Anxiety · Berlin · Decluttering · Environmentalism · History · Mental Illness · Minimalism · Nature · New Year's Resolutions · Overseas · Photography · Recovery · Stress · Teaching · Tourism · Travelling · Veganism · Winter · Writing · Zero Waste

February in Review.


February raced by in a rush of grey sleet, cold days and blue skies. We experienced the Berlin tradition of Sunday brunch for the first time at a café at the end of our street, I achieved one thousand unbroken hula-hoop reps for the first time, and I have taken up a consistent yoga practise again. I am looking forward to when one of my colleagues at work starts up her Yoga for Wellness club for staff again in the coming weeks, to bring more structure to my practise. Keeping a daily gratitude journal is helping me to stay aware of those many moments in my day that make me feel fulfilled and happy, and to learn not to take them for granted.

Early in the month, I was formally observed at work by the Berlin & Brandenburg Senat alongside my other colleagues in our department, and passed without any comments for improvement. Going through this process led to me being awarded the Certificate of Excellence in Teaching at the German standard. This means that I will not need to be formally observed again for as long as I teach in Berlin. I was grateful for the comments passed on by those who observed my lesson, who told me I seemed calm, assured, and that they were impressed by the excellent lesson that I taught. Afterwards, I cut a fringe back into my hair, and began to talk openly about veganism when asked about it by my colleagues, an experience that so far has been very rewarding. I am trying to be honest, helpful, and unapologetic.


A freezing walk along the Berlin Wall at East Side Gallery and across Oberbaum Bridge.

The mornings and evenings are fast getting lighter, and I am bringing more space into my morning routine by setting my alarm five minutes earlier each day.  On Valentine’s Day, Dillon met me at Bundesplatz station with flowers, and has done so again since, reminding me of how much joy I experience seeing flowers in vases around the home. We are using some of the glasses that were provided with our apartment rather than purchasing new vases. Yellow tulips are among my favourite springtime flowers. We are lucky to live so close to a florist that sells high-quality and reasonably priced cut flowers, and next month I am excited to introduce new potted plants to our home.

We also added a diffuser to our home, and I am appreciating the bright sunlight and clear skies outside our windows while sitting warm inside, while the temperature outside hits below -10°C. I discovered a ten-hour recording of pouring rain and a thunderstorm on YouTube, which we listen to at night while falling asleep. We are listening to the audiobook versio of Soulful Simplicity by Courtney Carver, read by the author, and saving jars to reuse as food containers. I am trying to focus on earth colours and tones: brown, green, glass, wood, to bring a consistent calming atmosphere into our home. Next week the temperature will not rise above freezing, but I hope that Spring will arrive in March, and Winter will melt away with the buds sprouting from the once-frozen ground.

25th February 2018.

Animals · Anxiety · Berlin · Decluttering · Fashion · Japan · Mental Illness · Minimalism · New Year's Resolutions · Osaka · Overseas · Recovery · Stress · Travelling · Veganism · Visas · Zero Waste

October ’17 Life Update: Lots has been going on!

I’ve let updating my blog slip, which I always hate. I’m one of those people who prefers to do something properly or not at all. I can’t stand the idea of having unfinished projects or loose ends still to be worked on, which means I often start something with a burst of energy and then get rid of it completely when I can’t keep up that level of commitment. I have high expectations of myself and I’m a perfectionist on top of that (“The perfectionist’s perfectionist” is how I described it to someone who asked recently). It’s a double-edged sword, because I am known to be efficient, effective and highly productive, but ultimately I can’t deny that it is driven by my faulty mental wiring that simply will not allow me to be anything other than that.

Sometimes that itch of feeling myself to be not being good enough makes me think that I would rather delete this blog entirely than allow myself a few weeks off before writing a new post. I have definitely deleted multiple blogs and archived posts when I used to be on social media, and even before then I used to rip up diaries a page at a time when I was in school, because I couldn’t bear the idea that I would have to keep something around me where I had made a mistake on one page. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a wasteful condition, not just environmentally but the amount of wasteful energy it forces one to waste on stress and anxiety about literally anything it can. So I’m not going to apologise for this lull, because I think instead I need to give myself a break (“give myself grace”, as one of my favourite YouTubers, Allyson Faber, likes to say), and just do the best that I can in the circumstances.

Here’s what has been going on with me lately:

We have now booked our flights to Germany. We will be leaving Osaka in mid-December, and I have decided to hand in my notice earlier than I had previously intended, so that we will have time in November to visit Kyoto and Nara, and so I can generally have a bit of a rest before I start my new job in Berlin in January. We have done a lot of the administrative work for our move now, and Dillon has received his visa, so all we need to do now is to organise our accommodation in Berlin, which we are planning to do over the coming week.

Dillon and I have been making real progress with our transition to zero waste. We have cut down on the amount of plastic we consume by cutting out plastic bottles as much as is possible, and buying fruit fresh rather than pre-cut. We have set up four recycling stations in our storage closet: plastic bottles, glass and metals; other plastics; paper and cardboard; and textile recycling. The only waste going into our kitchen bin now is food waste, as we are not currently in the position to set up a composting station. We are excited to begin vermicomposting in Berlin.

I am considering setting up a YouTube channel alongisde this blog, where I would focus on topics including minimalism, veganism, zero waste and sustainable living. I have an idea to adapt Courtney Carver’s Project 333 into something like a Project 12-21 as one of my New Year’s resolutions for 2018, which I would like to revolve around long-term ethical choices and sustainable changes in my life. I have been learning a great deal about the fast fashion industry, and thinking about changes I want to make in order for my life to reflect my values towards these issues.

Something I did not expect when I read ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up’ by Marie Kondo, and then began listening to the weekly Minimalists podcast, was how open and flexible I would become to making significant and sustained change in my life. Minimalism led me to veganism, which got me interested in zero waste, which began forcing me to ask questions about sustainable consumption, and now I am learning more about environmental ethics and thinking about plans for the future that include some kind of project to help learning disabled children learn or traumatised children recover through learning centred around caring for animals.

I am glad to be moving to Germany soon so that we can be closer to our family. If you are inclined to do so, please keep my mum in your thoughts, as she is currently resting and recovering, and I hope I am able to talk to her on Skype soon xx

Anxiety · Illness · Japan · Nature · Osaka · Overseas · Photography · Recovery · Shinto · Stress · Teaching · Travelling

Sumiyoshi Taisha Grand Shrine, Osaka.

It’s been a while since I last updated, but I’m glad to say that my illness has passed, my fatigue has now lifted, and I’m feeling much better. I always experience a few days to a week or so of real exhaustion and fatigue after illness, and it always takes me a couple of days of feeling that way before I remember that I experience CFS, so I need to take it easy on myself and let myself recover properly before throwing myself into everything again. That’s difficult for a definite Type A perfectionist like myself, especially when you have a job that means you have to be a leader, a positive role model, and alert and effective from the start of your day to the end of your day, but I think I’ve done a fairly good job of managing it over these last couple of weeks.

This morning, Dillon and I walked to Namba Station and took the Nankai Line overland to visit the Sumiyoshi Taisha Grand Shrine, an important Shinto site and originally the entrance of the Silk Road into Japan. It was lovely to see people paying their respects to the trees and the water, and lots of newborn babies had been brought to the shrine today as well. As it was so hot in the afternoon, we walked back home through Namba Walk, an underground shopping mall that runs underneath the street that takes us from Namba Station back to our apartment. We stopped at Mos Burger, the first place we have eaten out in Japan, to have lunch, and it cost us the equivalent of £2.50 each to have a really tasty burger.

This week I have been trying to do work on a number of different strategies for my anxiety. I had previously cut out caffeine by stopping drinking coffee, as the smell is enough for me to enjoy without needing to drink it, but I had not been consistent with cutting out soda, which I am trying to do better at now. I listen to a number of podcasts to help relax me in the evening and encourage a nighttime winding down routine, including Audio Dharma, Tara Brach, Anxiety Slayer, and my favourite, The Anxiety Coaches Podcast. I do yoga and meditate while listening to these in the evening. I have also started hula-hooping, thanks to Meagan’s advice!

My anxiety is usually worst in the morning, when my cortisol levels are naturally highest, so during these times I am trying to focus on mantras such as ‘Right now I should be sleeping’ or ‘My thoughts are like clouds passing me by and I don’t have to engage with them’. I am also trying to use my morning commute for mindful awareness of my surroundings and positive reflections, and to leave work behind at the end of the day by shedding my worries and stresses as I walk down the stairwell on my way out of the building. I am doing a media fast and have blocked all access to anxiety and stress-inducing websites on my phone. I am hoping that by being consistent with these actions I will see real improvements with my anxiety levels.

Anxiety · Day Trip · Injury · Ireland · Minimalism · New Year's Resolutions · Photography · Recovery · Stress · Travelling

Slowing Down, by choice then by force.

Warning: This post contains descriptions of pain, injury and A&E visitation that you may find upsetting.

Most people can recognise when their stress is becoming too much for them to handle, and take steps to manage it. For some people, it might take someone close to them sharing their concerns before they do anything about it. Me? Falling down a flight of stairs and dislocating my shoulder – that was my wake-up call.

Before becoming injured on Sunday, I had planned on writing a blog post about managing difficult emotions, and how I was trying to deal with the stress that turns anxiety into constant, low-level irritation and intermittent bursts of anger directed at loved ones. Dillon and I had gone to Dublin, where my overestimation of how much we could manage to do, and underestimation of how tired the day would make me, had turned what should have been an enjoyable day into one that I wrote off mentally in the end as I just couldn’t cope with it all.

I had high hopes to do as much sightseeing as we could, as well as run some important errands, but had conveniently forgotten how exhausted my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) makes me, how much anxiety I get from large crowds of people, and just how much walking we would be doing throughout the day. I wanted to show Dillon all around Dublin and have a nice day out together, and I couldn’t manage it, but in the end I just took my frustration out on someone who didn’t deserve it.

Then, just as I was thinking about how I could deal with this stress in my life in a better way, ironically even saying to Dillon: ‘Please remind me to slow down if I’m getting anxious’, life hit me smack in the face. And the legs. And the ribs. And the arms. And the shoulder. (Seriously, I fell down a lot of stairs – and smashed into a large ornament at the bottom of them too!) I had missed a couple of steps as I went downstairs, tumbled, slammed into the wall, rolled over, trapped my right arm underneath my body as I fell, and dislocated my shoulder. Luckily, I am left-handed, so of all my limbs for this to happen to at least it’s the least important one!

The pain was like nothing I had ever experienced, and I was later told that what I was feeling would have been twice as bad as giving birth (which, to be fair, gives me some confidence for the future!). At A&E I had an x-ray taken, which confimed that I had not broken anything. The pain was so intense that my worries left me – all thoughts of anything except following the instructions of the medical staff were completely gone. Pain like that narrows your focus – narrows your life, your experience of the world – to the point that you are only breathing, waiting to be told what to do next, and trying your hardest to do it, before the cycle repeats itself. Laughing gas was an experience in itself. The worst part was when the nurse asked me to count to 10 in my head as they proceeded to force my arm back into my shoulder, and my shoulder back in place, and they had not managed to do it by 10 so they just kept counting. (It was back in place on the count of 14, if you’re interested in that sort of thing!)

I’m proud of the fact that I managed to stay calm and tear-free until we got home, when I had a huge panic attack, and needed to sit by the open window until the feeling that I was dying subsided. I think it’s amazing how our bodies can just force anything unnecessary out in times of extreme trauma, and only after they are over we feel the full impact of what has happened to us. Interestingly, while the pain was excruciating at the time (that car journey to the hospital was worse than any rollercoaster ride, which, if you know my feelings about rides, is a sentiment you will appreciate), as soon as my shoulder was back in place it felt like little more than a bad bruise.

With my arm in a sling, and under instructions to keep my shoulder perfectly still while it healed, I needed help with literally everything. Until recently I couldn’t lower myself at all, so any reaching/picking up/sitting down was out of the question. Getting in the bath was impossible, and I couldn’t shower until last night, when I was allowed to take my sling off. Even now that I can keep my sling off except for sleeping and going outside, all strength in my arm has gone, and it is very stiff, so I need help with most things.

Putting in contact lenses to see? Yep. Opening a book? Impossible alone. Putting on and taking off clothes? Same. Going to the toilet? Washing my hair and my body? I need Dillon to do it all for me. That’s difficult for someone both as self-reliant and stubborn as me, but I know I’m beyond lucky to have someone so supportive and kind to help me. I don’t know how someone who lives alone could manage. I also understand now how easy it must be to become housebound if you are old or frail and become injured; in terms of the mental strength it takes, descending the stairs is a real challenge for me now, but I’m trying not to let it get me down.

There is physiotherapy to come, and I have some basic exercises that I am doing regularly to prevent the onset of frozen shoulder, but my arm is now out of the sling and I can type at my normal speed. I wanted to find a method to force myself to slow down, appreciate the moment, and get a better sense of perspective on what matters and what doesn’t, and I suppose life found a way to provide me with one. I’ve got to admit, recovering from traumatic injury is something that even I can’t rush through.