Bouncing Back

After my sinus operation this phrase seems apt to me. For two weeks even the kids could see their Mum was a bit pale; a reduction in eye rolling ensued as plates were transported from the table without much ado. After that it was clear the people in my world expected me to bounce back, the only problem being I was getting better in barely perceptible shifts each day, not to a two weekly deadline. If I was going to allow my body the opportunity to heal I needed to manage my output and, horror of horrors, stop doing things (oh no). Thankfully common sense prevailed and all is well, although I can’t understand how I am both stuffed up still and yet able to breathe more effectively than before the op, very strange!Samantha-French-2

Many people in England are currently experiencing a setback beyond their control, ie the weather. A good friend, living a couple of miles from me, had her house flooded last week. The water is still rising up from under her living room floor and making its way down her hallway … The reason it’s flowing up through the foundations and not through the door – the water table is extraordinarily high in some parts of Kent, a result of the wettest January since records began (rainfall has been measured in England since 1766).

Other regions of England are worse hit, the county of Somerset is featured daily on news media; the army have been drafted in to aid relief. The BBC reporting, “it started raining on 9th December and it hasn’t stopped since”. I am reminded of a television program I watched in 2012 describing the phenomena of ‘global weirding’, a natty phrase which neatly captures the weird and extreme nature of the world’s weather experienced in recent years.

When I was living in Texas, a few years ago now, the droughts and torrential floods began reaching unprecedented levels – that’s my Houston neighbour’s house in the photo. We were fortunate not to have our home flooded, however, the two weeks after Hurricane Ike Came Calling gave me my own experience of coping with a significant setback – more of which chronicled in my book An Inconvenient Posting (unashamed plug).IMG_0348

My recently flooded pal epitomizes all that is good in the English character; she is stoic and apparently unchallenged by the pond in her home. She is resigned to knowing she couldn’t have done anything about it and has a plan in terms of what to do next, and how to prevent it happening again. It will be a long process, probably involving loss adjusters and unwelcome expense, but her head is up and she is ready to pick her way through it.

People vary dramatically in their coping skills at a time of crisis. Knowing this I was inspired to think about what mindset helps us to bounce back; below are some ideas I’ve brought together for you.

Ideas to promote resilience …

TRY AND STAY POSITIVE

–          Berating yourself about how you could have prevented or helped the outcome of the setback will change nothing and make you feel worse.

–          With this in mind, limit negative thinking to a few minutes. Try not to dwell on thoughts such as, Why me? What if? And counter these with positive ones; What can I do differently in the future? And How can I make things better? How or who can help me?

FOCUS ON CHANGE

–          Coming to terms with your bump in the road will help you to move on effectively and make the necessary changes more promptly – accepting that setbacks are part of life is key to moving on.

–          Sometimes it’s impossible to move on because of your ongoing predicament; remind yourself that eventually things will change. Perhaps you can begin to imagine what this might look like and conjure up some positive images to draw on?

–          Try re-evaluating your goals for that time when change comes. Taking control of your situation will make you feel better.

–          Ask yourself, How might I get help or advice? For example, losing your job is usually an upsetting and unwelcome set back. In addition to the obvious financial implications it can sap confidence and erode your sense of identity. On the other hand, it is normal nowadays, in fact most people lack job security. As a result, there is help at hand to provide support and ideas in the form of books and articles on the internet.

SEEK HELP AND ADVICE

–          Most people feel good about helping others so don’t be afraid to network effectively. And who knows, maybe there will be something you can do for that person in return. Research shows that when we help others it makes us feel good too.

–          Meet up with a trusted friend and have a good moan, then thank them for listening. This will help you gain perspective on your situation. Need a deeper discussion in which to process your feelings? You could find a therapist; look for one who you feel you’ll work well with.

MAKE SMALL CHANGES; BEGIN NOW!

–          The road back may be a long one; whilst it’s good to make a plan, you don’t want to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task in hand. Start with small bite size changes, challenge yourself to think about what you can do today that will help.

–          Made a mistake? We all do! Forgive yourself and do not be discouraged. Maybe there was something positive resulted from the mistake? An example that springs to mind for me, was the shower stall I had tiled with mosaic. I was pleased with my choice, thinking they were a stylish bargain and they looked good in the magazine photos… However, one year on the grout is constantly turning black and grimy; some tiles are falling out. It’s a small issue and yet every morning I look at the horrid little squares and stifle the urge to feel miffed I ever chose them. The learning; next time do a little research and ask  someone who knows!

Good luck and please let me know if you’ve been affected by a particular challenge recently.

Specifically interested in expatriate challenges? Try The Emotionally Resilient Expat by Linda Janssen

January Jitters

I don’t know about you, but giving up chocolate or alcohol for the New Year never appeals, particularly as January is a month of family birthdays for me; excuses excuses I hear you say … well there is always February.

Have you been thinking about what’s in the offing for 2014? Briefly reflecting on my life and what could be evolving within it, I seem to be struggling this year to capture images for what lies ahead; there are mists swirling at my mind’s edges and I can’t quite capture them. Or perhaps I don’t want to.

I’ve a hunch my resistance could be connected to my mother having Alzheimer’s disease. Sadly, it is a certainty that she will continue to lose her memory and my fear is she won’t recognise me by this time next year. I don’t want to have an image for that. Other changes are in the pipeline too and adjustments will need to be made.dawn

I’m finding it helpful to separate what is largely beyond my control and instead offer my energy to making sure I care for myself. I’m thinking of mind, body and soul, in short, resilience for the challenges that lie in wait.

The first challenge of 2014 came on the second day with an operation to my nose. It was preceded by the most sober of New Year celebrations, ever! I am beginning to recover, from the operation that is, and am reminded how even a short procedure involves facing the fear of going under; waiting for the injection of anesthesia, whilst trying to make polite conversation (a diversionary tact by the nursing staff no doubt) not wanting to feel the liquid coursing through the back of my hand and up my wrist, but also wanting to be back in my bed and alive as soon as possible. Then, a painful and grim post op twenty four hour period and thereafter the best you can hope for is feeling exhausted and aching.

The good news is I was able to have an operation at all and I hope to be breathing through both pipes very soon, something I don’t have any memory of! I’m excited to find out how that will feel and keeping my fingers crossed that when the swelling goes down I will discover all has gone to plan …

Perhaps my focus should be to breathe in life this year as I’ve never done before! With that goal in mind, I have put together a selection of thoughts (below) to help me stay positive. My hope for us all is to find our best selves and focus on feeling happy and fulfilled.

A selection of positive thoughts and ideas to banish the January jitters:

1)      “Celebrate your life no matter where it takes you – no matter how difficult – and know that it is only a transition.” ~ Kryon

2)      What are you not happy with in your life?

Ask yourself what is stopping you from making the necessary changes.

Imagine a friend is telling you about the problem, what would you advise them to do?

3)      Enjoy yourself and strike a healthy balance.

An example of my own will be enjoying a couple of the melt in the mouth Hotel Chocolat chocolates my brother bought for Christmas, two at a time each day, as opposed to scoffing the whole box. I’ve included a photo just to demonstrate the magnitude of the task at hand.IMG_2024

4)      It’s feels like a cliché, but bears repetition; getting enough quality nutrition, exercise and sleep will make you more resilient in the face of life’s challenges.

Having said that, each year (or is it each month) I resolve to get into bed earlier. Still working on that one!

5)      ‘Set boundaries. Protect your precious time and energy.’ ~ Cheryl Richardson.

I would add that allocating regular free time to just be allows space to unwind and emotionally nourish ones self.

6)      ‘Reconsider commitments. You have the right to change your mind.’ ~ Cheryl Richardson.

Some people are over committed whilst others lack the drive to make a commitment, how is your balance?

7)      ‘We are all students and teachers. Ask yourself: “What did I come here to learn, and what did I come here to teach?” ~ Louise Hay.

Somewhat profound perhaps and yet I find it helpful to look for the higher purpose of what and who is happening in my life.

8)      “To reach out with love, to do your best and not be so concerned with results or outcomes – that’s the way to live.” ~ Brian L Weiss, MD

As someone who is task orientated, I find this thought both positive and freeing.

If you would like to comment or have any self care tips of your own, please go ahead and share them below.

N.B. The quotes that aren’t mine are taken from a selection in Everyday Positive Thinking,by Louise Hay, Hay House Inc.

On Twitter or want to join? Follow Cheryl Richardson @coachoncall, Louise Hay @LouiseHay and me @LauraJStephens

Longing for light; longing to write

December in the Northern Hemisphere, although wonderfully familiar to me, has its drawbacks. You can imagine what I’m referring to, the weather has become cold and the cloud low. Even so, you’re unlikely to catch me admitting to it being “really cold” until the temperature drops to around 2C/28F. We Brits are nothing if not hardy; the gene pool has adapted to withstand our errant island climate.  Autumn crocuses

Just down the lane where I live, there grows a blanket of delicate Autumn crocuses. In November, each day I willed them to stay upright a little longer (not just because they are unusual and beautiful) I knew once they sagged back into the soil it would be a clear signal of Winter rushing in and daylight hours becoming shorter.

Are you affected by a lack of light where you’re living? Perhaps there are other climatic issues that require you to adapt? Looking out of my window, I feel a sense of time shifting. I see an old fashioned kind of English garden; ornamental shrubs of roses have all but closed down for Winter, I count seven pink optimistic blooms and beyond a pale hopeful light is fading against a bank of low anthracite cloud. By school pick up it will be dark…

Experiencing dusk by mid afternoon and darkness when you wake up does have an impact on mood. Many folk report suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder. ‘SAD’ identifies a reaction or response of low mood and depression experienced by people who are otherwise unaffected throughout the rest of the year. According to Wikipedia the symptoms are recognised in America as effecting between 1.7% in Florida and 9.7% of people in New Hampshire. That’s a lot of folks. Lamps that simulate outside light can be purchased and do seem to help … but who wants to spend half of the year sitting in front of a lamp for goodness sake!

I don’t believe I am a sufferer of SAD, my problem is one of relativity; fortunate to have lived in other, blouse clingingly hot places, I notice the cold now I’m back and take seriously my scarf and gloves routine. Unfortunately, the lack of light is not something you can control. I remind myself that In Singapore (and Houston) it was not always pleasant – returning to a roasting hot car and grappling with a steering wheel too scalding to touch. But being close to the Equator meant regular, light/dark daily cycles of approximately twelve hours, all year round. And frankly, it’s wonderful; everyone knows what they are doing, their brains are not constantly trying to reorientate and calculate if its time to wake up yet. The children used to accept that when it went dark, it was time for bed; ‘mother’ nature was living up to her name.

Last time I repatriated back to the UK I anticipated I might notice less as time went on … and really it isn’t that cold, something I was reminded of when I read Aisha Ashraf’s recent blog (Expatlog) – Aisha lives in Canada, where it really does get cold – I have immense respect for people coping and in fact enjoying truly cold climates.

For me it helps to write about life’s little difficulties and share them here; ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’. Sometimes I’ve worried about sharing too much. Jo Parfitt’s monthly Inspirer (another heart felt blog and she’s been at it many years) entitled Is it Dangerous to Overshare? reminded me recently why I do.

Others may need to protect themselves and shy away at the thought of talking about anything personal with people they know, let alone share it on the internet with those they don’t. That is okay and its normal ‘Information is power’ after all. And in keeping negative experiences to ourselves we may hold them safe (I do that too sometimes) but what of the power of helping others by sharing?

Before the internet and the opportunity to instantly communicate with so many other human beings, many now commonplace sufferings went unshared and we missed the chance to support and help each other. What a waste, we thought we were the only one who checked the plugs five times before leaving the house or worried about our parents dying while we were living abroad …

I met Jo Parfitt because I was lonely having arrived in Houston and decided to attend the 2009 Families in Global Transition Conference ‘FIGT’. Having been encouraged by Jo from the time I met her to write from my challenging place of isolation, I was, later on able to explore the pros and cons of publishing my memoir with her. Truthfully, I would probably not have discussed with many people my episode of depression, had I not taken the risk and had the memoir published by Summertime Publishing. The point was to share the learning from my loss of identity and depression in a way that was accessible and enjoyable for readers. Ultimately, I longed to write and found it cathartic to do so.

Even after writing most of An Inconvenient Posting the decision to publish was made more complicated because it didn’t just affect me, the ‘story’ reveals a family experience. As one well meaning husband recently quipped,

“I’d die of embarrassment if my wife wrote a book like that about us.”

“Just as well I’m not married to you then!” my reply.

I know the friend was speaking ‘his truth’ and didn’t mean to cause offence, none taken, although I encouraged him to read the book before he commented further… Thankfully my own husband felt we had little to conceal. He, at least, wasn’t ashamed of my struggle or my words.

As always, I would love to hear from you if you’ve time to put aside a few minutes from the mayhem of the festive season.

Lastly, an unashamed little plug: As its December and Summertime Publishing are offering a one month only kindle promotion on five of its most popular titles (including Inconvenient) I thought I’d share the link and some reviews on my blog and Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk