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“Wrestling a greased pig in the dark” is a line from Brené Brown’s book Rising Strong. She refers to the expression as an excellent description of what you might experience if brave enough to “try and get your head and heart around who you are and where you come from”. This felt like the perfect way to capture what I’ve been doing ALOT over the past few months, and in one way or another, I suppose I’ve been doing it for many years.

Let me assure you that no actual pigs have been harmed in the writing of this article – although I did find that tackling Brené’s question is not work for the faint-hearted. I can tell you that it’s been worth rolling my sleeves up to do the work as I haven’t felt this calm, happy and healthy for a very long time, with occasional spells of batshit crazy as I continue the work! Whilst no one can do the work for you, I was hoping that if I shared some of my experiences and insights, I might save you a little bit of the leg work – especially if you fancy getting your arms around your very own greased pig :-).

The conversation which began when I started Behind the Hashtag really helped me on the road I find myself on. When you’re in the midst of doing the work, it’s challenging to actually reflect and write about it–it can be a bit raw and tiring. Having taken a break from writing, it has now felt like time to get restarted with sharing some of my experiences, hoping they may help others who could identify with my struggles. I’ll do my best to give the whole, sometimes messy, occasionally funny, picture.

I did need that step away for a while. Sometimes you need to get very quiet and very still to hear what’s going on in your “head and heart”. It’s been so helpful for me to take a breath and also take a break from ploughing through a to-do list. I’d noticed that everything was beginning to feel like work – even those things I usually get great joy from, such as Behind the Hashtag. Always notice that and listen to it – when you suddenly notice you stop enjoying something.

As I begin to pick up the pen again, it seems very appropriate that what’s nudged me back towards writing is reconnecting with the memory of the dear friend who always gave me the “What are you waiting for?” encouragement. It was Chrissie I set out to honour with Behind the Hashtag,  and whilst there’s not a day I don’t think about her, it was reflecting on stories about Chrissie, in planning for her long-overdue memorial service, that reminded me of her wonderful “you can do anything” attitude she would always fill me with.

It hasn’t been all hard work, though. I was also finally taking some time and space to focus on health and wellbeing. As part of this focus, I needed to build new routines, shift what I had been paying attention to and above all, tackle what I’d been avoiding.

As well as clearing ACTUAL cupboards, I was also clearing my mind. If you don’t stop to reflect and take stock, you can miss so many of the things that you’ve already got – they are just tucked away at the back of a cupboard.

It’s not the first time I’ve tackled the physical and mental de-cluttering, but something different did happen this time. If you’re taking on a major project – like a “deep clean”, you would usually call in professionals to help – they have the equipment and experience to help. So, whilst I’m incredibly blessed to have a local and global “village” of gifted friends, who have never waivered with their love and support, I realised I needed some “reinforcements”.

Having more help wasn’t the whole story of what was different. Part of what has made the past months so challenging and incredibly helpful is that I became teachable! Years of learning, reading, researching, observing, studying… like some frenzied student on too much caffeine… literally years of looking for answers to life’s struggles. And only in these last months have I actually become teachable – which is oh so very different from learning. That doesn’t mean I always get it right – far from it! It does mean that I notice and learn from it when I get it wrong… then move on.

For a few years now, at times, I’d been noticing I would be absolutely exhausted and not really understand why. Well, it turns out my head and heart had been in a wrestling match for years; I’m now finding out slowly but surely how to stop the fight! Working out our patterns – particularly those that pull us away from where we’re trying to get to – can be a game-changer. Over the next few months, after some hard work and more exploration, I’ll be happy to share what’s helped me. And I promise – there won’t be a greased pig in sight!

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Visit any recycling centre at the weekend just now, and you’ll see a line of cars snaking around the corner. Online village notice boards have never had so many “free, but must collect” postings for everything from toddlers’ toys to king-size beds!

The decluttering is real. In line with my recent comparison article (Comparison – the arch-enemy of self-compassion), I’m not beating myself up for the lack of cupboard perfection … even Monica from Friends had her clutter!  

What I’ve been much more focused on is decluttering my brain. There has always been so much “busyness” and noise in my head that I’ve got a lot of lost thoughts and insights in there.  

One of the BEST things my mindfulness class gave me last year was the power of “noticing”. Instead of getting stuck on a thought going over and over, I’ve learned how to ‘notice and then move on’. The things this has been able to let me find!

You know the moment when you’re cleaning out a cupboard, and you find exactly the item you need but had forgotten you had? From badminton racquets through yoga mats… Most recently, for me, was a wonderful guided-journal that I completed one page three years ago, then forgot all about it. I was actually about to buy it “again” having forgotten I even had it in the first place!!. Love those moments. And I’m sure we’ll return to that journal in the weeks ahead. 

Just as we find “stuff” we can also find thoughts. A lesson learned or an insight that maybe didn’t make sense at the time but suddenly is the very lightbulb moment you need that week. 

Our brain can hold A LOT of information – but to access it, you need to be in a specific brain and body state, relaxed and alert at the same time. Imagine you are trying to open some stuck drawers on a large dresser; the more frantically you try to yank at them and attack them, the more stuck they become. But if you relax and instead gently coax the drawers open, you can access what’s in there. Our brains are a lot like that – and sometimes even sleeping on something then trying to access it in the morning is an even better idea. 

I’ve found something very energising and exciting about having the chance to get access to more corners of my brain. Revisiting experiences – good and bad – and taking the time to learn from them, look at them through the benefit of more experience to make sense of them. I’m lucky to have many close friends – some with incredible coaching and psychology experience – to unpack a lot of this with. They help me make sense of what I’m finding at the back of the “brain cupboard”.

This is where I put in a word of caution – you never quite know what will come up when you start noticing more and going back into the corners of your brain. Always make sure you have someone to talk to. If you have trauma in your past, which may resurface, I would always recommend seeking professional support – it’s always best to keep yourself safe!

When you can declutter enough to see what’s at the back of your “brain cupboard” it can be a very beneficial experience. Some of it you will want to “recycle” as it may no longer serve you – even thoughts go out of style! Some may be just the ideal memories and insights to help you at that very moment. Either way, you will hopefully feel lighter and brighter along the way and maybe very pleasantly surprised by the treasures you’ve simply not had the time to notice!

Let me know what you find! 

Next Steps

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Do I know the Behind the Hashtag community well enough to tell The Farts of Wrath story? I’ve concluded that if the word fart in the title switches you off, you’ll quietly walk on by this article. If, however, you want to learn more about the physical price your body can play for being a people pleaser, this might be helpful.

At the heart of this life lesson for me is the impact of years and years of pushing down what I wanted ‘in service of others’ (might sound familiar to many of you) and the power of finally finding a safe space to let go of stress.

In the 5+ years leading up to my “aha” moment, I’d been living a very stressful and unhappy life. In particular, the 18 months before my breakthrough had included a marriage breakdown, house move, family illness and my own physical burnout. I was a lady much in need of stress reduction. A feeling I know many of you are experiencing right now with all the current additional life stresses.

The light on my horizon at the time was a wee break coming up with wonderful friends from my hometown – we’d been partners in crime since our late teens. I’d actually NEVER been on a girls holiday – 50 years old – and this was my first one! I’d NEVER been on a relaxing, read books all day by the pool kind of holiday. For almost two decades, my holiday experiences were the perfect manifestation of my people-pleasing. Imagine you dislike theme parks and are petrified of rollercoasters … but find all your main holidays are at Disney? What the hell! People pleaser on steroids or what!

I should say that subsequent trips to Disney with just my daughter Iona has helped change my experience massively – not always easy (Would you kiss Mickey Mouse with that mouth?). I have now reframed Disney for me with some beautiful memories.

This shift in the holiday scenario was significant. It was when I realised the damage that the people-pleasing had done to my body and soul over the years.

Determined to not crawl into this holiday with the current exhaustion levels I was experiencing, I decided to finally take the advice of a very dear friend and see a kinesiologist. I found a wonderful local practitioner who proved to be a game-changer for me.

As I experienced it, at the heart of kinesiology was finding out what my body was holding within. Every experience you live through – good and bad – goes into your body. One of the key things that showed up for me was the impact of years of “pushing down” my own needs. I expected some’ anger… it turned out to be way more than anger. Apparently, I had full-blown WRATH! Marvel movie, end of the world, levels of WRATH. No wonder I was exhausted.

Armed with some natural remedies and meditation affirmations, I set off on holiday – already feeling better. The blast of laughter with my beautiful friends before we’d even left the airport proved to be brilliant medicine too.

The joy of sitting around the table laughing, sharing, crying, eating and laughing some more was incredible. A holiday that restores your energy versus exhausts you! Who knew? I’d shared the story of the wrath within me as we were catching up. Everything just felt lighter from sharing.

Then the strangest thing happened. After a few days of relaxing, sleeping, feeling completely safe ‘to be me’ and taking all my natural remedies from the kinesiologist – there was a shift. It was a very audible shift. Unfortunately, it seemed very appropriate that my wrath was working it’s way out of my body – in the form of thunderous farts!

I’m not exaggerating – Thor himself would have stepped back in awe at these bad boys. The first day it happened, I didn’t realise the noise had travelled from the ground floor to the top floor of our four-story townhouse. As I stepped out on the rooftop terrace with my morning coffee, my dear friend Rhona, who didn’t look up from her book, commented, “seems you’re wrath is finding a way out there, girl”. Who knew? Not the most sociable way to process your stress – you need some very loving friends to embrace this particular outcome.

But fart humour aside, holding stress in your body is incredibly damaging. I’m still working on ways to make sure I look after myself – I’m midway through reading Burnout by Emily and Amelia Nagoski and learning how to complete the stress cycle. When we can’t control the stressors in our lives, we can minimise the impact of stress on our body. More to come on this topic in weeks ahead, and I look forward to hearing from the Facebook group on ‘What is working for you?’.

I leave you with a “try this out” and a question – What might you be pushing down into your body with the stress in your life?

You might find a body scan helpful to try…

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I want to put this out there for anyone else who might be feeling the same… I haven’t perfected sourdough bread. My banana bread was so dire that even the dog wouldn’t eat it. And I haven’t created a Polynesian-style resort with a swim-up pool in my back garden using only recycled palettes and two black bin bags.

Am I a pandemic failure, when my measure of success is getting a daily shower and reaching the bottom of the laundry basket – am I aiming too low?!

Look… I’ve found a lot of the ideas and projects shared over lockdown very inspiring. I’m often really positively energised to do things when I get ideas from others – it’s why I follow certain people on Instagram and Facebook. Inspiration is good.

But when does inspiration turn into comparison? In my experience, comparison is rarely healthy or helpful!

Let me share a really important lesson–as with all my life-lessons–I learned the hard way. Comparison is the enemy of self-compassion and mental wellbeing. If you are on the road to mental wellbeing, you should consider comparison as a ‘big-ass pothole’. Why would you want to drive through a big ass pothole?

As a teenager, my comparisons were usually linked to the size of my arse or the fashionability of my wardrobe. Into my twenties, it was more about college grades and job opportunities. Then in my thirties, I became a mother. That’s when comparison took a hefty dose of steroids!

I vividly remember feeling the slow cold grip of inadequacy taking hold of me when my daughter was young and starting school. It felt like a victory just to get through the school gates in the morning, both she and I looked like we’d done four rounds with Mike Tyson before breakfast. There would always be a few immaculate children who looked as though they were ready for a school uniform photoshoot… Whereas my wee lassie looked like the ‘end-of-a-rough-day’ model… but I never gave myself a break. Even back then, long before diagnosis, I instinctively knew my darling daughter was neuro-diverse. It’s an entirely different ballgame dressing a child with sensory issues when every clothing label feels like barbed-wire against the skin. I just embraced my sense of inadequacy and hung my dishevelled head in shame.

When you feel inadequacy taking hold of you, here is my tip. Remind yourself that you’re usually only seeing a slice of someone else’s story (#BehindTheHashtag). That’s not to say what you’re seeing isn’t true – but it’s not the whole picture.

If I look back to the unhappiest time in my life, NO ONE would have guessed what was really going on. I don’t recall consciously being deceptive, but by zooming in on the small percentage of good in my life, I think it was a way of numbing myself to how awful things actually were. I would show the world only the parts of my life that I felt in control of or made me feel good about myself.

I have deep compassion for parents today who are currently homeschooling. Although I’m not a drinker, I’m pretty sure I’d have been pouring Bailey’s Irish Cream on my Cornflakes after just one week. As I said, it was hard enough for me just getting a young child out of the door and off to school in the morning!

However, we all have very different needs, when you compare you’re looking outwards when what’s needed is more of a ‘what’s needed here and now for me and those I love?’.

It’s great to get inspiration from others, but when it begins to feel like a standard you’re failing to meet, you might have hit a comparison pothole.

How do you know if you have an unhealthy comparison?

I’ve learned that if you find yourself more focussed on ‘capturing a moment to share’ versus ‘enjoying the moment for itself’, that might be a warning!

What matters most is if you like or love your moment – not what others think. Notice how you feel when you see a memory or a picture – if it brings you joy that’s wonderful, if you recall it being hard work or difficult at the time, maybe that’s a signal. Letting go of comparison and what others may think is incredibly liberating – you’ll potentially win back a lot of time and energy… something we all need more of these days.

So as you reflect, please remember this… ‘comparison is the enemy of self-compassion’. In the same way that ‘perfection is the enemy of good’, and right now, any level of good is quite amazing in my opinion!!!


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Many people believe creating boundaries in life is about saying NO. For the average “people pleaser” like me, that can make my hair stand on end.

Can you set boundaries without feeling like a bitch?So, can you really set boundaries without feeling like a bitch?

When I learned to reframe the idea of boundaries to focus on what I wanted to say YES to, it opened up an entirely new perspective for me. Also, taking a more positive approach to asking for the behaviours I wanted, versus asking for something to stop, makes for more precise and more comfortable conversations. This didn’t happen overnight though, far from it, and it does take some deliberate focus, but the benefits are so worth it.

Let’s start with what you want to say YES to. This takes a bit of thought, especially if you’ve been in the habit of taking care of everyone else’s needs first. When I was in training several years ago for the significant physical challenge of climbing a mountain, it was the first time in years I’d put myself first. I’m not saying there wasn’t some guilt associated with it, but there were also incredible health benefits.

After the mountain climb was complete, I could sense my family hoped that “normal service” would then be resumed, but I now had a taste for focusing on myself, and so I continued carving out things I wanted to say YES to. I began small – going out for a coffee, time alone to read a magazine, getting the house (or even just the bathroom) to myself for a few hours. Over time I built towards a weekend away and eventually a week in the sun with my girlfriends. The overall health benefits were beyond what I could have imagined!

The other aspect of boundaries in relationships is stating them clearly. I found defining my YES a piece of cake compared to having to set boundaries and expectations. Over the years, I had made several “attempts” to express what I needed, and I deliberately use the word “attempt” because, in hindsight, I was very vague. There were also no consequences when my request wasn’t met – I don’t think my silent inner rage is any kind of consequence (unless we count the impact on my own health!).

Creating boundaries in a relationship

The key to creating boundaries in a relationship is the need for minimal explaining or justifying. If what you’re asking for is not clear, reasonable and straightforward – you need to rethink it. If you have to go into a big WHY story, your message will be lost.

I love that our dear Queen Elizabeth II is alleged to live by the ethos “don’t complain, don’t explain”. If it’s good enough for the Queen, it’s good enough for me.

What I have found interesting to reflect on is “Why were my own attempts at this so weak?”, given that anyone who knows me wouldn’t describe me as a shrinking violet. As I was preparing to write this article, I realised that at the heart of asking for what you need is the core belief “you deserve it”. For me it was the inverse “you don’t deserve it”, and that hesitation leaves you wide open to have your boundaries stomped all over.

I wish I could, but I don't want to - Pheobe from Friends

“Boundary breaches”, as I like to think of them, tend to come when the status quo is working well for others, and they don’t want things to change. You have to be prepared to unnervingly hold your ground – every YES you are forced into accepting, means saying NO to something you actually want to do. Believing you deserve what you’re asking for will make you far more convincing! Some inner work might be needed for this to come naturally.

Getting clear on boundaries. Finding your line and holding it. This could be a critical step in prioritising your self-care.

What’s the line you need to hold? What would you like to say YES to more often?  Let me know in the comments below.