Following the spark of curiosity

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #131

In August last year when I was on the edge or in burnout, everything felt like too much. I wanted to do fun things that interested me,  but I just had no mental space for anything except the bare minimum (which was pretty much only work). I realised this week that in the last months I’m starting to find more joy again in extra activities, like boxing, and helping colleagues who are performing the gender scan in our organisation, and of course writing…

I want to stop and appreciate how far I’ve come and how much better I feel, especially since there were moments when I deeply feared I would never feel like I had energy again. It’s not perfect, I still experience nights where I lie awake too long or anxious mornings, but I feel like by being more mindful of self-care, I’ve managed to carve out some space for the things that I enjoy or spark my curiosity. These activities do take some energy, but in return they also give me satisfaction and a feeling of contributing with my input and voice to a slightly lighter and more joyful world.

Getting my energy back

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #117

This is the season where the hours of daylight get ever so slightly longer after the long Dutch winter.  I’m slightly confused and happily surprised to find it’s not dark at 5pm.  As the days start to get longer, I’m also noticing my energy levels are gradually getting better after many months of struggling with burnout and a sense of constant exhaustion.

So what has changed? I’ve rested, a lot, taking it very easy over the last months.  But also I’m much more aware of what I need, I’m not pushing forward like a robot as much as I used to. In the mornings, I stop to think whether I feel like cycling to work through the hectic city center or whether I feel like choosing the confort of the tram where I can read, look out the window or write my morning pages.  I’m trying to spend less energy worrying about how things will go. I’m saying NO to things that I think will take more energy than I feel I have available, and YES to creative things that make my heart sing or open new horizons.

It’s not perfect, I still get the occasional headache if I don’t give myself a break on time or feel totally drained after a long day… But on the whole I’m putting more regular deposits into my energy bank, doing more things that are good for me and less SHOULDS and I can feel the difference. I’m grateful that the steps I am taking towards healing are bearing their fruits.

Is this what you call gentle??

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GENTLE ALIGNMENT. Those were the 2 words I chose to guide me for 2018.  Already at the end of 2017 I could feel that I was drained, something needed to shift and I needed to make some changes to be more aligned with my true self. The reality was I had no idea how much I had drifted nor how to get aligned again.

This year turned out to be full of exhaustion, frustration and deep questioning. Many tears were cried, hundreds of pages were filled in my journals to try and process my conflicting emotions, to feel them and get through to the other side of the dark woods.

I was reflecting with a friend recently about my words of the year and I mentioned how I felt like it hadn’t really been GENTLE at all.  To which she rightly pointed out, that if I hadn’t added the word GENTLE it would possibly have been even more brutal.

The flip side of the coin was that being burnt-out meant I had to surrender, to let go, to rest. It was a powerful lesson in giving up my usual ways of reacting. I have to learn a new, more sustainable way of looking out for myself and my boundaries. Maybe the word GENTLE refers more to how I should focus on treating myself in the midst of this confusion as I try to get aligned again:)

Things I have learned the hard way:

  • I need to stop pushing myself. The overachiever in me has helped me get this far but when I push myself out of alignment, too far from my values and deepest desires, it exhausts me and does not serve me in the long run
  • I need to balance the parts inside me that want freedom and that want stability
  • I need to look for what makes my heart sing and brings me joy, as these will give me energy
  • I will practice saying my TRUTH more and experiment with daring to ask for what I need (this is going to be especially vital in the next months as I return to the office, build up my working hours again and figure out where to go from here)

Of course things are not so easy, it’s not like I will never make those mistakes again…. but hopefully I will be reminded of the lessons learnt in this period and slip less easily into misalignment.

Coming up soon, my words of the year for 2019 and why I chose them!

Mental cane toad invasion

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‘Swallow your frogs’ is a tip found in many articles about how to be efficient, meaning you should tackle the important task that you are dreading the most as soon as you start work in order to have the satisfaction of having tricked procrastination and achieved something concrete that you can proceed to cross off your to-do list.  I’ve often followed that advice and generally it works for me.

However, in the past few months, I’ve been struggling with stress and exhaustion.  I realised that a great deal of the tasks I needed to do at work daily had turned into ‘frogs’.  I kept hoping that the frogs linked to my job position would eventually turn into princes, or at least become more manageable as I gained experience, but they didn’t and I felt more and more overwhelmed.

The frogs were also following me home, in the evenings I couldn’t switch off the constant croaking of all the work thoughts and worries going on in my head and I sometimes lay awake at night. I found it increasingly hard to focus and make any type of decision, big or small, and anxiety started rearing its head. Things that previously I considered routine tasks now felt complex and inachievable. It was like my mind was being overtaken by a cane toad invasion.

For those not familiar with the cane toad, it is a species that was introduced in Australia in the 1930s in an attempt to eradicate pests in sugar cane fields, but instead became a pest itself because its venom kills any animal that attemps to eat it, meaning it has no natural predators.  Over the years, it has multiplied and is upstoppably making its way across the whole of Australia doing devastating damage to local ecosystems.

The cane toads of my mind were advancing beyond my boundaries, feasting off long meetings, stress, incessant skype messages and other notifications, frustrations and extreme self-doubt.  Though I did my best to regularly practice mindfulness, breathe and take care of myself, it was like those efforts were native marsupials being wiped out by the cane toads.

So after pushing myself for several months to continue working, while attempting to cover up the shame of being less efficient and struggling to beat the evil cane toads in my mind, I’ve decided to take time out to recover.  I’m not entirely sure how I will transform the cane toads back to frogs or even into cuddly koalas, I am going to figure it out step by step over the next weeks and months. For now rest and self-care are my priority.

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By the way, I don’t know what species the animal in the photo is. It was taken in Thailand, I’d love to know more about it if anyone knows:)