Day 21: Artist’s Date

Being grateful for a yummy brunch on my Artist’s Date:

Today it was time for a change of scenery.  I needed to get out of the house. And thankfully I felt up for going on an Artist’s Date.

I’ve been taking myself on Artist’s Dates since first reading about them in Julia’s Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way, around ten years ago.

“Artist Dates are assigned play,” says Cameron. And the best thing is that you don’t have to be an artist to go on an Artist’s Date.

The idea is to take yourself on a date once per week to “fill the well” of creativity.  There are the rules:

  • You must do the activity alone.  The idea is to get in touch with your inner creative self, to spark your imagination, and having anyone else with you will change your behaviour.
  • The activity should be fun.  Find something that appeals to you and do it.

Of course, the nature of an Artist’s Date can be something different to everyone.

Amongst my favourites are: a long walk in the country or along the coastline;  a visit to a Farmer’s Market; a nose around a photography exhibition; a visit to the cinema; a day trip to somewhere new; and a delicious brunch in a nice cafe.

Ever since discovering brunch culture when I spent time in the US and Canada, it’s become my absolute favourite meal to enjoy out. I love catching up with friends over brunch, and I also really love my solo dates.

Taking myself out for brunch provides a welcome break from my current mainly sedentary lifestyle. It feels like I’m living a normal life again. I try to go a couple of times a month, depending on health and wealth of course.

This morning, I went to my favourite brunch place Bill’s, and enjoyed Eggs Royale; a toasted English muffin topped with smoked salmon, poached eggs and Hollandaise sauce, and finished with a sprinkling of pumpkin seeds.

Yum. Yum. Yum.

Upon returning, I feel restored, refreshed and rejuvenated.

Hooray for Artist’s Dates. Hooray for yummy brunches.

So with this in mind, my happy for today is being grateful for my yummy brunch on my Artist’s Date.

 

Day 20: Turtle Power

Being kind to myself by retreating into my shell:

Today I am grateful that I gave myself permission to have a few days off from writing this blog.

As much as I love writing about my ‘100 days of happy’ project, I realised I was putting too much pressure on myself to write the “perfect” posts (whatever the “perfect” post may look like!).

I was feeling incredibly overwhelmed.

And having chronic fatigue does not bode well with overwhelm.

I’m also a perfectionist.

And perfectionism is not a friend of chronic fatigue either.

So feeling overwhelmed with writing the perfect blog = crash, bang, wallop!

It was only a few weeks ago that I started easing myself back into writing, just for 20 minutes each day. But then decided to set myself this 100 day project, and write about it every day, and then turn it into a blog, and then tell all my friends what I was doing.

Yeah, I know.

I don’t do things by halves me! And it’s probably not the best idea when you need to be taking things slow and gentle.

While I really enjoyed writing it ‘off-line’, as soon as I set up the blog and put it out there, I fell to pieces. Knowing a handful of lovely people have kindly subscribed and are now getting my posts directly into their in-boxes, completely freaked me out.

Now my posts HAD to be good, I warned myself. I couldn’t post just any old crap.

I’d started writing it for me, but now I felt a responsibility to write something really fantastic and interesting every single day. Something others would enjoy reading. And keep reading.

It absolutely terrified me and I felt myself shut down.

I crumbled under the pressure.

And I know that I’m the one putting pressure on myself. No one else is doing that. I can do a perfectly good job of that all by very myself thank you very much.

When the fact is, I’ve been absolutely bowled over by all the kind lovely comments and support I’ve received so far. I really couldn’t have asked for a nicer bunch of readers.

I knew I needed to take a break from writing. I needed to gift myself with complete rest. The sky wasn’t going to fall in if I didn’t write for a few days.

I retreated back into my turtle shell, put my laptop away, and delved into my recovery tool kit. I did what I had to do to help myself recover.

I’m proud that every day, I continued to find my happy. But instead of writing about it in the blog, I wrote a short couple of lines in my gratitude journal.

As I tentatively started to emerge from my turtle shell, my thoughts slowly turned back towards my blog. I reminded myself of why I started it.

Thankfully I’ve put it all back into perspective and am feeling much better for it. For now. I realise this may crop up again, and if it does I’ll know what to do.

It’s ok that my writing isn’t perfect. It’s ok that it’s not for everyone. And it’s ok to not write for a day or so if I’m not feeling well enough.

I’m giving myself permission to be ok as I am: to be the best that I can be in this moment.

So with this in mind, my happy for today is being kind to myself by retreating into my shell.

Day 19: Time to rest

Being mindful of what my body and mind need:

My energy bucket is empty.

So today I am having complete bedrest.

I’m not panicking or worrying about this blip like I’ve often done in the past. Even though it’s a biggie this time.

I was expecting a blip of some sorts after putting so much energy into facing one of my biggest fears: writing this blog.

I’m not turning away from my condition either. Instead, I choose to turn towards it. I choose to listen to my body and honour what it needs.

I choose to accept this blip with love, patience and grace.

But it’s not easy.

And I don’t manage it every single moment.

But once I’m aware that my mind is spiralling downwards, I gently bring myself back to focusing on the now, on my breath.

I focus on the glory of the trees outside my bedroom window.

My spirits are lifted as I watch the wind rustling through these magnificent beauties, their branches swaying, bursting with life. Watching them is a soothing balm to my soul and helps bring me back to the present moment.

This blip, I gently remind myself, this too shall pass. I will feel better in time. I’m not putting pressure on myself with a timeframe. I will take as long as I need.

I have given myself permission not to write if I don’t feel well enough. I also don’t want to pretend on this blog that everything is always ok. I want to show myself that even on days like today, I can still find my happy. And I’m so grateful that I have.

So with this in mind, my happy for today is being mindful of what my body and mind need: complete rest.

Day 18: Monkey mind

Being mindful of my meditation practice:

I don’t know about you, but I have a monkey mind and it drives me crazy.

Wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, it chatters to me non-stop.  Like a restless monkey jumping from branch to branch, my thoughts constantly swing from this to that, refusing to give me a moment’s peace.

I’ve been trying to tame this wayward creature for many, many years, and I’ve finally found something that is really helping.

Meditation.

The idea of meditation has always appealed to me, encouraged by countless stories of how this wonderful (and free!) tool has changed lives, and how it can help ease stress and anxiety.

I’ve tried it so many times, and have given up as my monkey mind triumphed every single time.

Until I spent a couple of months in a yoga ashram in India.

Meditation was an integral part of our daily routine. Initially I struggled and my monkey mind fought for all it’s worth. But I persisted and practiced every single day.

Then I had a lightbulb moment.

I realised it doesn’t matter if my monkey mind makes an appearance. In fact, I think you’d have to be a Buddhist Monk living in a cave for decades, NOT to have any thoughts enter your mind while meditating!

I discovered that the key is be aware of when it starts to chatter. To not get angry or frustrated or give up in defeat. To gently, kindly, and lovingly bring attention back to the breath.

Even if my monkey mind is quiet for just 30 seconds of a 10 minute meditation, I still feel the benefit.

It all counts, honest.

I wholeheartedly believe my daily practice is doing me the world of good. In general, I feel a lot calmer, more centred and grounded, and because of this, feel I am able to cope with the ups and downs of my condition a lot better.

Now that meditation has finally become part of my daily ritual, I find that if I skip my practice for a day or two I really miss it. I notice the difference in how I handle stress: i.e. not very well!

I try to vary my practice using guided meditation CDs, walking meditation, or by simply focusing on my breath.

Every Monday, I join a few Happier friends from around the world for a virtual group meditation session. There’s something really special about connecting with others through meditation, and it always feels more powerful in some way. I have a deep sense of gratitude for this experience and treasure our Monday Meditations.

With this in mind, my happy for today is being mindful of my meditation practice.

Day 17: My mum

Being grateful for my lovely mum:

My mum is such a superstar.

She is one of the most caring, thoughtful and all round loveliest people I know.

And she’s my mum. I know, what a lucky girl I am.

She’s always been there for me and we’ve always been close.

And I’ve come to appreciate her even more since I’ve been living back in the family home due to the ME/CFS.

I’ve found it incredibly hard giving up my independence and having to rely on mum to look after me. But she has made this transition much easier thanks to her kind, graceful nature.

And I appreciate that it can’t always be easy for her.

On bedrest days like today, she pops in to check on me, brings me cups of tea, and kindly prepares my meals. She has never once complained or made me feel like it’s too much.

I’m so grateful that she takes the time to understand my symptoms and triggers, and how she steps in to look after me when I’m not feeling well enough to look after myself.

She listens to me when I tell her how I’m feeling. She hugs me when I’m feeling down. She shields me from visitors when I’m too exhausted to be social.

She even helps me when I have to do something requiring some thought and my brain is too foggy.

She supports me no matter what, without judgement.

I tell her as often as possible how much I love her, how amazing she is and how grateful I am. And I do my best to help out whenever I am feeling well enough.

I hope she knows that I think she is simply the best. Because she is.

She’s my mum, my confidant, my best friend.

So with this in mind, my happy for today is being grateful for my lovely mum.

Day 16: Bedrest and movies

Being grateful for my Netflix and LoveFilm subscriptions:

After overdoing it recently, my energy bucket is completely empty.

So today is a bedrest day.

I’m a big film fan and love going to the cinema as often as I can. As I’m not able to make it so much at the moment, I say a big thank goodness for Netflix and LoveFilm.

Subscriptions to these two beauties are my little treat to myself.  Well, actually, they are a big part of my recovery tool box.

On days when I need bedrest, like today, watching films offers me complete rest. It helps give my monkey mind a break, as well as giving my body time to recover.

With LoveFilm, I can enjoy the more latest and greatest DVD releases and the discs are delivered directly to my door. Netflix offers online streaming and at the push of a button, or rather a click of a mouse, I can watch as many films as my heart desires.

And believe me, that’s a LOT of films when I’m needing a bedrest day or two or three.

I receive two DVDs at a time with LoveFilm and post them back once they’ve been watched. It’s always a surprise to see what they’ve selected from my eclectic rental list of over 100 titles: today it’s ‘Girls’ Season 1, and Tom Hardy in ‘The Drop’.

I find Netflix doesn’t have as many recent releases, but still has thousands of titles to choose from including some quality TV series ripe for binge-watching (I’ve just started on series one of five of the renowned Breaking Bad!).

Thankfully my watch list makes it so much easier to choose what to watch on days when my brain is too foggy to make a decision. As Netflix is streamed online, my sister has kindly lent me their Apple TV gadget, which means I can watch it on my big bedroom telly. Result!

I am so grateful for this form of pure escapism: it’s gets me through a lot of dark days like today. And after some good quality rest with some (usually) entertaining viewing, I am slowly ready to ease myself back into the wonderful world of real life once again.

So with this in mind, my happy for today is being grateful for my Netflix and LoveFilm subscriptions.

Day 15: Bliss Balls

Being mindful in the kitchen making my raw chocolate treats:

It’s been a long time since I’ve made any raw treats. My last batch ran out a few weeks ago, and I’ve been dipping into the biscuit tin and chocolate box way too much.

Not good.

I need to replenish my treat stash quickly in order to have them on hand for when I have a sweet craving.

It’s time to say Bye Bye biscuit tin and beloved Galaxy Minstrels, and Hello Helen’s Raw Chocolate Bliss Balls.

Bliss Balls were actually my first step into the wonderful world of home-made raw treats. After realising that sugar was not my friend, I’ve been making variations of these for a few years now to satisfy my sweet tooth. And it works. And they’re delicious. And nutritious.

How fabulous is that!

My fave recipe combines mixed nuts and seeds, raw cacao, vanilla powder, cinnamon, chia seeds, super-greens powder, dates, and rice syrup, with coconut oil for binding, and desiccated coconut for rolling in.

Did I mention they are absolutely yummy?

I enjoy spreading the no-sugar love too by making them for dinner parties, and giving as gifts for friends and family. I’m often asked for the recipe which is brilliant; changing the world one bliss ball at a time!

Variety is always welcome so today I wanted to make two flavours. I decided to try out a new recipe I’ve found for Sesame Power Balls. With tahini, ground almonds, almond butter, coconut, seeds, vanilla powder and rice syrup, it sounded like a recipe made in raw food heaven. And it was.

Heavenly yummy indeed.

I wanted to practice mindfulness as I made my treats. So I focused on being present, mindful and aware, as opposed to stressed, distracted and overwhelmed.

I stayed alert to my senses: the texture and smell of my yummy ingredients; watching how they bind together in my food processor; taste testing for sweetness; and the feel of rolling the mixture into balls in the palm of my hand.

I was also mindful of my breath, keeping it slow and steady throughout. And if my mind wandered off, I gently invited it back to the task at hand.

Now I have 20 little balls of deliciousness packed away in the freezer to enjoy over the next few weeks. I usually find that one is enough to satisfy my sweet tooth, although I have been known to sneak another one or two. But they’re actually quite filling and one is usually enough. Honest.

So with this in mind, my happy for today is being mindful in the kitchen when making my raw chocolate treats.

Helen’s Chocolate Bliss Balls

Helen’s Chocolate Bliss Balls:

I always keep a batch of my Bliss Balls in the freezer for when I have a sweet craving.

A delicious and nutritious snack, these beauties are sugar, dairy and wheat-free, and are packed with protein and good fats.

Perfect for those three o’clock munchies, they are also a great energy booster: bonus!

I’ve played a lot with my recipe over the years, but the one below is my staple. I sometimes add in 1 tbsp of almond butter, or 1 tbsp of maca powder, or even a couple of tbsps of juice pulp, just for fun.

Why not have a play and get creative too.  And if you do, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below…

Helen's Chocolate Bliss Balls

Ingredients:
3 handfuls of nuts (I use mixed nuts – almonds, cashews, brazils, wholenuts – but use whatever you fancy, except peanuts)
2 handfuls of seeds (again, whatever you fancy. I use a salad seed mix which includes sunflower, pumpkin, linseed/flax, sesame)
2 tbsp cacao powder
1 tbsp spiralina/barley greens/super greens (optional)
1 tsp cinnamon
10 dates – de-stoned and soaked in water for an hour
3 tbsp coconut oil (or enough to make mixture slightly moist)
1 tsp sugar alternative (I use rice syrup but you could use honey/maple syrup etc)
Few drops vanilla essence/1 tsp vanilla powder
Desiccated coconut to roll balls in

Food processor method:
Simply blitz all dry ingredients together. Add wet ingredients and blitz until well mixed. Go to step 6.

By hand method:
1. Chop nuts into smaller pieces
2. Put in bowl and stir in all other dry ingredients
3. Chop dates into small pieces and add to mixture, making sure they don’t clump together
4. Gently heat coconut oil, if needed, so it becomes a liquid
5. Add to dry mixture with honey and vanilla essence and stir well
6. Roll into small balls and roll in coconut, lay out onto tray lined with greaseproof paper
7. Pop into fridge to set for a couple of hours. They also keep well in freezer, just give them half an hour to defrost a little before eating
8. Eat and enjoy!

See Day 15 for my post about my Chocolate Bliss Balls…

Day 14: Nana milkshake song+dance

Being grateful for funtime playtime with my nephew Thomas:

Two days a week, my three-year-old nephew Thomas is with us while my sister goes to work.

He’s our little ray of sunshine.

And as much as I would LOVE to be his full-on full-time playmate, sadly CFS has other ideas: I’m usually wiped out after only half an hour and have to head upstairs for some bedrest.

Recently, I’ve started making him healthy banana milkshakes, with two ingredients: frozen banana and whole milk. Nothing else.

And I’ve found that getting him involved in the making of it usually increases the odds of him drinking it.

Today, he very carefullly held the blender jug while I put the frozen banana in and then added the milk: great team work.

Thomas is quite a sensitive soul around noise and usually runs away and hides when I switch the blender on. But today, he wanted to press the button. And so he did. A few times in fact.

As the blender roared into action, I started singing ‘Banana Milkshake’ to distract him from the noise. He joined in the singing and started dancing around; I joined in the dancing.

And thus, our Banana Milkshake, or rather our ‘Nana Milkshake’ song and dance was born. (Lyrics by Auntie Helen, choreography by nephew Thomas)

We had so much fun singing and dancing our way around the house. A joy-filled precious moment to treasure, that’s for sure.

So with this in mind, my happy for today is being grateful for fun playtime with my nephew Thomas.

Day 13: Happier and friends

Being grateful for the Happier app and Happier friendships:

I joined the wonderful Happier community almost a year ago, and it’s had a hugely positive impact on my day-to-day life and wellbeing.

The iTunes blurb says, it’s like a smile in your pocket, and I couldn’t agree more.

Happier is a social media mobile app for sharing the good stuff. It’s mission: to help you find more joy in your everyday life. Happiers can share a ‘happy moment’ and also smile and comment on others’ moments, and vice versa.

It wasn’t long before I noticed how I was actively looking for more and more things to be happy about and be grateful for in my day. And that can’t be a bad thing at all! In fact, my experiences on Happier have been a huge inspiration for this blog and ‘100 days of happy’ project.

Happier has opened the door to meeting so many beautiful like-minded souls and kindred spirits. I believe finding and connecting with a community online that focuses on positivity and support has become instrumental in my recovery journey.

I feel like I’ve found my tribe.

Spending just a few minutes scrolling through Happier always makes me smile and lifts my spirits, especially when I’m feeling low.

What’s also special about Happier is seeing new friendships develop all around the globe; as fellow Happiers swap email addresses, send cards and thoughtful gifts to each other, talk on the phone, and even meet up in person for Happier get togethers.

How cool is that!

I’ve been chuffed to bits to receive my own Happier mail, including beautiful cards and thoughtful, inspirational bracelets, which I love and wear all the time.

 

Happier bracelets

And I’ve enjoyed getting creative and sending homemade cards and little gifts to a couple of Happier friends. Something I’d like to do more of.

Today, I even got the chance to have a real life chat with a lovely Happier, who’s become a good friend. We chatted excitedly and both felt cheered by our connection; it’s made me smile from ear to ear all day long.

Who knew that signing up to an app would produce such beautiful gifts of friendship, support and all round loveliness.

So with this in mind, my happy for today is being grateful for the Happier app and new Happier friendships.