far simpler -though not necessarily always easy.

You can create boundaries kindly – the earlier, the better. If you wait until you are frayed, exhausted and potentially resentful, then it can be a much less kind and potentially damaging conversation, and the intent is not to cause harm. In the same way that you don’t want to set yourself on fire to keep someone else warm; equally, you don’t necessarily want to be unreasonable or rude with others.

I qualify that statement with the following caveat… If this is the umpteenth time you’ve had a conversation with someone to ask the same thing, and it’s yet to be respected, it seems that invoking a bit of Lady Grantham might then be the right approach, somewhat firmer and edgier than an initial request might be!

The relief at that moment is inexplicable – I’ve experienced it many times in recent years, which is when you KNOW how blessed you are with your loved ones.

Slightly more challenging is the hurt, offended reaction where it becomes all about the other person. That is not someone starting from kindness and doesn’t suggest they really care about you. Particularly in a moment, they KNOW is stressful. A polite closing of that particular call or conversation and simply stepping away is the best advice I can give you in that moment.

The badass boundary moment recently enabled me to deal with a very stressful and challenging situation. You get laser focussed on priorities when your loved ones are at risk and rely on you to be the strong and dependable one.

The trick is to look after yourself in the same way when you’re not in crisis. A little bit of Lady Grantham’s steely determination may be perfect for unlocking your own brand of badass.

So how well do you know yourself – for me, it’s “don’t take me for granted and be kind”… what’s you’re boundary hard line?

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One of my favourite things to do is have a coffee outside first thing in the morning. The Scottish weather has not allowed for that in many weeks, until one recent Saturday morning I was able to do a bit of mindfulness and enjoy a large cup of coffee out in the back garden. As I sat enjoying the peace, I noticed a really rapidly moving fog bank on the hill behind my house. Truthfully it was quite a creepy-ass looking thing – like some kind of smoke beast (any Lost fans?). Then it struck me – that’s what happens to my brain when I’m not taking care of myself. That’s when the fog can start building up.

It got me thinking about how brain fog can have the characteristics of REAL fog.   Think about any time you’ve been caught out in foggy weather, it come sometimes creep up on you gradually.    There have been days when  I’ve been out hill walking and simply haven’t noticed that mist is building up into a fog. The next thing you know, it’s a “pea-souper” with limited visibility.   I once actually had to ask other walkers if I was at the top of the hill yet!   Very disorienting. You can only see what is right in front of you. And you slow right down as you try to navigate that.  Sometimes  fear can make it tempting to stay in place until the fog clears. Waiting until it clears is not always an option – for sure staying out on a hill into darkness isn’t a safe option.

Let’s come off the hill and go back to the brain. As we navigate life in a global pandemic on a day-to-day basis – it’s easy to overlook the ever-thickening “mist” that creeps in with tiredness. I’ve certainly become so used to the new and strange routine that I’m not sure I register it any more. I was aware of my energy levels, which I have been battling for a while now (Keeping Your Batteries Charged). A few weeks back I found myself with just the energy for my workday and cooking dinner, for 5 days straight I was in bed by 7pm!! Even if I had 10 hours of sleep, I still woke up exhausted. There was no chance my weekly workouts were happening and the thought of having to plough through weekend housework made me want to weep.

And yet, I pushed on – desperate for “normal”—big mistake.    The following week I was knocked out with a migraine – a particularly brutal one.  Every time I thought it had cleared a rebound migraine hit me l like a boxer giving another punch when their opponent staggers up from the mat. Eventually I had one reasonable day – rejoiced that it was over –  then BOOM another migraine sucker punch. What the ‘actual hell’ was going on here?

If we go back to the fog (oh how I like to kick the arse out of a metaphor), when the fog is thick enough, you can hardly see your hand in front of your face.  You literally are unable to see what is right in front of you.   So what were the signposts my “fog” had caused me to miss? I decided to turn investigator and take a day off work to focus on what needed to shift (as well as catch up on all the neglected chores at home!).

I’ve been lucky enough over the years to work closely with professionals who really know their stuff when it comes to wellbeing. So, as a start, I went back to the basics I’d been shown over the years.

Increasing water consumption (with a pinch of salt in it) was a simple step one. The pinch of salt is to counterbalance any frequency of loo visits which may follow – TMI for some, though top of mind for others I’m sure! Taking processed food out of my diet and eating WAY more vegetables, fruit and protein. Bye-bye beige food! I even went onto YouTube and taught myself how to recalibrate the CPAP machine I’ve been using every night for 15 years for sleep apnoea (there’s zero chance of a sleep clinic appointment anytime soon).

The good news – it has helped. Significantly. I mean I’m not running any marathons, but getting up in the morning has been easier. I’m staying awake beyond 7pm, and I think I’m slightly more pleasant to be around! And whilst I don’t want to tempt fate… (so let’s whisper it) no migraine for two weeks. ??

That morning, when I was sitting with my coffee watching the creepy-ass fog bank moving away, what I particularly loved was the watery autumn sunshine beginning to appear. I like to think that when brain fog clears what then peaks through like the sunshine are the things we forget are so helpful to us. Healthy eating. A good night’s sleep. Dancing to a great tune in the kitchen. Connecting with friends (yes even virtually that’s so good for you). And having a really, really good laugh.

What are you forgetting to do for yourself? The smallest of changes can help the fog clear and let the sunshine appear.

Rolling the fog away

I don’t normally credit photos, but wanted to put a wee note beside this one.

One of my favourite fog clearing photographs was taken by my very dear late friend Chrissie on one of our many early morning walks in Bushy Park.

We lost Chrissie earlier this year (Loss and Legacy) and I miss her every day. ❤️



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Coming from a very “stiff upper lip” culture, I’ve spent many years of my life “just getting on with it”. Whenever I speak to friends and colleagues, it’s not at all unusual to find they come from a long line of “emotion avoiding” generations. If we can suppress or sweep emotions under the carpet, it’s just better all round. Less messy. Or is it?

I’ve already shared the very un-Disney outburst I had a couple of years ago after months and months of suppressing emotions – Would You Kiss Mickey Mouse with that Mouth?. I was recently reflecting that if we had hit this Covid-19 pandemic a couple of years ago, before my daughter and I had worked out how to healthily communicate our emotions, I shudder to think how difficult life would have been. My thoughts then turned to how intense the last 6 months have been, and how, for even the most loving of families, the close proximity of living and working together 24/7 has been very tough at times.

This article “Suppressing Your Emotions Can Be Incredibly Bad For Your Health” really helped me understand the unhealthy impact of suppressing emotions – I’ve always known they have to go “somewhere”. One of the best ways to deal with emotions is to slow down, stop and see it. For very many people (myself included) this has been a positive side effect of the pandemic and lockdown—the time and space to work through things. I further deepened this by taking an 8-week mindfulness course which has most certainly helped. I’m embracing the “beautiful mess effect” (referred to in the article above), much of it through the writing of my Behind the Hashtag articles. I also work through some of my “beautiful mess” with help from family and friends – their blend of life experience and coaching training has been invaluable.

Not everyone is that lucky, though. I’ve been acutely aware these past months that for too many people they don’t feel they have anyone they can turn to. All the anxiety, fear and anger is pushed down. In addition to making people ill, the article also suggests that in some cases, it’s showing up as aggression. After the lockdown was eased, I noticed a real edginess from some people in shops, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much road rage. It makes me wonder if this is partly the impact of all that unprocessed anxiety and fear?

There isn’t an easy answer, I would encourage you to notice any unhealthy “coping” you or those close to you may be adopting. If you don’t have someone close you can talk to – think about reaching out to some of the help being made available (see below). (Support will vary by country and depending on where you work).

When it comes to emotional challenges, my key takeaway from the article was definitely a feeling of “it’s normal”, we all encounter it on some level or another. It is vital to be kind to yourself as you work through it, as it won’t be a ‘once and done’ task. The more we deal with our emotions, the less control they will have over us. Take care of yourselves.

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There’s something really quite exciting about visiting a new city. Having spent years on end going to Disney again and again on family holidays, you can imagine my excitement last October going to Venice, with my daughter Iona, a city neither of us had been to before. Thanks to our very kind friend Gianpaolo and his family, we were going to their apartment for the half-term break.

The Venice trip was significant in so many ways, mainly because it came on the back of a particularly challenging time for Iona and I. We were finally finding our feet, which felt like an exciting new chapter. This trip together was a significant page turn for us – just not in the way we expected!

We arrived in Venice late in the evening. We didn’t want to be navigating our way to the apartment in the dark, mainly as it was in the very heart of Venice, where the only taxies were (of course) by water, so we spent that first night in an airport hotel.

The next morning the weather was beautiful and the city wasn’t too busy, so we were so excited as we pulled our suitcases over bridges and down alleys. Then, just as I was working my way down another set of stairs on yet another bridge, Iona screamed. Thanks to her heightened senses and vantage point from the bottom of the stairs, she’d spotted a pickpocket taking my wallet out of my rucksack and immediately alerted me.

What I did next was driven by instinct, and let me emphasise it is NOT what would be advised from a safety perspective. It was purely my visceral reaction in the heat of the moment. I recall the strangest sensation coming over me – everything seemed clearer and slower – I’d never experienced this before. I knew what fear and adrenalin felt like, but this was different. This reaction was primal – my daughter was in danger, and I went into lioness mode. I spun around and was now toe-to-toe with the would-be pickpocket. I immediately started yelling at the top of my lungs “Thief, thief, police, help”. He was trying to protest that he’d done nothing, but I could hear Iona’s urgent cries “He’s got your wallet mum, it’s him, it’s him, I saw him take it”.

Next thing I knew, as he tried to move away, I’d grabbed the bugger by the jacket at his throat, “Oh no you f@cking don’t!” came blurting out of me, in a voice drawn from some part of my soul I’d never tapped into before. He didn’t move – though his friend took off like a bat out of hell. I snatched my wallet back and checked everything else was in my bag, all the while continuing to yell for assistance (BTW not one of the passing tourists stopped to help – or did they think it was a bloody street art performance?!). Thankfully, nothing else had been taken from my bag, so I released my vice-like grip and shoved him away with a final “F@ck off”.

We had been very, very lucky, and even now I try not to think too deeply about what might have happened if he’d had a weapon. Seriously, not an advisable approach!

At the bottom of the bridge, my poor daughter was crying hysterically. This truly was her worst nightmare. We hadn’t even got to the apartment yet, and our trip already had a horrible incident overshadowing it. We gathered ourselves together and continued on, I just wanted to get to our apartment safely and then work out what to do next.

The next hour was pretty hellish – I couldn’t find the apartment, Iona was petrified and just wanted to head straight back to the airport, but thank goodness we eventually stopped for a coffee and calmed ourselves down a little. The wonderful cafe owner was so lovely and apologised for our experience – apparently an ongoing issue in the city (which is true of almost all cruise ports). With my head still spinning and some clear directions, I was elated to finally find the apartment and get into our home for the week.

After catching our breath, we ventured back out – hoping the beauty of Venice would soothe our troubles. Neither of us felt particularly happy being out-and-about that afternoon, so we took some food and a deck of cards back to the apartment. We didn’t actually chat much that evening as I think both of us were trying to process our thoughts.

What you are truly capable of lies on the other side of fear

Later, when we were tucked up in bed, I could feel Iona was shaking and thought the wee soul was crying, then a laugh bubbled out of her… “Oh my God, Mum, that guy’s face today – he was absolutely terrified of you!”. Then we both started laughing (albeit slightly hysterically). Neither of us thought I would have that kind of badass in me. Both of us were shocked at my strength in the moment. Who knew?

I would have much preferred the experience hadn’t happened – as it did sadly colour our week and we ended up cutting our trip short, but the experience was a gift – it revealed an inner strength we’d never seen before.

The period following our Venice trip was amongst the hardest months of Iona’s life, it seemed that one thing after another came at her, and eventually, it knocked her over. Now, having seen the fierce side of me, it helped us grab life’s challenges by the throat, together!

From Iona’s perspective, it’s done her no harm knowing her mum has a genuine streak of badass in her which can be called upon when needed.

Is there anything in your life right now you might want to bring a bit of badass to? A situation that might help to “grab by the throat”?  Feel free to share in the comments below.

Stay safe – and don’t underestimate your inner strength.

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I have a long and complicated relationship with Disney.  I’m sure we’ll explore that in more detail in the future, but for now, I want to focus on a particular visit to Disneyland Paris with my daughter back in December 2018. 

I pick this trip because it was a defining moment in our mother and daughter relationship.  The trip was to give my daughter a break from what had been a pretty hellish time for her.  We went looking for a bit of magic, I didn’t expect the turning point to be what we now fondly call the “f*ck off afternoon”.

Let’s go back a little in time before we jump in.  In my review of the Brené Brown book ‘The Gift of Imperfection’, I highlighted that I’d discovered my tendency to numb what’s really going on, to avoid my most difficult emotions.  In the lead-up to the trip, there had been a whole range of things for me to avoid, our lives had been turned inside out.  As well as avoiding my own emotions, I had also been trying to shield my daughter, as much as possible, from everything that was going on.  It’s tough to hide anything from an intelligent fifteen-year-old with the wisdom of Yoda, discovered I.

Instead of just shielding her at home, I thought an escape to “the happiest place on earth” to get a dose of Christmas magic seemed like a good idea.  It had been a hellish few months with a sudden divorce and house move, plus several loved ones battling serious health issues – which in turn triggered some serious health issues of our own.  We were both holding a lot.

I’d been pushing plenty of difficult emotions down, no question, trying to “stay strong” for others.  I remember reading a quote from Martha Beck:

“Anger is the immune system for the soul”

I had a massive amount of unexpressed anger at circumstances not only not of my creation, but also very much out of my control.

But Disney isn’t a place of suffering, surely?   Well, I’ve seen both sides of that coin, and we found ourselves – after a relatively calm morning – in an edgy discussion which got dark very quickly!  What started out as teasing suddenly had my anger blast out in our hotel room with full-force and me telling my beautiful girl to “f*ck off”.  I don’t know which of us was more shocked! After apologising, I dashed off to brush my teeth – subconsciously washing my mouth out too perhaps…

This incident could have derailed our whole trip, so  I’ll be forever grateful for the wisdom and understanding of my daughter, who saw it for what it clearly was – a build-up of months and months of unexpressed emotions.  We cried, we laughed, we cried a little more.  Then this wondrous calm came over us, and next thing you know we’re watching the gorgeous Disney parade as though nothing had happened!

Thank goodness for a strong enough relationship to withstand such an outburst.  It’s now the habit in our home to be honest and open about emotions – my daughter actively encourages it to ensure we don’t have another “f*ck off afternoon” as it’s now known.

No matter how far you push down emotions, they will find their way out.

Eventually, everyting you are pushing down will rise to the surfaceEither by making you ill or suddenly and dramatically being expressed and hurting those around us – I’m just fortunate that I have an amazing daughter who was ready to work through this with me.

I’m sure Mickey Mouse would have been as horrified as we were – but also proud of how we turned it around!