Grateful for my South African Sister

Dear Tharina

On the week of your birthday, I have been thinking about how truly grateful and blessed I am to have you in my life. Little did I know when I first met you six years ago, as I was shown around the office after interviewing for a new job, that the loud South African who looked me up and down with uncertainty would become such an important part of my life. That I would get to come to work every day with one of my best friends, and that any day you weren’t in the office with me would be about 90% less fun. 

I’d never even heard anyone speak Afrikaans before I met you, was baffled by this alien language and how you were so well-spoken and fluent in English too. I’ve loved learning more about your home country, laughing with you about the many differences between our cultures, attempting to read Afrikaans or translate a phrase that’s simply untranslatable. We laugh SO much. You fill my day with smiles, whether you intend to or not (no, chiropody is not pronounced “Cairo-poddy”, and no, your words do not fall on “death ears”, and no, “my nose are itchy’ does not make sense unless you have a secret second nose you lunatic).​

But despite our differences (and yes, there are many!), we have developed such a close friendship over the years, a friendship that is unlike any other that I have. We’ve spent more time together than I could possibly count, know the intricate – and extremely boring – details of each other’s lives, and can communicate with the tiniest flicker of the eyelid or twitch of the mouth: we know what the other is thinking before we’ve even had the conversation. You’ve stood up for me on so many occasions, given me the advice I needed to hear (even if it wasn’t what I wanted to hear at the time), made sure I did what I needed to do. 

You care about others so, so much. You take on other people’s problems as if they were your own and do anything you possibly can to try and solve them or offer comfort: even if it means getting up at 5am to cook a meal or running around town to deliver a package. You’re one of the most selfless and kind people I’ve ever met; you absolutely love helping others. You’ve called the doctors for me, you’ve booked trains for me, you’ve travelled an hour out of your way just to keep me company on the tube. You always tell me that if you didn’t genuinely want to do something, you wouldn’t make the offer in the first place. And that’s you all over: straight up, saying exactly what you mean (occasionally to your detriment, hey!). 

During the worst time of my life, you were there for me unconditionally. You cried with me, you made sure I ate lunch, you put me on the train when I needed to get home urgently. You posted Haribo to my house, you sent countless thoughtful messages, you bought a birthday present for my Mum even though you had never met her. And you used some of your precious prayers on me and my family, which means so much more to me than you know. 

I’ve leant on your shoulder many times, and you know you can always lean on mine. My heart breaks for you when yet another friend moves back to SA; I can’t imagine how tough it must be to live so many hours from home. But I’m also so proud of how you’ve carved out a life for yourself in London. How I wish I could be as passionate about a hobby as you are about cycling; the amount of love you have for it makes me so happy, and I’m constantly impressed by how you strive to make it more and more a part of your life, with your own club and even sponsorship. 

I see how you’re the glue between your friends: cooking big dinners in your favourite Le Creuset pot, organising intrepid activities (SO sorry I was busy on the day of stand up paddle boarding), always on hand to babysit or help out at church. I so appreciate being invited to your gatherings, quite enjoy being the token English girl even if I can’t understand what’s going on half the time. 

You are so much more than a friend to me. We bicker like sisters: nobody else will tell me if they hate my new shoes or that my hair looks a mess, and I wouldn’t dream of being half as rude to any of my other friends as I am to you. But then I don’t have any other friends who would suck on the bone of a lamb shank in the middle of a restaurant do I?! It’s okay, I know it’s in your blood. 

And in honour of your birthday, here are ten more things I’ve learnt about Afrikaans:

1. Time is a fluid concept. Now doesn’t mean now, it means I’ll do it perhaps some time in the next day or so, if you’re lucky. If you want something doing actually right now, you mean now now. There’s just now as well – perhaps not as soon as now now, but sooner than now. 

2. A nartjie is an orange, but it’s also a satsuma, a clementine or a mandarin. 

3. However you think it’s pronounced, it probably isn’t.

4. Banana is a savoury food item.

5. There’s only one jam, and it’s apricot. You can have it in a sponge pudding or with a curry. Cheese and jam is a logical combo.

6. Anyone older than you is an Auntie or an Uncle, but don’t call your friend who’s five years older than you an Auntie; she’ll get really offended.

7. “Fatcakes” is the name of an actual dish. And they’re absolutely delicious. But I guarantee you will not be able to move after eating two. 

8. Some words mean two things. A backie (sp?) is a lunchbox, but also a truck.

9. One carb per meal is simply not enough. 

10. Vegetarians?! LOL.

I really hope I get to come and see your world one day; I never tire of hearing about it despite how endlessly confusing and nonsensical it is. I know you think mine is just as weird sometimes, but could you ever live without your beloved ginger biscuits now?! 

Gelukkige verjaarsdag my friend, and thank you so much for being in my life; I genuinely don’t know how I would have got through the past few years without you. 

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Grateful for Barcelona

Another week, and another Sunday reflecting on more than one horrifying terrorist attack on our European doorsteps. I wonder whether I’ll look back on these grateful blogs in years to come and feel shocked at how the theme of terrorism threaded itself throughout my musings across the year; not a box ticked and time to move on, but a constant and very real worry that moves in ebbs and flows, from severe to critical and back again. Always there, poised to blacken the brightest day with the unthinkable. 

The days of terrorist attacks being confined to some faraway land where ‘it couldn’t possibly happen here’ are long gone. For my lifetime, the threat of terror is closer to home than ever before. We exist in a world where news travels faster, where images are less censored and where grainy mobile phone footage shows us the gritty reality of these dark days. We find ourselves subconsciously participating in twisted competitions of “I was there last week”, “I ate in that restaurant”, “It could have been me.” Why do we think like this? Does it bear any relevance? Perhaps we are trying to remind ourselves how lucky we are. We all know by now that terrorism is not selective in its victims. As I write this, a BBC News Alert confirms one of the Barcelona victims as a seven year old British boy. 

I can completely understand the people who are undoubtedly changing holiday plans, making new arrangements or cancelling flights right now. But it is so important that we don’t become so fearful of our towns and cities that we lose our relationships with them. Today I am grateful for the beautiful city that is Barcelona, and for the wonderful memories that it has given me.

I first visited the city for a long weekend with my Mum about ten years ago. I must admit that Mum and I weren’t the most intrepid of travellers: after what seemed like hours trundling around the baking hot streets searching for our hotel, we both passed out in its air conditioned loveliness (way beyond siesta time) only making it outside for a quick pizza, whilst vowing not to tell Dad that we had gone all the way to Spain and eaten Italian food. 

We made up for it during the rest of our trip: paella and tapas on Las Ramblas (overpriced for us tourists but worth it for the atmosphere alone), delicious baked Monkfish in an off-the-beaten-track restaurant recommended by our guide book (it was 2007 after all), freshly squeezed juices and exotic fruit salads from La Boqueria. We drank beers in a beachside cafe, shopped in H&M when a strong Pound was more than just a pipe dream, found the beach’s one lone palm tree to shade Mum’s fair skin whilst I sunbathed. We walked up and down Las Ramblas: found out that you can’t photograph the human statues unless you pay them, looked on in horror at the cages of birds for sale on the roadside, squealed at the displays of raw meat in the market. I have such happy memories of that trip with Mum: our photographs bleached with bright sunlight, our stories back home filled with vibrancy and colour. 

When I returned to Barcelona in 2015, the world was a very different place. I had lost my darling Mum just a few months earlier and my dear friend Becky took me away for the weekend as a birthday surprise. I’ll always be so touched by the kindness and generosity of that gift; the chance to get out of London and focus my mind elsewhere. For a moment I felt a touch of anxiety: would the city bring back memories that would fill me with sadness? Of course not; why should it? I surround myself with reminders of Mum every day, and Barcelona only held good ones for me. A time when we were happy and carefree, the best of friends enjoying our lives. 

And of course my trip with Becky gave me new memories too. More paella, more tapas (when in Spain…), more getting lost; accidentally ordering a huge breakfast complete with churros and hot chocolate (and managing to eat it all anyway), eating dinner unfashionably early (i.e. pre-10pm) and ordering way too much food; wearing every single item of our clothing, having been grossly ambitious about the weather forecast in November. 

But without a doubt, my highlight was our visit to La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s famous and perhaps controversial masterpiece (George Orwell called it “one of the most hideous buildings in the world”). I’m not a person who usually goes remotely mad for architecture – we very nearly turned around when we saw the hour-long queue – but I’m so glad we didn’t. The church is absolutely breathtaking and I was completely taken aback by the beauty of the stained glass and the feeling of quiet serenity as soon as we stepped inside. Although the church is Roman Catholic, I was also struck by the literature that explained how the space is not solely for one religious denomination; that it is a place of peace and spirituality that can be enjoyed by all, transcending religion and belief. (I doubt that this was Gaudi’s original sentiment, but how all-the-more wonderful that as times have changed, so too has the building’s ideology). It is honestly so beautiful and I’m only sad I didn’t take Mum there on our first trip too.

In this devastating week for Spain, I am remembering all the things I love about Barcelona. It’s so key that we don’t take out our feelings towards these heinous terrorists on a wonderful city; that we turn our backs on the darkness and look for the light. If you haven’t already been, go! Eat the croquettes, drink the Cava, find that restaurant and order way too much. Walk along the beach, get lost in the streets, and take photos of the statues (after you’ve tipped them, of course). Thank you for the memories, Barcelona. 

Grateful for Julia

This weekend we are celebrating the birthday of my dear friend Julia, and today I am grateful for having had her in my life for the past five years. It seems so much longer than that! 

Julia, such a lot has changed since we first met in early 2012, introduced by our mutual friend Becky on a night out in Clapham. My first impressions were that you were switched on, career-minded and confident, talking about your new job with a passion that I have seen grow and grow over the years. (And a passion it must be! You give your heart and soul to your work and despite the ridiculous hours, I see how much it gives back to you too, how much you care about delivering above and beyond and gaining the respect of those around you). 

We became part of the same friendship group – travelled to New York, went out, got new ear piercings together, ate at delicious restaurants (you’re such a foodie, even if you are the unluckiest orderer I have ever met – the steak is so often underdone; the bun is so often burnt – but you’re always so diplomatic about it!). I learnt more about you: you’re Scottish (who knew!), you’re thoughtful and kind, always looking for a way to solve the problems of others; you love spinning and have the killer calves to show it; you’re pragmatic and level headed, never bitchy or irrational; you like a drink but always know when to stop. You passed on your love of good red wine to me (how I adore our casual Friday nights in or out with a Malbec), and your love of the cinema: we both have a passion for broadening our minds, learning new things through the worlds of film and TV. 

Little did I know after our first meeting that we would wind up living together: that you would become the person to place a pair of wet knickers (in lieu of a flannel) over my sweating brow after a few too many jäger bombs; that you would be the one to run me a bath and help me and my giant sprained ankle hop into it; that we would inadvertently end up holidaying at a romantic couples resort together, potentially mistaken for Mrs and Mrs Rankin more than once. Or that you would be there for me during the worst time of my life, supporting me at my Mum’s funeral and far beyond: the one to send me flowers to work on the anniversary of her death, to be so careful and concerned about my feelings in any circumstance that might be challenging for me. 

I’ve learnt so much from you Julia: you’re the friend who will remind me to stand up for myself, to go after what I want and to have confidence in my decisions. You’re the queen of the pep talk, rooting for me at work and sending me encouraging texts to ask how it all went; reminding me to stay strong and not text that boy back. You have a perpetual feeling of inadequacy in your own job, but I know that you are far, far from it (like, ridiculously far!). You’re a perfectionist in all that you do, unable to give any less than one hundred percent regardless of how long it takes or how early you have to wake up – and it shows in your ongoing success. 

I love our Sunday evening debriefs: a chance to catch up on the highs and lows of the preceding week, to get into a new BBC drama or scream over a ridiculous Netflix documentary together. I think we both get so much out of these chats: each of us talking at a hundred miles an hour, a decompression zone enabling us to offload our problems and stresses, to step out of work mode and relax. I’d go mad if I didn’t have someone to talk things through with Jules. 

This week, I am grateful for you Julia, for the positive impact you have made over such a tempestuous period of my life. Thank you for everything: for reserving judgement when I eat five different carbs for my dinner, for humouring my ridiculous Love Island obsession, for looking after me with another accidental hangover. Thank you for thinking about me and taking the time to care. Thank you for all the hugs, the dinners, the chats and the texts: for all the advice, the pep talks and the “how are you doing?”s. Happy Birthday Julia, and thank you for being there.

Grateful for girl time

This Sunday evening, as I sit in a darkened room recovering from a weekend of pole dancing, bottomless brunch, butlers in the buff and copious cocktails, I am grateful for some good old fashioned girl time. No, this wasn’t just a standard Saturday in the life of such a crazy-cool, 30 year old London gal about town as me: it was of course a Hen Party, for my beautiful ballerina friend Georgie. The girl who sent me a Facebook friend request after meeting me once, and who has blessed my life with her infectious laugh, mental hair, and ridiculously positive outlook ever since. 

When Georgie enters a room, usually followed by a cloud of pink glitter, a trail of sparkles and a couple of rose gold unicorns, you cannot help but smile. And this weekend certainly included a lot of smiling. G, I thought your face might crack at one point from all the non-stop, ear-to-ear, Cheshire Cat style beaming. What an absolute pleasure to be even one percent responsible for such pure happiness! The weekend was a perfect way for us to celebrate the impending marriage of our friend Georgie: with lots of laughter, food, drinks and the opportunity for the dancers amongst us to consider a new career path and ponder whether erecting a pole in the front room could be a feasible possibility. (Side note: not me. Anybody who has seen my arms in real life may be unsurprised to hear that they weren’t exactly great at supporting my body weight on a pole. Happy spectator here!).

I’m very lucky to have a solid group of girl friends in London, but as we grow older and grow up, as the lucky ones marry and have children, it’s only natural that we see each other less often. Gone are the days of spending every Saturday night in Chelsea, casually chucking away £100 on cocktails and taxis like there would never be a time when we might want to spend our money on something more concrete (because one too many mojitos are certainly the only reason I haven’t bought a house yet); gone are the days of dancing until 2am with a giant swollen sprained ankle (okay, that only happened once), of taking photos with the barmen and of cheeky Big Macs on the way home. So a Hen Party provides a wonderful guilt-free excuse for us all to get together and pretend we’re 24 again, for just one weekend; to be self-indulgent and loud (not too loud; we weren’t that kind of Hen Party), to laugh and to dance and remember why we’re such good friends in the first place. 

There’s nothing like a weekend with your girl friends to help you forget the stresses of work, the responsibilities of everyday life, and the unfounded worries of how your daily commute might be affected by the upgrade at Waterloo station this August. And sure, 572 bottles of prosecco probably help with that too. 

I’m so lucky to have friends that I can both laugh my head off with and talk to at length about some of life’s most mundane topics; friends with whom I can share my deepest worries and fears, and also discuss the vitally important intricacies of this year’s Love Island (yes, it’s still a thing; who’s still together outside the house? Which brand of protein powder will they promote on Instagram next?!). 

And let’s not forget the added bonus that Hen Parties always bring: the chance to meet friends and family of the bride-to-be; to make new friends and learn about different lives, to hear embarrassing childhood stories from the cousins and to see different sides of your friend from her work and home life. I love the fact that, having attended the Hen Party, you will always have more friends at the wedding. Us girls have to stick together! 

It’s not exactly profound I know (give me a break guys, we can’t be profound all the time), but I am truly grateful to have spent this weekend with both old friends and new, to have had the opportunity to check out of real life, and to have some good old-fashioned fun. Roll on the wedding Georgie, can’t wait for the first dance! 

Grateful for whatever helps

This weekend I visited my Mum’s grave for the first time in quite a few months. I wonder if that sounds surprising or perhaps even cold hearted, but I have mixed feelings about this rectangular stone with white lettering and a neat little hole for flowers, nestled in the grounds of a quiet yet grand church near the canal.

When Mum died, almost two years ago to the day, Dad, Greg and I were very unsure as to what we should do with my mother’s remains (‘remains’: I hate that word, they are NOT all that remain of my Mum). There was no space in the local church where we had held her funeral, and whilst none of us would describe ourselves as religious, we still felt that we wanted Mum’s name to be written down somewhere, to have some sort of permanence in the place where she had lived her life.

We eventually settled on the sister church of the one where we had held the funeral; a peaceful church set in the countryside, 20 minutes from Dad’s house but feeling a million miles away from the bustle of suburbia. I am not exaggerating when I say that 99% of the time, the sun shines in that graveyard. It’s a peaceful place, and I don’t think we could have chosen better.

The interment was a quiet affair: just myself Dad, Greg and Hazel – the vicar spoke a few words, my father placed the turf back on top of the casket, we shed more of our tears. Then we went for coffee and cake, shopped for tiles for Greg and Hazel’s new kitchen, and enjoyed a lunch of steak and chips.

Unfortunately the process of ordering the stone was not so smooth. We waited months on end for the stone to arrive; the company recommended by the church were – in my totally inexperienced gravestone-buyer’s opinion – complete and utter cowboys. In the interim, Dad had a stroke, and I will admit I completely lost my temper with the woman over the phone. My mother’s grave had been unmarked for months, the company didn’t appear to give a monkeys, and I was boiling over with rage. My Auntie suggested we create our own temporary marking: we bought a lavender plant and garden stones, arranged them in a neat rectangle to mark the spot.

When the stone eventually arrived, it only transpired months later that they had put it in the wrong place. I’m serious. The stone was originally placed in the plot above my mother’s, on top of nobody (we laughed at the time, thinking we had put our makeshift lavender effort in the wrong place). And my father was only made aware of this when visiting the church and discovering that it had been moved, months later. Nobody at the church thought to ring Dad and let him know that they had moved the stone (to the correct place). Nobody thought it might be helpful to clarify that the ashes hadn’t been moved, that no laws had, in fact, been broken. My mother’s actual grave had been unmarked for almost a year, and I felt so wronged about this. There are so many things that have to be sorted out when a person dies, so many forms and phone calls and bureaucracies, it sometimes feels that the world is against you; that nothing is ever just simple.

It is here that I am glad this stone doesn’t mean more to me, because if it did I think the event would have been a whole lot more distressing. And I don’t mean this in a coldhearted way, I don’t mean that I think it is meaningless by any stretch; I just mean that I genuinely don’t look at this stone and think that it is my mother. I don’t feel that when I go to the graveyard I am going to see my Mum. I think it is a stone; a nice stone with my mother’s name on it, in a place that is peaceful and calm and quiet. But it’s not her.

I have a few photos of the gravestone but something stops me from posting them; I don’t think I want my mother reduced to a stone on the floor. I know what is left of her physical self is there, but I believe that when she died, she was freed from the pain and suffering caused by her body. I prefer to believe, and for my own sanity I have to believe, that something more of her lives on, somewhere else. That somewhere else she is laughing; somewhere else somebody else is benefiting from her kindness and her love. I prefer to share photos of her smiling face and sparkling eyes, to remember her personality and her living self – and I don’t need to visit a stone to help me do that.

On no level am I trying to take away from what a gravestone means to anybody else on this planet. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about grief, it’s that we all have very different ways of dealing with it and understanding it. More than anything, we have to do – or not do – whatever gets us through, and if that means having a giant shrine in your front room, or taking every photograph off the wall; bringing fresh flowers to a grave every day, or only visiting it once a year, it’s really okay.

Thursday marks two years to the day since Mum left this world, and I know that there will be many visitors to the church on that day. I’m so happy that we have a place where Mum can be remembered by the multitude of friends and family who’s lives she touched. For me, it’s about the permanence and the prominence: having a record of her existence in the open air for all to see; I love the thought that other people might read her name, wonder who she was and what her life was like, as I do with the other stones in the churchyard. Perhaps in a hundred years, somebody will walk past that stone and pause for a second, notice that there is an anniversary coming up; spend a moment reading the words: ‘In Loving Memory of Janette Margaret Preece, 8th June 1956 – 3rd August 2015, A Wonderful Wife, Mother and Best Friend Forever in Our Thoughts’.

Grateful for progress (I think)

This week, the news has been somewhat dominated by revelations of the BBC’s shocking gender pay gap – with a new report showing that its highest paid male star, Chris Evans, was paid around four times more than its highest paid female star, Claudia Winkleman. Of course we are not supposed to feel sorry for Claudia’s paltry £500k a year here (I jest) – and in an open letter to the BBC, some of its high profile female stars have indeed enforced the fact that they do not seek huge pay rises, but simply fairness in pay. However, the sad fact is that this gap is reflective of the picture for women up and down the country, and the BBC’s high profile case simply highlights something that has been on the agenda for many years already – with little sign of improvement.

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Thank goodness we aren’t looking at a 75% difference for those of us in ‘normal’ jobs – the gap for full-time employees has remained at a fairly steady 10% for over five years now – but with new laws requiring large organisations to publish their gender pay gap figures by April next year, it seems that employers will no longer be able to hide behind the ‘it’s just the way things are’ excuse. And therein lies the problem. Stereotypes around gender are so entrenched in our society and our upbringings that we don’t even notice them placing our children into boxes or influencing decisions about our futures or causing us to dismiss opportunities before we’ve even properly thought about them. How many TV game show couples are asked the question “Who wears the trousers?”? What does that even mean? It’s 2017 and we’re all wearing trousers for goodness sake!

We’ve all seen the photo juxtaposing the boys’ magazine strapline with its female counterpart: “Explore Your Future: Astronaut? Artist? Firefighter? Chef?” versus “Your Dream Hair” – and no, of course I don’t think all little girls want to play with tanks and all little boys want to play with Barbie dolls, but the only reason girls gravitate towards pink and boys gravitate towards blue is because we tell them to. I don’t believe any child is born knowing which role they are ‘supposed’ to take in society, just like no child is born racist, but I also don’t think we even fully know how to stop ourselves from leaning towards these gender stereotypes; it’s almost impossible to imagine a neutral status because it isn’t something any of us have ever known (where did it all come from? If you’ve read The Power, you could argue that its root is physical strength – from the word go, men have simply been able to use brute force to get their own way).

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If I were buying a present for a new born baby, I would naturally veer towards something floral and pretty for a girl, and something blue and preppy for a boy, but browsing through social media it is clear that the parents I see on my newsfeeds are extremely conscious of avoiding these stereotypes: the friend who was delighted to dress her little girl in dinosaur babygros as well as Minnie Mouse ones; another who bought her twins a toy pushchair and a lawnmower, and let them gravitate towards whichever one they liked best (of course the little girl went for the lawnmower and the boy the pushchair); the YouTube family who’s little boy regularly dresses as Frozen’s Elsa, just because he wants to. It’s not about dressing your little boy in pink all the time, it’s about presenting a world in which there is freedom and choice, without connotations or preconceptions.

Sadly not everyone appears to be as open minded as my Facebook friends. I came across a post earlier this week which, in response to the BBC news story, argued that that the reason women receive less pay is that they don’t work as hard as men and therefore don’t deserve it. Genuinely. The post went on to rant that if the BBC’s top 10 earners had been women, any men who ‘moaned’ about this would be called sexist (therefore immediately dismissing any woman daring to expect equal pay for doing the same job as a man as simply ‘moaning’). Sadly I’m sure these outdated and, quite frankly, misogynistic opinions aren’t exclusive to his own tiny mind. To me, it seems like a no brainer, but perhaps that‘s because I have the advantage of being a woman (although I was horrified to see that the post had been liked by a number of women too).

Until opinions such as this can be relegated to the minority, until I don’t have to sit in a meeting at work and argue with a male colleague that just because we have a female Prime Minister, this “women thing” is still, very much, a “thing”, and until my female friend realises that by saying women can’t be leaders because they are too emotional she is damaging the cause of all women around her, there is little hope of our society achieving gender parity any time soon. How on earth can we expect to receive equal pay if we don’t all think of ourselves as equal?

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But this is about being grateful. And I’m grateful that we have come further than ever before; that the BBC’s story has remained newsworthy all week; that gradually, very gradually, feminists are seen less as hairy-armpitted, bra burning lesbians, and more as normal men and women who believe in equality (thanks Benedict et al). I’m grateful for high profile women such as Sheryl Sandberg who stoically promotes women in leadership, Emma Watson who shows that you can believe in women’s rights and appear topless on the cover of a magazine, if you want to; I’m grateful for all the women who tirelessly campaign for progress, and I’m grateful that formal steps are being taken to close the gender pay gap. Who knows if we’ll reach that goal by 2020 – it seems alarmingly close – but as long as we have women and men: politicians, business people, parents, even the individuals replying to comments on Facebook, I’ll be grateful to those fighting the corner of the 50%.

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Grateful for breathing space

This Friday evening I was lucky enough to spend a blissful few hours with my friend Olly at her gym. If you’re thinking sweaty sports halls, manky changing rooms and verruca-ridden showers, think again: I’m talking a gym with Molten Brown products in the showers and a full blown spa experience for after your workout (plus the added bonus that you might find yourself bumping into the England rugby team whilst you’re there; alas, no such luck on Friday). 

After a hundred-mile-an-hour rush to get there on time, we arrived at our yoga class with minus five minutes to spare, a banging heart not exactly the most zen way to begin your practise (and bursting through the doors to interrupt the initial meditation not exactly the best way to make new yoga friends either), but despite this, it was only at the end of the class that I realised my mind had been thinking of nothing else but the poses and stretches for the last hour and fifteen minutes: I had managed to completely switch off from the stresses of the day. 

I used to take some kind of yoga class fairly regularly, but over the past two years have become completely out of practise. That feeling of clear headedness, of calm and of satisfying exhaustion having worked so many different muscles – as well as the fact that I’m feeling like I’ve been kicked all over by a horse right now – made me realise that I really do want to (and, for the sake of my poor, underused muscles, need to!) get back into it. 

Despite being really rather awful at a lot of it (honestly, I blame the fact that my arms are about double the length of most normal people’s; coupled with a questionable sense of balance, my Warrior 2 looks rather more ‘Drunk Surfer’), and certainly nowhere near the headstand-ing, touching-your-toes-with-your-chin kind of yogi, one of the things I love most about yoga is that it’s not really about anyone else but yourself, and what your own body can achieve. Unlike other sports, there’s no competition in yoga, and the mental benefits are just as important as the physical ones. Friday’s class reminded me that I need to be kinder to myself, that I need to spend more time on both my physical and mental wellbeing. Life is hard, and it’s very easy to just power on through without giving your wellbeing a second thought, but sometimes a glass of wine just doesn’t cut it in the relaxation stakes (don’t get me wrong, it often does): taking some time to relax, to slow down your heart rate and to clear your head can only be a good thing. Because isn’t our mental health just as important as our physical health? 

Sadly, barely a week goes by where I don’t hear about somebody going through some kind of mental health issue. I was about to write ‘of course I won’t name names’ (and I won’t), but why? If I had a friend who had broken their arm or was suffering from diabetes, I probably wouldn’t think twice about mentioning them, but we live in a world where there is still such a stigma around mental health issues; our society still has a problem if we can’t physically see the bandage or the scar. And this isn’t helped by the offhand way in which we use terminology related to mental health: “I’m so depressed Love Island is ending next week”; “If he doesn’t text me back, I’ll kill myself”. We’re all guilty of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, but a casual use of phrases like these only degrades the seriousness of those people who are genuinely suffering. 

I read an article this week about an employee having taken a ‘mental health day’ off work (and received a hugely positive response from her boss, and seemingly the rest of the world too). This is not a term I had heard before this week, but the more I thought about it, the more utterly logical it sounded. If we can take a day off work because we’re suffering a stomach ache or a migraine, why the hell shouldn’t we be able to take a day off to look after our mental health too? Aren’t these invisible issues just as likely to have a negative impact on our work as the physical ones? I’ve also heard of companies offering ‘duvet days’ to their employees, which probably amount to the same thing. 

I’m well aware that for many of those suffering with their mental health, a few days off work is nowhere near enough, but the concept of a ‘mental health day’ addresses the fact that we are all susceptible to feeling down or anxious or stressed out – and that’s okay. From an employers’ perspective, I can see how introducing such a policy could be a bit of an HR minefield, and easily abused – but everybody knows that happy employees are more engaged and more productive. It just makes sense. Such a policy also serves to show that suffering from a mental health issue or illness doesn’t necessarily have to mean months off work on long term sick leave, and I would imagine that by allowing employees the time and space to breathe when they need to, employers could see a reduction in those who do end up being signed off long-term (I would also imagine that as I am in no way any kind of expert on the matter, and have no statistics to back this supposition up, you can also feel completely free to ignore me). 

Of course everybody is different, and I am in no way trying to belittle those who do require much more time, support or medication. Mental illness comes from a chemical imbalance in the brain, and if the best way to rectify that in order to get yourself out of bed in the morning is to take a tablet each day (just like many who take daily medication for physical conditions), who on earth can argue with that? 

I’m lucky enough to confidently say that I’m not suffering from any mental health problems, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be aware of my mental wellbeing and do my very best to look after it. I’m talking about us being kind to ourselves, about taking the time to make sure we’re in the best possible state of mind to deal with whatever the world throws at us. How you choose to look after yourself doesn’t matter: take a walk, do some exercise, meditate, or even visit a doctor if you need to – this week, just take a moment to sit back and breathe: your body and your mind will thank you for it.