Walking

The predicted weather was cold, with possible snow and hail.  Even so, we set off, determined to make the most of the chance to meet up outside and walk with others, following the ‘Rule of Six’.

Although it did turn out to be cold, there was no sign of snow or hail. We walked through glorious countryside in bright sunshine and completed an 8-mile circuit. Not bad considering the effects of ‘lockdown winter’ with gyms closed and the impetus to exercise at home starting to dwindle.  We needed those hills, that fresh air, that blast to the senses.

With 38 years between the youngest of the group, at 27, and me, at 65, our walking speeds were variable. Our younger friends waited patiently at regular intervals for us to catch up – me and my partner plodding along at a steady 2 miles an hour.  We’re not going to break any records but we’re not aiming to.  What we do want to do, however, is maintain reasonable levels of fitness as we progress through our sixties and beyond.

We’ve both struggled with long-term depression but also both never given up on pushing ourselves – and now, sometimes, each other – to keep making that effort – massive though it is – to maintain an exercise regime, in one form or another.

For me it’s tended to be a bit ad hoc – I find routine difficult – although for years I did cycle to work regularly. It wasn’t a long distance but there was quite a lot of uphill on the way back. I often cursed at the end of the day when I wished – how I wished – that I’d driven there in the car.  But I’m sure it’s helped me a lot and I’m glad of it now. Glad to have kept going, pushing those pedals.

[https://wordpress.com/post/gladabout.life/220]

Every so often I used to try jogging.  I found it hard to psyche myself up, sometimes got into a bit of a ‘stride’, and even completed a 10K run once.  Jogging wasn’t for me though, long term. My knees complained and I had to call it a day on that one.

There were times in my life when I simply set off from home and walked until my heels bled. Not recommended but at least it got me out and active.

In later years I did volunteering involving hard labour with a sledge hammer (and called it a holiday!). For that, I set myself training targets, carrying a back-pack loaded up to 50lb in weight with books, tins of beans and bags of flour.  A good friend used to come with me on some of these training walks, to make sure that I didn’t fall backwards off the hillside – with that load I would never have stopped until I landed at the bottom!

Now, I enjoy our leisure walks – sometimes with friends, sometimes just the two of us.  We’re planning to do Helvellyn later this year. Must get into training again soon.

Working again

After grinding to a halt last year (when I was 64), I’ve had 12 months of resting and recuperating. It’s been great to have no time pressures, be able to catch up on household jobs and generally just ‘chill’. However, I still don’t feel like giving up on my working life altogether and have just started a new job. It’s part-time and temporary – just for a few weeks – and has tested my ability to keep calm in the face of new technology (use of a smart phone is an intrinsic part of the job). With some effort I’ve been able to keep my anxiety levels within manageable parameters – breathing through the stress and repeating my ever-faithful affirmation of ‘I choose to be peaceful and calm; everything is unfolding as it should’. There have been times when I have felt anything other than peaceful and calm but I seem to be settling in. It’s tiring, but I’m doing it.

When I was going through the worst of my breakdown, one of things I hung on to, to haul myself through, was the knowledge of how hard I’d worked when I was younger – dealing with anxiety without any coping mechanisms for a long time – to develop work skills and experience. I was determined that all that hard work would not go to waste.

I do believe that if more people had more help with anxiety and associated difficulties when they were younger, it would help to avoid the devastation that having a breakdown can bring. As a society we still have a long way to go before we can consider ‘inclusion’ a reality rather than a pretend game.

Relationships

Collage by Maggie ‘Glad the Poet’ Baker 2001

I used to be crap at relationships.

That does by no means mean that I now consider myself to be an ‘expert’ (whatever that means). However, for a long time I struggled to even form them, at any meaningful level, never mind knew what to do once I finally decided to jump in at the deep end, at the age of 24.

Up till then my life had been a relationship desert. Unlike my peers – who all seemed naturals to me – I just didn’t seem to have what it took. I had extreme social anxiety and – though I didn’t know then – depression, associated with an eating disorder and a fear of being laughed at, humiliated, rejected. So I put up walls to protect myself from what I, essentially, most wanted and needed.

Apart from an occasional snog and a few dates that did nothing to stir my emotions or hormones I thought I would never meet the man of my dreams, fall in love, be happy…

Of course, the idea of meeting someone took itself into the realms of romantic fantasy, giving me no experience of managing the reality. When I did ‘meet’ someone who I had a strong connection with, it was from a distance as he was with someone else. The distance got even greater when he went off to the other side of the world to be with her, and I lost my sense of hope.

I ended up marrying someone I hardly knew because he asked me! I’d just lost my job and I had been floundering without any sense of direction since leaving college two years previously – the eating disorder made it hard to concentrate on anything other than finding ways to take my mind off food – so it seemed as if fate had finally decided to go my way. Foolish, I know now. Or was it? Maybe it was, essentially, the only way I was going to learn to swim, by jumping in at the deep end. We lasted three and a half years before he said he wanted us to separate as I was ‘holding him back’.

It would have been good if we could each have gone our separate ways and found happiness with someone else. I did (after I had learnt many more hard lessons in life over many subsequent years). Sadly, he passed away while still a young man, although he had lived life in his own ebullient gregarious way up to then.

At the time when we split up I could have done with some counselling, to help me explore and start to work through all the issues that were suddenly thrown up in my head and in my heart. It was the 1980s then, though, and I hadn’t even heard of counselling.

Instead, I stumbled, crumbled, and fell into another relationship with a lifetime of unresolved ‘stuff’ still bubbling away. It can’t have been a good experience for my partner, I realise that now, although we both tried to make it work, and support each other in our different ways.

My internal volcano finally exploded when, after a joint business venture collapsed, my partner went off with someone else.  The extremes of my emotions and state of mind from there went off the Richter scale and I had a breakdown (to put it mildly). I’d wanted eventually to start a family but, in my late thirties by then, I entered a period of significant instability on all levels.

I had to pull out all the stops to pull myself back from the brink and into functionality over a prolonged period and have only just completed a cycle of recovery that I started over 25 years ago.

During that time, I’ve reached out to and found many different ways of learning to live and love.

At one point I trained as a volunteer bereavement counsellor. The main model that the training was based on was the principle that, with support and time and commitment, the sense of loss doesn’t go away or get smaller, but your life can grow bigger around it. This resonated with me, and I’ve found that it has helped me to reach out and grow into an awareness of life that I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t had to learn how to find a way through.

For over five years I’ve been in a relationship with a lovely, loving, funny, kind, clever man who also struggled with relationships when he was younger. (I think there must be a lot of us around.)

Even so, the final stages of my recovery cycle have not been easy; I have had to do more than tie up a few loose ends and threads.  ‘Out of the blue’ my brain took me to places where it had stored memories from 40 years ago, locked away because they were too painful for me to bear before.

I’m well on the way to having worked through them now, thanks to having the loving arms and heart of my partner to help me feel the sadness that I needed to feel; that I wished I could have felt at the time, for myself and those I was involved with.  

The sadness was worse, for having stayed so buried for so long as extreme trauma that hit me during my breakdown period: trauma associated with decisions I’d made; paths I’d taken. Edvard Munch’s painting, ‘The Scream’, just about sums up how I felt inside at that time; and then some; and then some more. The collage I made in 2001 presents my own version of that scream; the scream of the agonised soul.

Recently, I’ve come across The Hawaiian Healing Art of Ho’oponopono – Forever Conscious. It’s said that things come to us in our lives when we most need them and/or are receptive to them.  I most certainly needed this and it was an utter revelation to me.  It has helped me to heal from feelings of guilt that have haunted me for decades, all rooted in the difficulties I had in forming, managing and ending relationships in the past.

People had tried to reach me, and I had tried to reach out to them. Ultimately, though, I needed to reach within myself – however long it took – and find what I needed to find. I’ve been fortunate to be able to finally reach that goal from within the protective space of a loving relationship.

I think I’ve learnt a lot about relationships, including knowing how important it is to keep working at them, and know that there is always more to learn. Most of all though, I’m loving now being able to love and be loved.  It is worth working for, however long it takes.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Poetry Rule No 2. Establish a good relationship with a stationery supplier

I, The Tree

It is afternoon
soon to be evening
as I wait for her to return
from the business of her day

I always wait for her
and hope she never goes away

I am reaching, always reaching
into the garden she has tended
for many lonely years

I know that she knows I look out for her
and would love to wipe away her tears

But the fingers of my hands are too hard
bent and curled

The best I can do is to soften her sorrow
with the surprise of spring
and after the cold white of winter
the promise of a green and bright tomorrow

Summer comes
a time I love to share
with her
and the garden

She – stooped –
digging and weeding
me with arms outstretched
in full and joyous glory once again
her in her own way
also feeding

Together we grow
each through our seasons

Every year I provide a carpet for her feet
she thanks me from her heart
I feel
and looks out for me
the Tree
hoping I will never go away

I know
with all the branches of my being
I never will

2017 & 2021

Poetry Rule No. 3 Establish (and maintain) good relationships with other suppliers – providing the bases are reciprocal

Red

Red was the colour
of your jacket
on the chair –
with slender, tender fingers
curled around a tumbler –
as you waited for me there
on our first date

Red was the colour of my jacket too
there was something about you –
the mark on your cheek
the way you held your head –
it wasn’t love at first sight
but I was happy for it to be
something else
instead

Since then our jackets
have become
a pair –
your slender, tender fingers
hold me now
in bed –
but I’ll always remember
our first date
when you and I
both wore
red

2017 & 2021

Leftovers soup

Cooking with leftovers isn’t a new concept, but it’s an important one.

I’m interested in reducing waste of all kinds. Reducing food waste in my own kitchen is something that I can and like to do.

My partner and I have different views about ‘waste’ when it comes to food.  When I was living on my own – which I was for some time before we met – I used to cook batches of food and either eat it for days on end until it was gone, or eat some and freeze some.

He, on the other hand, thinks that if he leaves something in a pan it’s going to ‘go to waste’ and therefore feels obliged to eat it (well, that’s his story!).

Anyway, because we both need to watch our weight, I’ve had to rethink my approach to batches and think more in portions. Apart from when I’m cooking soup.

It’s hard to overeat soup, by nature of it’s liquid bulk. And even if – when – we eat generous portions, the calorific value is relatively low (unless it’s laden with cheese, croutons, dumplings … but they’re another story).

At the weekend we indulged in roast leg of lamb with a herb crust, complete with jabron potatoes, sugar snap peas and Savoy cabbage. It was a great combination (with gravy, of course), followed by magic lemon pudding (I’d been massively remiss in not having made this for over forty years) and ice cream (delish).

So, there were a few sugar snap peas and some cabbage left, plus some sticks of celery and a couple of peppers which were ‘on their way out’ but got thrown in.

Added stock, a few splashes of things here and there (my secret) and, once cooked, liquidised.

The result was tasty, healthy, ‘slurp worthy’ soup that tasted so much better than anything out of a can.

Each batch of leftover soup is unique; once it’s gone, it’s gone. But it’s great just to conjure something up from odd bits and pieces, instead of throwing them out.      

Rule No. 20 Enjoy the process

Photo by Jess Bailey Designs from Pexels

Well-pruned roses

The pathways of my mind
Are not defined
Just like well-pruned roses
They shoot and sprout
In all sorts of places
At paces I know nothing about

The slate chippings in my garden
Are sharp and grey
They lay flat and easy
In the spaces that I make
Not knowing why
Or how long it will take

Praying to the sky
Leaves turn green and fall
Orange, yellow, gold
Flowers unfold
Well-pruned roses
Always turn out best
Until it’s time to weed again
And then it’s time to rest

Places that I know nothing about
Spaces that I make
The garden of my mind is growing
Like a well-pruned rose
That buds and blooms
Before it goes

Eventually the birds will come
To sing their song
In the garden of my well-pruned mind
Where they belong

2015

Spring

The cold, folded steel
of your handles
fit precisely into my palm
where they belong

Thumb finds familiar catch
that slips silently to one side
releasing the spring
opening your blades
for action

You are my weapon of choice
as together we cut and thrust our way
to the possibility of new growth

Season after season
we have fought fibrous flesh
of one kind or another
but today I use you
for a different reason

With a delicate snip and trim and dip
down each cutting goes into the dark holes
I have prepared for them
ready to take root
if they choose

I don’t want to lose them
or you, as I sometimes do
in places that escape me

Then, as your dull grey surface
greets me once again
I know we will go on
you with your blades
and me with my hands
to create many pots of cuttings
and piles of thorns
amongst the blossoms.

© Maggie ‘Glad the Poet’ Baker 2017

Exercise and mental health: overcoming barriers

The health benefits of exercise are well recognised.

Experts believe exercise releases chemicals in your brain that make you feel good. Regular exercise can boost your self-esteem and help you concentrate, sleep and feel better.

Exercise also keeps the brain and your other vital organs healthy.

“I get a huge buzz from my rock ’n’ roll class. Hours later, my legs ache, but I’m still smiling.”


Exercising doesn’t just mean doing sport or going to the gym. Walks in the park, gardening or housework can also keep you active.

Experts say most people should do about 30 minutes’ exercise at least five days a week.

Try to make physical activity that you enjoy a part of your day.

[Source: 2. Keep active | Mental Health Foundation]

We all know this and are likely to have had direct experience of these benefits. 

Why, then, can it still be so difficult to find the motivation to exercise?

It’s an issue that I’ve struggled with all my life, experiencing barriers associated with body image when I was younger.  I knew swimming was good exercise but would only ever go to a swimming pool or wear a swimsuit on a beach if I’d starved myself to be thin enough to feel able to do that. And even then, I felt morbidly self-conscious about how I looked.  It took a long time and a lot of working through masses amount of personal ‘stuff’ before I could stop worrying and start enjoying swimming. My partner and I even go wild swimming now, and it feels wonderful.

I tried jogging, but always found it so hard to build myself up to a regular routine. Lacking in willpower and discipline some people might say.  Struggling with severe depression, anxiety and low self-esteem was the real reason.  I’ve continued to struggle ever since, but have also never given up. Now 65, I’ve been doing on-line exercise classes, including yoga and pilates during lockdown.  Last summer we did some cycling around our local lanes.  We still both find that it’s an effort to go out, sometimes, but give each other a push and/or moral support when we need it.  Whatever it takes. 

What’s the alternative?  An inactive old age with all the complications that brings?

I’ve always found it difficult to go to a gym or to exercise classes after work. Just getting through a day involved such a major effort for me.  So I looked for ways to combine exercise into my daily routine.  Cycling to work meant that I often turned up looking like a drowned rat, but it did help.

Even so, I continued to struggle with depression, and continued to find it hard to motivate myself to exercise enough to help it lift on anything more than a temporary basis.  I felt like the only way I could sustain the ‘lift’ would be to train as if I was an Olympic athlete.  I have neither the physique nor the talent to be anything remotely akin to athletic and, like most people, have had to commit a significant amount of my time to earning a living and keeping up with the usual day to day domestic activities.

There were times as well when I felt that the more I exercised, the deeper my depression went, after the initial ‘buzz’ fell away. 

I continued to have to do a lot of work to try and shift it, with exercise being one of a number of tools and techniques that I’ve tried and tested over the years.  It has been, and continues to be, a lifetime endeavour.  I think that this is in part because of the way emotions are stored in the body, a matter which has been increasingly recognised and written about including the following article by Sean Grover (2018):

For years, I’ve made a study of where people tend to store their unwanted emotions. Certainly, not all body aches or illnesses are psychosomatic. However, as I studied people’s bodily reactions to stress, recurring patterns emerged.

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Repression

Fear is the driving force behind repression, and is frequently rooted in your past. Repression is often necessary, particularly when you feel overwhelmed or experience trauma. But an overdependence on repression fuels psychosomatic symptoms and self-destructive patterns.

[Source:Where Do You Store Stress in Your Body? Top 10 Secret Areas | Psychology Today]

In his article in Psychology Today, Sean Grover goes on to identify the ‘Top 10 Tension Areas for Unwanted Feelings’ as:

1.Lower Back: Anger
2. Stomach & Intestines: Fear
3. Heart & Chest: Hurt
4. Headache: Loss of control
5. Neck/Shoulder Tension: Burdens
6. Fatigue: Resentments
7. Numbness: Trauma
8. Breathing Difficulties: Anxiety
9. Voice & Throat Problems: Oppression
10. Insomnia: Loss of self

I find this interesting and helpful, relating these areas to recent and past experiences.

I did a lot of work on repressed anger at one point, including going to a workshop where I was encouraged to take a lot of it out on a punch bag.  The physicality of the release at the time was phenomenal (although I did go into a kind of ‘toxic shock’ afterwards, so I would not recommend anyone trying this approach without a very strong support network around them).

Some years later, experiencing stress at work, I searched out volunteering opportunities, finding an outlet by doing trail maintenance work where I could break big rocks into smaller rocks to make hardcore with a sledgehammer.  I came back refreshed and invigorated. Although the effects did wear off after a while, I have so far – touch wood – not suffered from lower back problems.

Fatigue and resentments strike a chord with me – I’m so good at hanging on to them, no wonder I feel tired all the time!

So, while I’ve done a lot of work on myself to get to this point, and to feel largely positive about the position I’m in, there’s still a lot to do.

It’s often the enormity – or perceived enormity of the challenge – that puts us off dealing with it, which leads to repression, which leads to depression….

It’s all about the next step, and the one after that …

There are no easy answers or quick fix solutions, especially when difficulties are deep-rooted.  I just keep reminding myself that it’s all about the next step. And the one after that. And the one after that.  It does get easier.  Miraculously – it feels to me – my steps feel a lot lighter, at the age I’m at now, than they did when I was young, all those years ago! Something must be working, somehow. Barriers can be overcome. It’s not easy, but it’s worth working at it, bit by bit.

Poetry Rule No. 1 Do your own filing

The Lever Arch File

A lever arch file
is a beautiful thing,
made of cardboard
and shiny metal,
designed to hold papers in place
with a lever and a spring.

You can have an A-Z index
or a dating system,
nothing left to chance,
records retrieved, at a glance.

There is something so safe and satisfying
about the lever arch file
that now sits in a pile
in landfill
or burnt on a bonfire
where the smoke goes up
into the clouds.

Now we have digital data,
tags and the like,
are archives really a thing of the past?

Searches draw blanks,
seem random at best
will our technological filing systems
really stand the test,
like the lever arch file did,
once upon a time?

© Maggie ‘Glad the Poet’ Baker 22 January 2021