Breathing - pretty essential to your life, agreed? And it's totally ok if that's all you can handle today. There's not many things that can't wait. There's almost always a tomorrow or a next week.
Slow it down this Mental Health Awareness Week!
Have you found time to stop and breathe? Notice your surroundings, the beauty, the interesting... Notice your energy and emotions... Do you need to pause?
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Born to be a Tourist
So, El Husbandio and I became dog owners in February. We'd been thinking about getting one for a while, and saw what seemed to be the perfect dog advertised on Gumtree. We collected her from a family in Swindon who'd (stupidly) bought her for Christmas and couldn't cope with a puppy's energy and costs after a month, so she's kind of a rescue - and we got so lucky!
Chumi (short for "Chumiko", which means "black conker" in Spanish) is a Collie, with a hint of Whippet hips and legs about her. She's now five months old and just gorgeous. She's slept through the night (I sound like a mother!) from the start, she could already sit and would poop outdoors, she's so friendly with other dogs and people, learning more every day.
I'm not going to just brag about our wonderful pup, here, though. There's a real, useful reason for this blog today. As it's Mental Health Awareness Week, I want to share how having a dog has improved my mental well-being. You may scoff, and people have scoffed, at the idea of how the presence of a dog has helped, but I'm a convert to the idea. It works.
I was a non-believer. I thought the benefits of a dog were limited to having company at home and perhaps more walking to boost your physical health. However, since Chumi came into our lives, I've discovered so much about how having a dog in the house can be beneficial to more than just your exercise regime.
Some of you may be aware that I've struggled with my mental health over the last two to three years. It's a long story, but the up-shot is that I'm definitely on the mend and slowly returning to my old self. Being able to realise that is an important and significant step.
I've tried several things to help me through anxiety, depression and a general emotional confusion: three forms of medication (one made sick, one I was petrified of, and the one I settled with, I'm starting to wean off - yay!), 121 counselling, CBT group classes, more exercise, reading up on mental health blogs, talking openly with friends and family, quitting booze, and trying to re-discover what made me more content and 'me' in the past.
Now, I know what you think I'm going to say. The dog was the key to it all. That's not true. I believe a mixture of all the things above helped me to re-stabilise and begin to function in a way that is normal for me again. However, I have a feeling that having a dog in my life has given more the final push to returning to good mental health.
The answer to solving the conundrum and debilitation of depression is not 'one size fits all', but I sure think a dog should be prescribed on the NHS! *tongue in cheek*
So how has becoming a dog owner assisted me on my recovery?
Take a look at this website for more on how dogs can help with mental therapy. For a more hefty read, try this recent study on pet owners and increased levels of self-esteem. You may be surprised - I was sceptical, never having had a dog before, but I can't believe the difference Chumi has made to my mental health well-being. Just the fact I can reflect and notice the difference shows how far I've come in this short time.
As the author Julie Myerson puts it
"Most of all, when your confidence is at its lowest, when you feel battered – by life, death and (especially) other humans – a dog will shove her nose in your hand and tell you, with conviction and feeling, what a really good person you are."
And in such grim times as these, a little sunshine in a simple way is something we could all benefit from.
If you think you could benefit from a dog's company but can't commit, why not take a look at Borrow My Doggy? You can meet up with local owners who need extra walking for their pooch and get the benefits of having a dog without the long term commitments. Let me know how you get on!
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This is a poem I wrote a while back, some therapeutic reflecting - always helps! Does anyone else write through boredom or through difficult times? (Of course, I write this in my own time!)
Time is going backwards
It’s the time of day
I ponder what’s for dinner
And wonder what to say.
“How’s your day been, baby?”
The question that I dread.
It’s nice to be asked, very polite
But a grumpy answer’s in my head.
I hate that I’m bored stupid
And I’m one for feeling guilty
When I’m not working for my cash
And filling time with tea.
It makes it hard to leave the house
Always something to do there
I could be cleaning, baking, reading, cooking,
Do anything I care.
Staring at bogus spreadsheets
And looking forward to lunch
Trying to look occupied
Colleagues a busy bunch.
I feel like I’m praying
For an email to pop in
Something to action, something to do
And my day could begin.
My talents are skills are wasted
In this dead end role
But where do I want to move to?
How do I leave this hole?
Keep looking, keep seeking
A better job’s out there.
And when one day I’m happier
I’ll have an answer to share.
Getting married. An untimely death of a childhood friend. Family. Two solicitor hirings. My first house. A few things which have made me grow up a little in the last year. I had a pretty stable upbringing, a lucky child of loving, successful parents, but despite that, half a lifetime ago I was in a bit of a state. Feeling the pressure of exams and insignificant teenage life, I still have few regrets, but if I'd known a few things about life and the future, I would have had a smoother introduction into adult life.
Aside from the lottery results, here's 15 things I wish I could tell my 15 year old self.
Loads to look forward to - enjoy it!
Love Twice-Your-Age Lou x
At time of writing, I'm on Facebook (you'll love it)
...I'm on Twitter too. Good name, hey?
Hell, I'll even have a travel blog in the future!
I made it - it's only the third time I've cycled to work from the new house, and I think (hope!) it's getting easier. That 25 minute uphill ride is challenging, I'll say that!_
Still, I wanted to use this opportunity to signpost you, lovely readers to my travel blog, Born to be a Tourist. I have a category on that blog roll on cycling, which, if you're reading this post, you may enjoy. It's loosely linked to travel as I've been around a lot on it (Wales, Gloucester - more to come!), but it's full of fun stuff. Take a look!
Last night I had The Chop For Charity. I cut off my hair to donate it to the charity Little Princess Trust. They make real hair wigs for kids in the UK and Ireland who have lost their hair due to illness - an incredibly worthwhile cause.
I'd been growing my hair (with two 'tidy-ups' for wedding and post braids) since January 2012, more or less. The original idea was to grow a 'Princess Jasmin' style braid - you know, the princess from Aladdin?! Yep, I'm that sad... But she's definitely the best Disney princess!
However, not only am I not an Arabian beauty, I am also made of flesh and blood; I'm no cartoon. My hair is nowhere near thick enough to have those luscious locks. So I investigated donating my lengths of locks.
After Googling a bit, I found several charities who ask for hair donations. I wanted one I could trust, and one which needed what I had, plus possibly another month or two. I was getting sick of washing, drying and product bottle draining!
Little Princess Trust was the charity that singer Jessie J chose when she shaved off her hair in 2013, so I decided, if it's good enough for her, it's good enough for me. Also, they were only asking for 7 inches - most others want 15. I easily had that!
So, last night, I went for the chop. I was extremely excited, thinking about the kids I might be able to help and the drastic change to my hair do. I ended up with 11.5 inches snipped off - could have gone for more but I wanted to have something to tie back still for work. And clean eating. All I had to do was have it plaited, tied at both ends, and bagged before it hit the floor. There's a UK address to post it to, and the charity does the rest.
And... my hair? I love the result! I'm hearing it's a mix of Yael Stone (Orange Is The New Black), Dora The Esplorer (my personal favourite!) and Arya from Game of Thrones.... Lush!
I think everyone should do this at least once in their lives - I'm going to do a repeat, for sure.
Special thanks to Hannah, my lovely hairdresser, and to Hilary who inspired me from about 10 years ago. I got there eventually!
Find out more about donating YOUR hair here - you don't have to go for a shaved head, just 7 inches of a plait is needed!
My haircut journey was posted on Twitter, so come and have a look at the posts from around 5pm last night (13/7/15).
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Commuting by car can be a real bind. Traffic, cost, unreliability of timings... Check out my recent thoughts on the commute here, but tell me something… Why don’t you cycle to work? Commuting is 16% of England’s total travelling time, so the impacts of this are not easily ignored. A daily four mile commute will save you 66 gallons of fuel per year, so cost savings are certainly no discouragement. The average British commute is seven miles – about a 30 minute ride... More than achievable for most.
So why don’t more people bike to work?
A survey run by American psychologists in March looked into the psychological barriers to bike commuting. I’ve taken it as my responsibility as a keen cycle-commuter to prove these excuses are just that: excuses.
BUSTED! Reason no.1
Potential riders perceived bicycle commuters as young, energetic and physically fit people, with special clothes or gear.
Age is nothing but a number. Nuff said. Some people laughed when I said I gave my 80 year old grandma a webcam for her birthday but she’s one of millions of silver surfers now. Biking, like an internet connection is good for all ages, with as much exercise and challenge as you want to do.
Despite what my husband thinks, you don’t need professional gear or expensive gear. I would recommend a padded saddle and shorts if you’re going longer distances – same goes for gel padded gloves. However, if you have a ‘normal’ bike which works and a helmet, that’s all you need. If you do want some gadgets or extra gear, there are plenty of stores and online outlets which sell affordable items, and you can always ask for the fancier stuff as a gift. Friends and family will love to give you a gift you’ll actually be grateful for and use!
BUSTED! Reason no.2
Potential riders are worried about how to maintain a professional image if they cycle to work.
Simple solution: take a change of clothes. I don’t shower when I get to work (due to my relatively short commute), but I make sure I wear an outfit with tights and skirt/shorts comb, or a leggings/skinny trousers based outfit so I don’t get caught up in baggy hems and bulky outfits. I wear a sports bra when I can get away with it (more comfy – still a tomboy at heart! ***link***), and I swap over my top when I arrive. It’s a bit of fiddling around when I arrive, but leaving for home I cycle in what I wore at work. No one cares what I look like when I get home and jump straight in the shower! Your office may have shower facilities you don’t know about; might be worth asking the office manager.
Bad case of helmet hair? Don’t do your hair before you leave home, ladies – just take your products with you. Travel-sized ones will limit the weight gain in your bags.
What’s more professional than someone taking care of their body? You’ll live longer, feel happier, and work more productively, I guarantee, and your boss will love that!
BUSTED! Reason no.3
Potential riders felt they couldn’t commute because they have to have a car available for running errands, carrying bulk items and childcare responsibilities.
I shop more in a ‘little and often’ way now, so this helps a lot when I make a run for the groceries. I have a set of panniers which I am happy to fill. I have been known to have two bottles of squash, a laptop, a bag of rice, a lunchbox and my handbag in them on a normal work day, so I know it’s possible to carry a load. Kiddies wise, you can get some brilliant kid-cargo trailers. I saw a few from £60 at the weekend, and I look forward to the day I have a little one behind me. I imagine us singing (maybe just me!) as we pedal along. Again, just me! Biking as a family won’t stop as we grow into a family with kids.
BUSTED! Reason no.4
Potential riders are worried about safety – cycling in the dark and other road users a particular concern.
Biking can be dangerous, but not if you’re careful. Where I live there’s lots of dedicated bike paths. These are perfect for traffic-free travel and often go through some gorgeous countryside views.
“Be safe, be seen” is the old phrase I was taught at school. Throw on a hi-vis jacket, make sure your lights work if you’re cycling into the evening, and try to stick to well-lit routes.
It goes without saying, but I’m saying it again. Always wear a helmet, folks! They’re called ‘crash cups’ and ‘brain buckets’ for a reason – people crash and the brain is protected by the helmet. "American Family Physician" reports that head injuries cause the most fatalities and long-term disabilities when it comes to cycling accidents, with approximately 22-47% of injured cyclists experiencing head injuries. .Need another reason? I think not, but here’s 10 Reasons To Wear A Bike Helmet from @bicyclehabitat to make sure you’ve got the message.
So, really, the dangerous sides to cycling can be managed to a large degree. Arguably, NOT cycling could be worse for your health than jumping on your two-wheeler.
This wasn’t a result of the American survey but I can envisage this is a problem for some wannabe riders too…
BUSTED! Reason no.5
Potential riders don’t have a bike and/or are worried about maintaining it.
Don’t own a bike in the first place? Jump on your choice of eBay, Gum Tree, Craigslist for very reasonable prices on second hand bikes… Wait for the holiday sales in the big stores… Check to see if your company does a cycle to work scheme (UK version gives you a tax free bike)... Get down the local re-furbishers… Ask around - you might even get a free one if you work your sales pitch!
There are more and more cycle maintenance shops and services popping up – four in my local area alone! – but you don’t always have to pay. Most basic maintenance is just that: basic. Oil the chain, adjust the brakes, keep it clean – even I can handle that. However, consider if there is a future mechanic or engineer teen living next door? They may enjoy fiddling with your bike and improving it. Have you seen the latest Royal Navy recruitment advert on TV? “If I can fix a bike, I can fix a car. If I can fix a car, I can fix a military helicopter.” [abridged] You could inspire a young mind – and get yourself a free servicing too!
BUSTED! Reason no.6
Potential riders are worried for the safety of their bike while at work.
This is pure fluff. There is nearly always somewhere safe to store your bike, and if in the unlikely event there isn’t, request it! I would avoid chaining your bike to private fences or railings, but there should be somewhere near to your work you can lock it up. Make sure you have a good lock (or two, if you have concerns about your wheels ‘walking off’). Remember to take anything you keep in your panniers with you – the scruffiest hoodie might join your wheels in disappearing, so don’t leave anything behind. I recommend a lock on a chain form, not a D-lock, as they’re lighter to carry and more flexible when you need to chain your bike to an awkward signpost or fence post.
The survey did have some positive results…
The consensus seems to be that if your co-workers ride, there’s a morale boost right there with chat about your journey, how fast you were today, comradery around the wet weather experiences etc. It was also seen that cycling was a good was to de-stress after a day at work. And boy, are they right there. My 10-15 minute ride home works wonders – and I beat the traffic jams.
The chart below (from the National Travel Survey 2013) shows the distribution of modes of transport for English commutes in 2013. Notice bikes are in the tiny 'other' category... I am hoping the rise in the popularity of cycling since the 2012 Olympics might make an impact on this number. It does look like it could overtake bus, rail and even walking!
Yes, some reasons for not cycling are valid (e.g. distance – women travel more frequently than me, but men travel further for their commute, it’s been suggested, but in the majority of commuter’s cases, the journey to and from work could be a lot healthier, cheaper and more environmentally friendly.
Would you consider it and join me in cycling to work?
See what Treehugger has to say about how we can get more people on bikes.
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Born to be a Tourist
Love this. Everyone knows it's better going downhill, wind in your hair.
However, I would argue Tuesdays are tougher to feel motivated about than Mondays. Monday has an element of novelty to it, and sometimes it's good to get away from domestic life and into a familiar routine. Tuesday, on the other hand, is Monday without the novelty. It sucks!
And also, Wednesday, as anyone knows, is Hump Day. Not pre-Hump Day as this cartoon from WIRED (I think) suggests.
Really, I just wanted to share this cool cartoon.
How about this for a redraft?
I'm a writer from Bristol, UK, with an unhealthy obsession with stationery. I write magazine articles and short stories, but blogging is my real passion outlet.