Sunday, January 31, 2010

Spreading Happiness - One Page at a Time

I was lucky enough to stumble across the fabulous Jamie Ridler on the internet a month or so ago (don't you just love the internet sometimes?) She runs several communal projects through her website, where people (women, mainly) get a chance to explore their creativity and make their dreams reality. It's a wonderful place to visit, full of positivity, friendship and talent.

I saw that she was about to start a new project, called The Next Chapter: The Happy Book and thought "what the hell - I'll give it a go". It is a wonderful, life-enhancing project. Jamie has sent four copies of The Happy Book to people all over the world. Each of these four gets to keep the book for a week, filling as many pages as they like with pictures, words, quotes and silly things - all the things that make them happy and bring them joy. At the end of the week they send the book on to the next person on the list, and so on to 25 other people. So, for about a year, allowing for travelling time, those little books will be flying about the world, getting filled up with joy, at which time they will return to Jamie and she'll show them on her website. Isn't that a wonderful thing to do? It is great to be involved in something that offsets all the gloom and anger in the world. Spending a week thinking about what makes me happy is doing me the world of good, getting the opportunity to express all the things I am grateful for, and knowing that my words and my little pictures are maybe going to brighten someone else's day - it doesn't get much better than that.

As I said, there are four books trundling around the world. Jamie has given each project a name of its own, so we have the Glee Circle, the Mirth Circle, the Giggle Circle and the Bliss Circle. I am in the Mirth Circle and was a little nervous to discover that I was first on the list - nobody else's pictures to inspire me, but it's been okay. And being first, I got to feature in a video of Jamie posting the books, which was pretty cool!

Jamie Putting the Happy Books in the Mail from Jamie Ridler on Vimeo.

I have to send the book on to Lani in Nova Scotia, Canada next Tuesday so I am dedicating today to filling some pages with colour, fun and all things jolly - a rather nice way to spend a Sunday. I'll post again when I've got some pictures to show.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Cutting Through the Shoulds

Morning, my fellow prunes and rosehips. Definitely feeling more prunish than rosehippy this morning but I live in hope.

I've had an interesting little experience that I thought I'd share and, you never know, it might help someone else along the way.

I've had a long-standing physical problem that kicked off after my husband died and is still bugging the hell out of me. I've been trying alternative therapies of all descriptions - anything that might help me fix this and feel better. Anyway, I had a flare-up of symptoms recently and called my very wise homeopath. She suggested that I read You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay, as she thought I'd find it relevant and useful.

Now, I've bought all sorts of self-help books over the years but have always avoided Louise Hay. She just seemed too big and too popular to be of any use to me. Far too many weeks in the bestseller tables to be relevant to me (how does that work? Discovering that little fact about myself was interesting in itself.) But I respect my homeopath so I went out and bought a copy. Wow - what a great book! The very first exercise brought results for me and I thought I'd share it with you.

She says to get a big bit of paper and at the top of it to write "I should..." and underneath that you make a list of five or six ways to complete that sentence. Wow - when I saw this exercise I thought it was pointless but then I thought - "well, I want to get better, let's give it a go", so I settled myself down with a coffee and tried to think of one or two "shoulds" in my life.

Once I started, I could barely stop. I discovered that my whole life is full of "shoulds". I should lose weight. I should keep the house cleaner. I should get out more. I should be able to stop the dog doing the toilet in the house. I should walk her more often. I should do some voluntary work. I should redecorate. I should cook proper meals...and on and on and on.

I realised that from the moment I woke up every morning, I was beating myself up about pretty much everything in my life. No wonder I wasn't feeling well.

Even taking the exercise just this far has been useful in the week since, but she suggests that you take each "should" statement and turn it into a "If I really wanted to, I could...", not to put further pressure on yourself, but to find out exactly what kind of pressures you are putting yourself under.

There are many more exercises in the book to work on, and I am seeing new things all the time as I do. I hadn't realised, for example, that the overwhelming message I got as a child, both from parents and society at large, (and anyone brought up in the sixties and seventies will know what I'm talking about) was that girls would never be as good as boys and that, as a woman, all I had to look forward to was being gorgeous and the target of constant sexual innuendo or plain and a figure of fun. Plain women were a waste of space and beautiful women were only useful for one thing. As an adult, of course, you try to put these things behind you but, deep down, that message is apparently still singing loud and clear in my ear. So there's lots of work to be done there.

But what I wanted to tell you about today was a practical example of the life of "should". Ever since I did this exercise, when I have found myself saying "I should", I stop myself, question myself as to why I am saying "should", and then try to rephrase the thought. I wandered into my study and thought, with a sinking heart and a pang of guilt, "I really should vacuum this carpet." Spotting the use of the dreaded s-word, I decided to find a way to rephrase the thought without saying should. I couldn't. I felt guilty about the dirty carpet and I couldn't find a way of not beating myself up about it. Then it suddenly struck me. I could say "This carpet really needs vacuuming." And that made all the difference. All of a sudden it wasn't about me being lazy and a lifelong bad housekeeper. It was simply that the carpet needed cleaning.

And once I'd had that thought, I could see that there were other solutions to the situation. If the carpet needed cleaning, I could pay someone to come in and do it. Or I could say - "Yes, it needs doing but I am not going to do it today." Or I could get the vacuum cleaner out and clean it!

I know this is a really trivial situation, but I think it represents a hundred, a thousand similar thoughts that we beat ourselves up with constantly. From now on, whatever the situation, I will try to take away the self-blame and see things in an objective way, lighten the emotional load on myself and be gentle with myself.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Paired For Life? Part 2

And now for the other side...

Part 2 has taken a while to produce - the reason is that in this part I want to write about the positive side of living alone, and I haven't been feeling that positive about it, which makes it hard to write enthusiastically about! Nevertheless, I have done such a lot since I was widowed - many things through necessity, but many also because I no longer need to answer to anyone else. And that's the rub - being widowed ISN'T all bad. That knowledge brings with it a whole new bundle of guilt, but that's another post.

Where to start - well, I've just moved house, let's start there. For the first time in my life, I have chosen a house just for me, no compromises, no negotiations, and I've arranged it the way I want, and that is completely new for me. It's a funny thing to think that my student son has had more independence in his few years since leaving home than I have in my fifty years. In fact, I sometimes feel as though I am just starting out on on my life as an adult. I went straight from parental home to married home and never even went through the student-flat phase, as I lived at home when I was at University.

And settling in to this house HAS been an adventure. I've arranged things the way I want, got rid of all sorts of baggage, literal and emotional and, for the first time, I feel that I am in a house that reflects my personality. That can't be a bad thing.

Moving house has been a big thing but life alone is filled with hundreds of little delights, from having your bedroom at the temperature that suits you, to eating what and when you like.

And with the new year, another good thing about being alone occurs to me. Yesterday I phoned a widowed friend to have a chat and to wish her a happy new year. We talked for twenty minutes or so. I am only too aware that if I was still married I would probably never have picked up the phone. Why not? Well, for several reasons. The first is that we would probably never have met. She was a distant neighbour who I didn't know when she knocked at my door a week or so after the Golfer died. She introduced herself, refused to come in and said merely that she herself had been widowed three months previously, that she lived at the top of the hill and that if I ever needed help or just to talk, she was there. I was so touched by this kindness from a stranger and over the years since then our friendship gradually developed. Until recently, we had never been in each other's houses, we merely chatted and compared notes as we passed on the road. A few months ago she called me and asked me for some help with her computer and our acquaintance developed into a friendship.

So when New Year approached, I thought of her, especially as the weather has been pretty extreme up there in the Highlands, and called her. She was delighted to hear from me and our conversation cheered us both, I think. I felt better both for brightening her day and for the mutual support we offered. Now, the point of this is that if I had still been a married woman, not only would I never have met her, but that even if we had met, I probably simply wouldn't think of staying in touch. This has been the case for most of the friendships that I have developed over the last four years. Before, when I was a wife and mother, I didn't need girlfriends. I had a few 'coffee' friends - women I liked who I would meet for coffee and gossip once a month or so - but I would never think of talking about anything too personal with them, and I wouldn't need to call on them if I had a problem because I had a husband to fix everything in my life.

The nature of friendship I will keep for another blog post but suffice it to say that I may NEED friends now in a way that I have never done before but that need has developed some genuine and deep friendships that will last a lifetime. It sounds like a trivial thing to say, but it's a sign of the change in my life to say that I get more Christmas cards and birthday cards now than I ever did before I was widowed. When I go to sleep at night, my thoughts are jam-packed with all the people I care about. Before, it was just the Golfer and my son, and that was about it.

I have only scraped the surface of the benefits of living alone, and I expect I'll come back to the topic and express myself a little better than I have done here but let me finish with one thought about a particular problem of being widowed which may make it more difficult to celebrate life alone. One of the most important weapons in defeating difficult times in your life is defiance. "Living well is the best revenge" is a great maxim to live by if you had parents who abused you, if you are made redundant or if your spouse runs away with the postwoman. Putting a smile on your face and trying to use that adversity to recreate a better life, even if at first it's only in defiance to the bastards who have screwed you, is a great way to deal with life's big stresses. However, when you are widowed, it is difficult to adopt this attitude (I'm not expressing myself well here but I hope I'm getting my meaning across - I'll try to write it better one day!) I have heard people say that losing their job, or even getting a serious illness like cancer, was the best thing that ever happened to them, because it transformed their lives. It is VERY difficult to say that in relation to the death of your spouse. In fact, it is unacceptable to say that publicly, even if it's true. Can you imagine what people would say if you came out with the line "Ah yes, the Golfer's death was the best thing that ever happened to me". And yet, that is the task we are faced with when our partners die. If the Golfer had walked out on me, I would have said "The Golfer walking out on me was the best thing that ever happened to me" with gusto and would have been determined to make the rest of my life as good as possible, if only to stick it to him. But he didn't walk out on me, he died on me, and I find it almost impossible to suggest out loud (even if I think it sometimes) that I am having a happier life BECAUSE he died.

I think that adds an element of difficulty to the widowed person's job of rebuilding their lives. So, for those of you out there in the same boat as me, go easy on yourselves, you are making progress, and you will be happy again. Happy New Year to all you Rosehips and Prunes out there and I wish you all a wonderful 2010!