Gratitude without guilt.

I have been practicing gratitude for a while now, I am by no means an expert in the subject and I still have a great deal to learn however, I would like to share what I have learnt so far, possibly to help others but mostly to remind myself.

Gratitude is defined as: ‘The quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.’

No mention of comparison or guilt but as children, for me anyway, it was confusing to hear phrases such as, ‘you should be grateful’, ‘there are people worse off’ and ‘don’t be so ungrateful’. Phrases often bringing the negativity of comparison and guilt to what should be the positive feelings of gratitude.

I used to believe that to feel grateful I should feel some amount of guilt. I would compare what I have, to what others have, trying to force myself into feeling grateful, more often than not the feelings of guilt overriding the feelings of gratitude.

A huge part of my recovery was letting go of the guilt I felt and comparisons I made, it was then when I began to feel truly grateful.

Moments of pure gratitude, no longer conflicted with negative emotions.

You see, by feeling gratitude without feeling guilt or comparing and giving reason for my gratitude, I have been able to truly enrich my life. By clearing up the confusion and false believes I had around gratitude has changed my life.

This hasn’t happened over night, I have been practicing for almost three years now, noticing my feelings and bringing an awareness to what and who I am grateful for, consistently letting go of guilt and comparison.

Most evenings, before falling asleep I ask myself ‘what are you grateful for today?’, and no matter how small the answer I allow myself to focus on that for a few moments, feeling nothing but gratitude towards it.

Sometimes, gratitude comes to me and it is one of the best feelings, again, when this happens I allow myself a few moments to be with that feeling and focus on what it is I am grateful for.

I’m unsure if this confusion of gratitude is common, or if this post even makes sense, but I just want you (and me) to know that it is more than okay to allow yourself to feel true gratitude for whatever it is that makes you feel grateful, thankful or blessed. You (and me) do not need to attach gratitude with feelings of guilt nor do we need to compare our lives to others in order to feel it.

Thank you for reading,

Nicole

Eating Disorders are mental illnesses, not based on numbers or appearance.

As Eating Disorder Awareness Week approaches and the media fills with before and after recovery photographs, images of emaciated bodies and the usual ‘shock factor’ headlines, I am sadly reminded of how it felt to see this kind of journalism whilst I was ill.

One morning my mother shouting me downstairs to watch the television, it was an interview with somebody who had recovered. What my mother thought I would find inspiring, something to give me hope and motivation, what the Eating Disorder twisted into ‘you are not sick enough’ and ‘there is nothing wrong with you’.

You see, having an Eating Disorder, no matter how sick you are will always want you to be sicker. It isn’t about how you want to look or seeing those images and being filled with ‘goals’ or competitiveness, for some it is about really believing you are not sick or not sick enough.

Whilst seeing how one person has gone through a similar illness and has bravely gone on to share their experience in the hope to help others, is most inspiring, the interviews are often focused on the ‘shock factors’; the food and the weight, both only parts of these serious mental illnesses.

My mother was never to know how the Eating Disorder would take this and I don’t suppose the media would either, at least I hope not anyway, because having an Eating Disorder is destroying enough without one that forces you to believe you are not ill enough to seek support.

Eating Disorders are mental illnesses, not based on numbers or appearance.

With the media now more accessible than ever before and with the rise of social media, users becoming younger and younger, I feel that this message is one that needs to be shared.

Stories that focus on the appearance of Eating Disorders are not only detrimental to those experiencing an Eating Disorder but also to those who are hoping to learn more and understand these mental illnesses, they reinforce the already confusion, many stereotypes  and myths of Eating Disorders.

The darkness of an Eating Disorder is not weight or calories. It is the pain, loneliness, mental confusion and every day torture. It’s the ability to take over a person (any person), destroy a future and tare a family apart. These factors of Eating Disorders are rarely spoken about during media interviews, as is how serious these mental illnesses are.

Unlike social media would make it seem, recovery does not need to be shown with a before and after photograph, I see recovery every day, it’s within me; my laugh, my passion and my ability to live freely, I hope that that gives more hope to somebody who is experiencing an Eating Disorder than the ‘shock factor’ stories that are seen in the media.

If you are affected by any of the stories you may see or read, if anything allows you to believe ‘you are not sick enough’ please know you are, an Eating Disorder will never be happy or satisfied. Eating Disorders are mental illnesses and you do deserve help.

It is so important we raise awareness of Eating Disorders, if you are going to share your experiences with an Eating Disorder and recovery please know your voice and words are enough. Your experience is enough to help someone without the use of photographs or numbers. Also know it is okay to say no, to those pushy questions and to the requests for photographs.

Thank you for reading,

Nicole

For more information about Eating Disorders please see the following links: Mind, Beat, Beat-Media GuidelinesNHS-eating disorders 

More of my Mental Health posts

A written conversation.

A spoken conversation can sometimes be difficult but a conversation about mental health does not need to be spoken. Sometimes writing can have just as, if not more, of an impact than speaking.

When I first started therapy I was asked to write letters to myself, also to the illness, this helped in ways I was able to express my thoughts and feelings without actually talking.

I then started blogging and my therapeutic letters soon turned into daily posts, reflections and conversations with others who had been, or were going through a similar experience.

Having a mental illness can be very isolating, so allowing myself to have this connection with others was a huge step within my recovery. After a while these online conversations turned into written conversations, often posting and receiving letters and cards, pen-pals that gave me friendship in what felt like a mist of loneliness.

I remember thinking about how these letters and cards made me feel and wondered if I could bring this closer to home and so I began to write letters to my family and friends to, something I had done here and there before but never in depth. I began to write to my parents explaining how I felt, allowing them to gain some sort of understanding and they began to write back.

When the illness was so strong at pushing people away, writing allowed me to let people in.

Postcards, letters, cards, poems and even post-it-notes, short and long, each one reminding me I was not alone.

Having a mental illness can make you feel very alone and having something, no matter how small that makes you feel not so alone can completely change your life. It gives you a feeling of warmth when all you have felt is cold.

Without these written conversations, I do not believe I would have been able feel such a connection with those around me or those a far. I cherish each and every word and have each placed into a scrapbook, which is now bursting at the seams.

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From my great-grandmother’s cards, poems from my father and even letters from my younger brother, it seems I am not the only one who finds it easier to write.

Talking to somebody experiencing ill mental health does not need to be difficult and definitely not ignored, words can let people feel less alone, a feeling that can truly change a person’s life. It does not need to be fancy, a simple, ‘how are you?’ or ‘I saw this card and thought of you’. Letting people know you are there, spoken, written or even a text, all have the power to create change.

Also, we all have mental health and I know that well or not, words can give people the little ‘pick me up’ they need. Writing notes and sending letters is something that I still do and it continues to give me a feeling of warmth.

Starting a conversation today could change someone’s life. Whether you want to talk or write, join in with Time to Talk Day and get talking about mental health.

Thank you for reading,

Nicole

Shared with Mind

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January free from favourites. (gluten free & vegan)

After not writing a ‘free from favourites’ in such a long time, this month I have decided to, attempt to, bring them back, I say attempt because well, my months seem to be getting busier and busier.

I find posts like these so helpful wether it be vegan, dairy free, gluten free or both, I always find reading posts such as this great for not feeling like ‘the fussy one’, finding new foods and places I didn’t know were allergy friendly and with Veganuary seeming more popular than ever I thought it was the perfect time to get started.  Continue reading “January free from favourites. (gluten free & vegan)”

Talking mental health at university.

During my first year of university I became quite ill, I was aware of how my mental health was deteriorating each and everyday, yet speaking about it to anybody seemed impossible. I don’t recall mental health ever being mentioned and I felt completely alone in how I felt and what was happening to me.

I was studying fashion at the time and I remember feeling scared that people would see me as ‘just another girl who wanted to look like a model’, which couldn’t have been further from the truth but still the fear of being labeled, judged and stereotyped, stopped me from speaking to somebody and it stopped me from seeking help. I not only feared the stigma of having a mental illness but also what would happen to my degree, to everything I had worked for.

The fears I had grew, I became sicker, weaker and so quieter, I lost my voice at the time I needed it most.

To cut a long story short, I left university and had to learn to put my health first, I began my recovery, learnt who I was again, grew and changed. I no longer wanted to study fashion but I did want to return to university, something I never thought I would want to do, let alone be healthy enough to do so.

My fears of not getting support and having to hide my mental health came as soon as I began looking for courses. I worried over what my tutors and peers would think and doubted if I would even get in. I debated if I should lie or not, but with my parents constantly reminding me that I had nothing to be ashamed of, I decided to be honest, which came sooner than I thought.

Step one; do not lie on your application. Telling myself I have nothing to be ashamed of as  I nervously ticked the box stating I had a mental illness, nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to be ashamed of. 

Step two; be honest with your tutors. During my university interview I was asked ‘why do you want to study Health and Social Care?’, my reply being ‘I want to be the person that wasn’t there for me’- nervously explaining that I had previously had an eating disorder. I remember how my tutors acted like it was nothing, no problem, no judgment, myself in complete shock. I was expecting a raised eyebrow and a scribbled NO on my application or a sympathetic ‘you poor thing’ but no, I was treated like I imagine every other student was. I had never received such a normal response, I felt like everyone else, a feeling I had longed for.

A week later I got accepted, but I think even if I hadn’t this two minute conversation allowed me to accept myself and my mental health a little more, a conversation that changed my life.

Step three; speak up and seek support. Unlike my first experience at university, support was easy to be aware of and easy to access to. During my first week I was contacted by the universities disability officer, I received an appointment and we worked out ways I could look after my health whilst studying, again no judgement nor sympathy.

Step four; share what you feel comfortable with. As for my fears of what my peers would think, they stayed with me. After the most people in my life knowing about my mental health, I just wanted people to see me as me, Nicole the student. I didn’t want to be treated any differently and so I decided not to share my experiences. Looking back I do not regret this, although after sharing my blog post with Mind via social media, my peers reading, I was treated the same and I am pretty sure this is how I would have been treated in the first place.

Because of open conversations like this and the responses I have had, I am no longer ashamed to talk about my mental health but I know many people still are. This is why I talk, because talking about mental health in such an open and ordinary way is how we will stop people from feeling ashamed and fearful of stigma.

With Time to Talk day coming up, on the 2nd of February, please join in and have a conversation about mental health. A simple conversation can change a persons life.

Read more about my mental health journey: Why are you here? University and mental health. Blog post for Mind.

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A touch of frost.

I was far from happy to see the car was frozen over this morning, as I planned for our usual walk, but with this walk just a five minutes away and no need to drive, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

A route my mother and I only seem to take if the weather is somewhat warm, unlike today. I am pretty sure this is the coldest it has been all year but with our many layers on, fast walking pace and the sun brightly shinning down we managed the whole walk without stoping for a cup of tea.

Looking through Instagram it seems we are not the only ones who enjoyed this crisp, cold and frosty morning, I couldn’t help share with you some of my walk.

It was a lovely mix of countryside, seeing the farms, lakes and horses and of course some off-lead time for Archie to, he loves running around, jumping everywhere, he is kind of like a kangaroo, the way he pounces up and down. With also some road walking to, not as fun for Archie but it is nice to see pretty cottages and others who are out walking.

After over an hour and a half walking it was definitely time to retreat home, nearing the end my hands, legs and nose to became very cold and a bath is all I could think about, complete with a Lush bubble bar and bath bomb, the perfect way to end the morning and set me up for an almost productive day.

Wishing you a lovely day,

Nicole 

A peaceful Christmas.

Hello all, I hope you have enjoyed Christmas time and are all well.

I write this post as a reminder to myself that looking after my mental health during this time of year is really rather important, a kind of follow up from my ‘A Healthier Christmas’ post.

Being completely honest my promises to myself were a little slack and keeping on top of meditation and mindfulness during this time was much harder than I had originally thought. I had a couple of moments of anxiety but I rationalised my thoughts and feelings and made a conscious choice to bring myself to the present moment.

Unlike past Christmas days, I kept well and I really enjoyed my day because of this, here are a few photographs to share with you. Beginning with Christmas Eve, I of course completed my Moo Free  advent calendar, I think I shall be opting for the same calendar next year to! I then wrapped some last minute presents including my fathers gifts for my mother (I just love to wrap!), visited my grandfather and helped my mother prepare some of the Christmas lunch, I then cuddled up with the boys and watched film after film, what better way to spend the night before Christmas?

Christmas morning was very relaxed, my family and I exchanged presents and awaited more family to arrive before having lunch. Of course there were many gluten-fee, vegan options including, a cranberry and cashew nut rose, rosemary and red onion sausages, seasoned roasted brussel sprouts and new potatoes, roast potatoes, red cabbage, peas and carrots, a vegan feast pictured before my second plate and a covering of tomato sauce and chilli flakes (it’s good to think outside the box, right?) Speaking of all things vegan my parents bought me this truly beautiful tin and filled it will all kinds of vegan chocolates.

Vegan Christmas dinner aside, my day was filled with family, laughter and a great feeling of gratefulness, I am truly blessed and very lucky to have such wonderful people (and dogs to) around me.

As tradition on Boxing Day my parents, Archie and I enjoyed a beautiful walk, in one of my favourites, Llangollen. We were blessed with blue skies and bright sunshine. It was also so lovely to see other people out walking and enjoying the morning.

After our walk my father and I had to drive over an hour to pick up my MacBook. During this drive, whilst sky gazing yet again, I was reminded of those not so peaceful times, my aunt used to take me out for drives to try and clear my mind and I couldn’t help feel such gratitude to be where I am today, to be healthy, happy and at peace with myself. For those who may be reading this who are where I once was please have hope, I promise it is possible.

A short post but one I hope you have enjoyed reading, I always love to hear other peoples Christmas traditions, and I couldn’t resist a little vegan ramble, what with ‘veganuary’ approaching.

Wishing you well,

Nicole

A few days in December.

The last couple of weeks have been much busier than expected and I do apologise for the lack of festive posts, and to think I was going to attempt blogmas! Although busy and at times quite hectic I have managed to say somewhat calm and mindful to. My business has been filled with plans for the new year, all very exciting and hard work to but with balance in mind I have found time to enjoy with my loved ones and for me that’s what this time of year is all about.

Here are a few December photographs I would like to share with you, of course, if you follow my Instagram you will have seen my adorable Syd and Archie all wrapped up and looking cosy. This day was filled with putting the Christmas decorations up, listening to festive songs, wrapping presents and my mother and I even enjoyed some roasted chestnuts (my favourite).

Another lovely day was spent visiting my Aunty (kind of like my great grandmother), I feel like I have spoken about her many times before and well, she is a truly inspiring woman. The fact that she has lost her sight and is still baking Christmas cakes from scratch just shows you how wonderful she is. I always enjoy visiting her and leave feeling not only grateful but also inspired, she reminds me never to give up. On returning home my family and I all watched Hairspray live and it was just a lovely evening, nothing special but all together.

Throughout December I have also enjoyed some beautiful winter walks, although too cold to take my gloves of to take any photographs, each walk has been filled with bright, colourful skies and twinkly lights. One of my favourite things about dark, winter walks is walking past homes, seeing the warm glow from the windows, I imagine families to be all cosy, winding down for the evening and I know it probably sounds silly but it gives me a feeling of peace.

This month I finally met up with my friend Jessica, we ‘met’ over four years ago, and have not only been on very similar journeys but we are also kind of scarily similar. Meeting up in London was truly wonderful and we did so much, catching the tube here there and everywhere, seeing all the hustle and bustle of London life and enjoying a much different kind of beauty, the high buildings, the different smells (not all beautiful I must admit) and of course the sparkly Christmas lights.

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I also got to visit The Mae Deli (sorry Liv), it was not what I expected at all, like a touch of home amongst the city business, it gave me a similar feeling to my winter walks, only I was the one escaping into a warm, cosy home. I enjoyed one of the Mae bowls, filled with four festive dishes, now I realise none of my attempts and Deliciously Ella’s recipes will ever be as good as the real thing. It was very strange to have more vegan, gluten free dishes than not, I guess either I will have to visit London again or hope for another deli opening up North.img_3789

For more on my time in London please read my ‘More than a training day’ post, also it never fails to surprise me in how easy it is to be vegan and gluten-free in cities. Whilst in Pret a Manger, enjoying my breakfast of their new five grain porridge (I highly recommend, does anybody know how to make this at home?), I noticed the amount of people ordering soy coffees, compared to when in coffee shops up North. Also, how easy it seemed to have an allergen friendly lunch, instead of the usual ‘ooo that must be so hard’ response.image1

As for this week, I shall be hopefully spending more time with my loved ones and enjoy a couple of days to relax before the beginning of all the exciting adventures this new year will bring. Just in case I do not write before, I wish you all a truly wonderful Christmas, be kind to yourself and others.

Nicole

More than a training day.

Writing a testimony about something I feel most passionate about is really rather hard and without the wonderful support and inspiration from the staff and other champions at Time to Change I wouldn’t have been able to do it.

As I deliver my testimony and share my experiences of mental health I hope to change people’s perspectives, raise awareness and understanding. I want people to be more open and honest about mental health, as I wished I had been many years ago.

Sharing part of my journey is just that, a part of it, ten minutes of what I hope can make a difference for someone.

As for my journey, it continues and each and every day I learn more about myself, I change and grow in ways I never could have imagined.

Even at the testimony training I learnt there are parts of my journey I am still not ready to share and that is okay. I learnt that I am now more self-accepting than ever before, with the ability to put my health first. I learnt that I am able to be proud of myself for things I once saw as weaknesses and I pride myself on my ability to feel, my ability to cry and on being the self-aware person I now am.

Before this week, I saw myself as an open book, that I had shared my journey so many times it would no longer faze me, I was wrong. Deep within the cracks, there it still is, a feeling too raw for me to discuss. A former self would have pushed and pushed but now I have this great feeling of self-compassion to accept and acknowledge my feelings with kindness (I think I have mindfulness to thank for this).

You see, I am constantly learning more about myself, about the person I have become and continue to be. Sure, there are still parts of my journey that I am not yet ready to share however, I accept this without judgement and I treat myself with loving kindness, for that I am truly grateful for.

I look forward to sharing my testimony and watching it change and grow as I do.

I would also just like to say a huge thank you for all who have allowed me time and encouragement to change and grow in this way, to those who have taught me mindfulness, self-awareness, acceptance and compassion.

Thank you for reading, logo

Nicole

Read more about my mindfulness journey.