Boss Lady WLTM

Boss Lady WLTM picture.jpg

Just-getting-off-the-ground boss lady would like to meet similar in the Nuneaton / north Warwickshire area for a regular work date – coffee, companionship and encouragement for a few hours each week.  Feel I should insert some other old school dating column abbreviations here; I guess GSOH would be good but I can’t think of any others!

Email if you’re interested.


I am Sporticus

I am Sporticus

A slightly blurry early morning gym selfie

I don’t even remember what we were talking about when a family friend’s name came up in conversation.  I’ve known her since she was born; a photograph of a six year old me holding her as a new-born still sits on my parents’ piano.  My partner has only known her for the two and a half years that we’ve been together.  He made a passing comment about her ‘being sporty’.  Much guffawing immediately followed on my part.  ‘Sporty?!’, I retorted.  ‘That’s the funniest thing I’ve ever heard.  She is even more bookish than me.’  ‘She plays netball’, came the reply.  ‘And you play badminton with her’.  ‘But she hated adventures when we were kids!’ – the moment that statement left my lips I realised how lame my reasoning was.  My partner was presenting clear evidence that the friend is sporty (present tense) and all my counter-arguments relied on examples from twenty years ago (past tense).

This conversation has stuck with me since, giving me the kind of brain itch where you know you have to scratch your head and think about what it means some more.  When I relayed the story to my friend, her first reaction was to splutter with laughter as well; even for her, the past tense dominates over the contrary present tense.  She isn’t alone.  I also considered myself un-sporty despite regularly being active and fitter now than ever.

We all do this in different ways.  We acquire or assume labels, often very early in our lives, and they stick – or we stick to them.  At school, it seemed that you could either be bookish or sporty, not both.  The fat girl state of mind lingers on long after the weight has gone.  Envy of the popular girls likewise.

Along with labels there are stories – stories that we tell ourselves about who we are, what we are like, how we show up in the world.  I am not sporty therefore every effort to exercise is doomed to failure as it runs against my very nature (or at least that’s what I tell myself).  I am not sporty therefore there is no point in not eating a second helping of dessert.  I am not sporty therefore there is no point in buying myself clothes that I might actually want to exercise in.  I think therefore I am not.

What if we challenged these stories?

What if we wrote a new story – not an ending, but a new narrative about who we are, what we are like (and what we like), how we show up in the world?

This is a difficult task to negotiate.  We don’t want to force ourselves into a new position that is just as limiting but in different ways.  Many of us don’t need help in finding new ways to make ourselves unhappy or uncomfortable.  We are already adept at telling ourselves untrue stories that we go along with for years anyway: of course I love him.  Of course I want to follow this career path.  Of course I enjoy every weekend getting completely wasted.

So what if we simply tried out a new story?  What if we experimented with the labels that we give ourselves?

In the name of research on your behalf, dear readers, I have conducted such an experiment over the last week.  I was aware that the ‘not sporty’ label wasn’t a good fit anymore.  Whereas once it was a useful protective barrier, now it felt restrictive.  I’d outgrown it.  I didn’t want to be un-sporty anymore.  Moreover, I am not un-sporty anymore.  The experiment turned out to be less about doing something different and more about opening my eyes to see that things are already different.  Like with my netball playing badminton partner, I was already acting in a new way – only by unconsciously clinging to old labels and stories, I was blind to this change.

Maybe this is the key to finding which stories to adopt and which to rescind: looking out for which have already taken seed within us.  When we listen to ourselves closely and carefully, which already sound like a truth we believe?

Experimenting with new stories in this way, we find a secret hidden in plain sight, something our deepest knowing has been aware of for some times but we’ve been unable to see or to sense.

Once our eyes and hearts are open, the previously hidden seeds find ways to blossom and bloom.  The new stories take on a life of their own.  Our creativity kicks in, helping the new way to embed, to become even truer.

This was certainly the case in my own recent experiment.  When heavy rain prevented the planned bike ride or the backup plan of a run, I was initially at a loss.  Previously, I would have taken this as cosmic confirmation that I was not destined to a life of exercise and sat on the sofa with a magazine instead.  But with the new mind-set came new possibilities – and a dance workout on YouTube turned out to be an awesome substitute activity.  Never occurred to me before to look online for help with exercise.  Just when I realised that my new trainers were actually over a decade old, I spotted some hallmarks on an old no longer worn bangle; the trade in weight of the gold is more than enough to cover the cost of new footwear.  Perhaps most crucially, when some bad news left me angry and hurt, my instinctive reaction to pull out of my first netball session that evening was soon overridden by a clearer urge to go because it would help…and it did.

That I am sporty is a new story.  New, but it is true, feeling truer for me right now than the old un-sporty badge that I for so long wore with a strange pride.

And having played Wing Attack against my badminton partner’s Wing Defence on Wednesday, I can tell you that the new story is true for her too.








Be part of Team GB for less than £12 & without buying a Lottery ticket


[Screenshot of a National Lottery advert appearing on Facebook today]

Like millions of others across the globe, my eyes have been fixed on Rio for the last two weeks.  Whether via radio, television or podcast, I’ve been taking in as much coverage of the 2016 Olympics as I can.  Seeing so many athletes at the top of their game is such a thrill, even as an armchair spectator at home.  The huge success of British competitors in a wide variety of fields feels like an added bonus.  I’ve loved watching post-event interviews with them, hearing their individual stories and often teary declarations of thanks to their key supports: family, friends, team-mates, coaches, the National Lottery…

The latter has made me wince every time it has been mentioned.  I completely understand that the athletes want to thank the source of their funding.  I also understand that money from the lottery has played an essential role in developing British sport to the level that we see in Rio; for a country of sixty million people, we are tabling ridiculously well.  Still, it makes me sad that so many of our top sportsmen and women are only able to pursue excellence because of state-sponsored gambling.

The relationship between gambling and sport is by no means new.  Horse-racing and betting have been inextricably linked for centuries, with the very parlance of the sport infused with gambling terms such as ‘odds on favourite’.  In the UK at least, we think nothing of hearing betting tips intermingled with racing’s media coverage; indeed, the ‘racing tip of the day’ is an integral part of many morning news bulletins.

From the 1920s onwards, thousands of British families took part in the weekly ‘pools’, a form of betting on top level football with forms to predict the results of games delivered to the door – meaning many who wouldn’t dream of entering a ‘bookies’ (bookmakers) participated.  Like the lottery today, it was domesticated enough to barely register as gambling.  For those people, ‘the pools’ was simply part of everyday life, something that the elusive ‘everybody’ did.

As the popularity of ‘the pools’ waned in the late twentieth century, other forms of gambling came into the ascendancy.  The 1990s and 2000s in Britain saw a massive liberalisation in gambling legislation, with the introduction of the National Lottery, Lottery scratch cards and an enormous rise in the number of casinos and bookmakers.  The rise of the internet aided this trend, with an explosion of on-line poker, bingo and other gaming sites.

Again, sport has been central to these developments.  You only have to watch one advertisement break in a Premier League football match to witness the enormous proliferation of betting websites.  The latest odds flash on screen and having a flutter is as easy as pushing a few buttons on your smartphone.  Armchair gambling has reached unprecedented levels.

These trends disturb me.  I’m by no means puritanical about the subject; one of my early memories is sitting with my grandad and putting lines and circles on a pools firm.  I will buy raffle tickets for others’ fundraisers and I’ve bought a handful of lottery tickets and scratch cards in the past.  I even got my partner to place a wager that Newcastle United would get relegated again this season.

Yet even so the ubiquity and ease of gambling in contemporary society bothers me.  The fact that despite my reservations I can’t resist the odd punt only reinforces my belief that betting is a modern day menace.  I’m not alone in this belief, with the annual Health Survey for England including questions about gambling behaviour for the first time in 2013.

What troubles me the most is the unquestioning acceptance of the National Lottery as part of the world we live in.  Playing the lottery is by far the most common form of gambling in Britain yet we simply don’t regard it as gambling at all.  People pick up their tickets with their milk or papers, or have their entries automated online.  It’s as normal today as brushing one’s teeth, only brushing one’s teeth brings greater guarantee of results.

As with the earlier ‘pools’, this skewed perception of the National Lottery as somehow not really gambling facilitates the participation of players who would sneer at its more overt manifestations such as online bingo or in-play match betting.  The former falls within the realms of respectability; the latter far less so.

The association of the Lottery with its ‘good causes’ no doubt supports this veil of respectability.  If you ask people why they’ll buy a (respectable) Lotto ticket when they wouldn’t dream of taking part in a (non-respectable) form of betting that actually offers them better odds of winning, some might cite convenience.  Some might refer to the greater prize money.  There will, however, be many who claim that the contribution from each Lottery ticket sale to charities, the arts and sport funding is a major factor in why they play each week.

The thankful comments from Britain’s Rio 2016 athletes reinforces this connection between the Lottery and ‘good causes’.  The Lottery organisers have also heavily emphasised the link in their 2016 marketing campaigns, with adverts on bus shelters up and down the land claiming you are ‘part of Team GB’ if you buy a ticket.

What a tempting lure!  Bugger all the years of hard work and dedication – just shell out £2 on a ticket for Wednesday or Saturday’s draw and you can join our Olympic team anyway!

It is this advertisement that has particularly evoked my ire.  Why should I be excluded from being part of Team GB at the Olympics simply because I have boycotted the Lottery for at least the last decade?  And how much does each individual’s contribution via the Lottery (as opposed to direct giving) actually amount to?

I decided to do a bit of digging around the figures.  It turns out that 28 percent of the Lottery’s takings go to the ‘good causes’.  That 28 percent is then divided into the different categories of which sport is one alongside charities, the arts, heritage etc.  In the 2015/16 financial year, 20 percent of the ‘good causes’ money went to sport.

So one-fifth of 28 percent went to sport.  The overall figure is not to be sniffed at but per player the amount isn’t that great.  Each lottery ticket is £2.  If you play the Wednesday and Saturday draw every week for a year (52 x 2 x 2) that works out at £208.  28 percent of that £208 goes to ‘good causes’ = £58.24.  20 percent of that £58.24 goes to sport = £11.64.

Every dedicated twice-weekly Lottery player therefore is part of Team GB by contributing £11.64 per year to a sports charity or funding body.

For less than £12, you can grab that claim for yourself.

I will be doing so.  In a climate where gambling behaviour is becoming ever more problematic, let’s bypass state-sponsored betting and make those contributions ourselves.  Once this post is sorted, I’ll be writing a cheque to my local athletics club, a place where my brother trained and now his children do.  I’ll even surpass the 20 percent of 28 percent of 104 tickets in my donation.  Will you join me?  Whatever you can afford, make a direct contribution to a nearby sports club.  Come 2020 in Tokyo, or even in 2024, you will know that you truly have been part of the Olympic team for someone.

Not all baths & candles: the difficult work of self-care

Adult Achievements stickers

These ‘Adult Achievements’ stickers arrived in the post on Thursday, a belated birthday gift from a friend.  Everyone who has seen them has smiled at their tongue-in-cheek humour.  Accompanying the smiles is a wry sense of acknowledgment, recognition that sometimes we want a sticker or a gold star or a house point to reward our adult achievements.  Why?  Because adulting is so much harder than we ever imagined as children.  We don’t envision ourselves doing the dishes, wiping the surfaces, emptying the bins.  All we could see was the promise of freedom, allowing us to stop up late and eat what we want to and not have to do homework ever again.

Of course our first taste of adulthood often does involve stopping up late, eating what we want to and not doing our homework.  Then one day, seemingly all of a sudden, we realise that our teenage cousin definitely does not consider us as one of their peers.  The toddler about to run into us is told to ‘Mind the lady’.  Seeing our friends involves prior arrangement, often months in advance, rather than being something that just happened because it was Friday or Saturday night.

Now we are the Grown Ups.

We do the dishes, wipe the surfaces, empty the bins.  We look after ourselves.  At the same time we may also look after older people, little people, furry people (well, not people, but you know what I mean).

We do more dishes, wipe the surfaces again, empty the bins once more.  We do the same the next day, and the one after.  Sometimes this brings us deep joy; we see the love and connection and grace intertwined in the mundane chores of everyday life.  More often it just feels demanding, relentless even, requiring us to show up minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day.

Still doing the dishes, wiping the surfaces, emptying the bins – and all the other tasks like them – are straightforward compared to the work of emotional and spiritual self-care.

Many would have you believe that self-care is simply a matter of hot baths and scented candles.  If effing only!  I have flowers on the table pretty much every week and whilst it is a treat that I treasure, the sight of roses only marginally offsets the painful process of truly growing up.

Parents die.  Career hopes fade.  Marriages fail.  Babies don’t come along on the schedule we’d planned.  The dream home remains just that, a dream.  Even seeming to have it all doesn’t inoculate us against doubt, despair, depression.

In these situations, hot baths and scented candles are as effective as trying to disguise St. Paul’s Cathedral by putting a bobble hat on it (thanks to the late, great Victoria Wood for that imagery).

In these situations, we have to dig deep, deeper than we believe we are actually capable of.

Make the speech.  Pack your bags.  Resign.  Walk away.  Let go of some dreams to make way for new ones.

In many of these scenarios and others, being an adult requires us to have difficult conversations.  Make that excruciating….Conversations that you’ve no idea how to start or end but need to be said.  Words that you know may sound cruel or make you look like the bad guy – in your own eyes even if no-one else’s.  Statements that you never foresaw but now you have to utter because your entire well-being depends on it.

When you manage those conversations, however ineloquently, then you know that you are getting to grips with self-care.  Not the hot baths, not the scented candles, not even the weekly flowers.  The ultimate self-care is when we assert our needs and our boundaries with others even if it is the hardest conversation we have ever had.

And afterward we go back to doing dishes, wiping the surfaces, emptying the bins.




The bottle or the blade: mental health and self-harm

The bottle or the blade: mental health and self-harm ||

It was my partner’s birthday at the beginning of June.  He’s a keen cook so I’d mentally noted the number of times he’d mentioned getting a decent chef’s knife and decided this would be the perfect present for him.

Hours of internet research later, I felt able to make a reasonably informed choice and smugly tucked the long thin package into a classic ‘safe place’.

Come the week before his birthday, my mental health had deteriorated considerably and I found myself tearing anxiously through all the possible ‘safe places’ where the knife could be.

Eventually located, I tearfully presented it to Mark and he took it outside to live with all the other household sharps in his car boot.

Bread knife, chopping knife, carving knife; kitchen scissors, craft scissors, nail scissors; razors, clippers, staple removers and anything else with a point or a blade: all now resided in his car boot.  Common o’garden painkillers and my spare meds were also stashed there.

We had scoured every corner of our home to ensure that there was nothing left that I could possibly hurt myself with.

Sometime after, I managed to negotiate the return of my practically blunt vintage letter opener.  It probably says a lot about me that this was the item I missed the most; having to rip envelopes open only added to my mental distress.

A while later still, I finished my time at the mental health day hospital.  To mark this milestone, and in recognition of my somewhat improved state, we repatriated all the sharps.

In every room of the house, drawers and pots were replenished and I felt pleased with my apparent progress.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday I walked over to the kitchen drawer, took out a knife and firmly drew the hard steel blade across the soft delicate skin of my left wrist.

The term ‘self-harm’ comes laden with connotations of teenage emos listening to Marilyn Manson et al in their dimly lit bedrooms.

Self harm is not associated with smartly dressed thirty-four year old women standing in their kitchens on an otherwise unremarkable Monday morning.

I’ve been unable to identify any specific trigger that led to my action.

It wasn’t even impulsive behaviour undertaken whilst agitated.  On the contrary, the thought crossed my mind as I was finishing getting dressed.  Once considered, it seemed like a good idea.  As I styled my hair, the compulsion grew stronger.

By the time I had put in my earrings and sprayed my perfume, the urge felt irresistible.

Now the small scar where I’d previously hacked the same wrist with some nail clippers is joined by a second visual reminder of the destructive urges that can accompany mental health distress.

Other efforts have left no visible trace but the visceral memory remains.

I guess the motivation for such behaviour varies between people.  It is often cruelly dismissed as attention-seeking, with no regard for the desperation that someone must be experiencing if they decide that this is a reasonable course of action.

For me, hurting myself in this kind of physical manner is about a desire to escape my current state of mind.  

It is about escape, being released – however temporarily – from the torment of my emotions.

Cutting my wrist provides a different focus, a distraction, a moment of feeling and being other than where I am now.

I in no way wish to condone self-harming or encourage others to do likewise, but as with so many other aspects of mental health, we need more open and honest conversations about what’s going on.

We need more open and honest conversations about what’s going on.  

Is using a razor or a blade to cut oneself all that different from other forms of self-medication?

Why does the term self-harm refer to cutting and slashing but not the damage that we can do to ourselves through drink, drugs, food, unhealthy relationships?

These other behaviours are often seen as harmful to us, so why the distinction from ‘self-harm’?

When I’m in a good place, I can use exercise to the same effect as the knife; moving my body also gives me a different focus, a distraction, a moment of feeling and being other than where I am now.  But oftentimes exercise feels like to much effort; it seems beyond my reach.

In those moments, I am simply grateful for remembering the havoc that alcohol has wreaked on my life and not wanting to tred that path again.

For now at least, perhaps I have to swap the bottle for the blade.

The mental health charity Mind has some great information and support on self-harm if this affects you or someone you know.

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