Saving Minnie Mouse

Allow me to tell you a story about this little weirdo. She loved her Minnie Mouse swimsuit and wore it a lot, but oddly enough she didn’t wear it to go swimming often because she couldn’t swim. Her mum had tried to teach her, but she wasn’t a strong swimmer herself so instead she invested in swimming lessons for her daughter. Now this was a long, long time ago, but the little weirdo can still remember one lesson in particular very clearly.

One week the class was learning to float on their backs and the swimming teacher knelt down by the edge of the pool and said, “Try and keep your belly above the water. You don’t want Minnie Mouse to drown.” Well, the little weirdo tried her hardest, but she just couldn’t keep Minnie Mouse out of the water. She felt useless and knew she’d never be able to swim.

I can’t remember how many lessons I had in the end (yes, I’M the little weirdo), but I made up my mind that I couldn’t swim and that was that. Even when we had lessons in primary school, I accidentally touched the bottom of the pool when I was being tested for my 10m award and felt guilty that I received the badge. I didn’t deserve to get it. I found it a few months ago and still had that feeling of guilt and uselessness.

I’ve never been afraid of the water as such and I’ve always enjoyed messing around the pool (play responsibly kids!). My dad and step-mum have a pool so many a weekend has been spent playing catch or having water flights and even partaking in night time dips in the rain. I’ve also had two great holidays at Centre Parcs with my friends where a big part of our days would be spent chilling in the various pools, doing a swimming style conga down the rapids and daring each other to go in the freezing cold plunge pool.

One thing I wouldn’t do very often though would be to go down the flumes or the slides. I’ve never liked the sensation of getting water up my nose and I’d definitely panic slightly (OK, a lot) if I suddenly realised that I couldn’t touch the bottom of the pool. So I would stay clear of anything that might put me in those situations.

I think our trips to Centre Parcs were what made me take swimming lessons again in my last year at uni. I signed up for ten weeks and I didn’t miss a single one. I wasn’t great at the end, and felt a little embarrassed when I heard my friends cheering me on in my last lesson, but I felt proud too. I’d done something to take control.

Fast forward 12 years and at the beginning of June I signed up for the Summer Shape-Up at my local leisure centre. Three-month all-inclusive membership for £99. Bargain. But only if you use it! I’d signed up in the past and always wasted the opportunity. Not this time! I wasn’t going to put pressure on myself to go to the gym every day because I knew it wasn’t realistic and I’d get bored. Instead I’d go to the gym twice a week and go swimming twice a week. It was time to learn to swim.

I still remember going the first time and thinking after what a waste of time it would be. My technique was appalling and I could only swim for about ten minutes before feeling worn out. But I didn’t stop. At first I worked on swimming half lengths. I was still very nervous about other swimmers splashing water up my nose which would lead to me flailing about and panicking that I couldn’t touch the bottom. I told myself that when I was able to swim 20 half-lengths, I would have the stamina to attempt a full length.

While all this was going on I had started having coaching sessions as part of my coaching diploma. I didn’t really know what I’d talk about in my required six sessions, but my coach Carol-Ann Reid has an amazing knack for asking you about your day/week/fortnight/month and picking up on a gesture or hesitation, digging a bit deeper and asking if you’d like to take the topic further.

And so one session I found myself telling her the story that I told you fine people at the beginning of this post. I told her about the little weirdo and her beloved pink swimsuit with Minnie Mouse wearing a burgundy, polka dot bow and I told her about that small, insignificant comment that my swimming teacher made all those years ago.

Except it wasn’t insignificant. I’d held on to those words for three decades. Together Carol-Ann and I worked through it and she helped me to realise why those words had had such a deep impact on me. To that little weirdo, Minnie Mouse was as real as her family, friends or some random person she saw in town. It didn’t matter that she was a cartoon character or even that she was just a representation of that character. If I didn’t float, Minnie Mouse would drown. Drown means die. If I couldn’t float then the only way to protect Minnie Mouse would be not to try to learn to swim anymore.

It was a revelation. How had I not realised this myself? I must be stupid, right?! That’s the power of coaching though. Sometimes it takes someone completely removed from the situation to shed some light and make things clearer. Carol-Ann didn’t stop there though. She worked some NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) voodoo on me and helped me to visualise that little weirdo learning to swim with confidence.

Well, that was a couple of months ago and this morning I swam 20 full lengths. Without stopping. That’s 660m! I can’t even run that far without slowing down to a walk at the moment. It’s not the first time I’ve done it – I think I’ve managed it twice before – but the fact that I go swimming twice a week and I ENJOY it is something I never imagined would happen.

The other week someone splashed water up my nose and two things happened. Well, three actually. The first was that I started flailing about like a loon. The second was that I realised I couldn’t touch the bottom of the pool, but it didn’t matter because I was treading water with ease. The third was that I blew the air out of my nose and the water came with it. Panic over. I’ve got this. I’m a swimmer, don’t you know!

I was telling someone this story the other day and they said, “You’ll be doing triathlons soon!” I pointed that I can’t ride a bike and they pointed out that I couldn’t really swim a few weeks ago. Touché! I guess that’s the next thing to tackle. But while I’m working on that, I might just take a closer look into the Swim Serpentine event that was in my parkrun newsletter. The half mile is only another four lengths, give or take...

I'll do another blog post soon about the power of coaching, but for now I'll leave this Instagram-post-turned-blog-post with the wise words of Marshall Mathers III - You can do anything you set you mind to, man. I'm proof! (That last bit was me, not Eminem!)

December Reflections: Softness

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When I lived at the flat I loved coming home from work and snuggling up on the sofa under Colin's super-huge, super-soft blanket. It didn't matter whether I was cold, ill or simply just tired; that blanket would be of comfort to me and I know it was its softness was the magic ingredient.

When I moved back home one of the things I really missed was the blanket and not because it was Colin's. I missed surrounding myself in its softness like a cocoon allowing me to rest and rejuvinate in comfort. Mum noticed that I was really fidgety, particularly in the evenings, and I mentioned that I missed 'my' blanket. 

Not long afterwards we had a day out shopping. We were preparing to have a complete overhaul at home and decorate most of the rooms so we were on the hunt for ideas. We found ourselves in Primark (as you do) and I honed in on the Home department. I saw a massive pile of throws and knew before even feeling them that they were just what I was looking for. 
Mum said she would treat me to one so I picked out this soft grey as I had it in my head that my room would be pink and grey when the time came to decorate it. Mum also decided that she would indulge and choose a lovely plum colour.

As a rule my blanket lives on my bed, folded over the end during the warm weather and completely covering it during the winter months. I love to snuggle down under my duvet and pull the top of the blanket over the top so that I can stroke it as I fall asleep. It also makes it down the the living room quite regularly. In fact it's wrapped around me as I type this. I have no doubt that I look like E.T. right now. (Yes, it's even over my head!)
I think it's so important that everyone has a set of tools that they can use when they need a pick me up or a moment of comfort. My blanket is most definitely in mine and probably the one I use the most. 

December Reflections: Biggest Change in 2017

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I've been sitting for days trying to decide what to write for this prompt and nothing was coming to me. 

Last year there were so many changes in my life, many of which were not welcomed, that I struggled to keep up. At times everything seemed so overwhelming, but I had (and still have) an amazing support network around me that I found my way through and felt that I was going into 2017 stronger than ever.

On the contrary this year I feel as if everything come to a halt like I'm sitting in a traffic jam. Part of me has been becoming increasingly frustrated that I'm not reaching my desired destination, while the other part is enjoying the rest that comes with falling into a new routine. 2017, it seems, is a year of contradictions.

I am loving being back at home and enjoy spending much of my free time with mum. I no longer feel that I have lost my independence by moving back into my childhood home and I have accepted that it is highly unlikely that I will be able to afford my own home. Yet I am still plagued with thoughts of my dream home and how I would decorate and furnish it. To placate this feeling I have been working on making my own space as 'me' as possible. 

Work is still a pleasant distraction for me. I enjoy the variety that my role provides. I can hardly believe I've been there over two years and being part of a small team again reminds me of how I felt when I first started at Tropical ten years ago. I feel at home and the team are my work family. I still have much to learn and the thought of a new challenge keeps me enthusiastic on the days when pouring over spreadsheets numbs my soul.

The other aspect of my life that has always been a constant is my guiding. That is probably the biggest change of the year when I think about it. For the first time since becoming a volunteer, I am not attached to a unit. It is both liberating and saddening at the same time. I feel guilty for saying this, but I don't miss it. I do yoga on Mondays and in the New Year I'll be at running club on Tuesdays and choir on Wednesdays. Saying no to being with a unit has meant that I can say yes to giving myself an evening to rest once a week. I am currently feeling very conflicted about whether I am giving enough of myself to Girlguiding at the moment and it's new territory for me. It's something I know I need to explore further and discuss with fellow volunteers. 

Overall I guess you could say that the biggest change for me this year is my new-found acceptance of the turn I have taken on life's path. I am sure my counselling sessions have had a lot to do with this. Now it is the change for 2018 that I am excited for and as I feel increasingly more in control of the things that are to come, I can continue to accept what has already happened. No one knows what the future hold and for the most part our destiny is ours to shape. That is where the fun lies and I looking forward to moulding a future that may not be what I originally planned, but is certainly one that I want and love.

December Reflections: Green

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Back in May I went on a weekend retreat and totally forgot to write about it at the time. With day eight's theme for December Reflections, being 'Green', I thought now would be the perfect time to tell you all about the wonder that is Green Farm Fitness.

I first found out about Green Farm Fitness while reading Psychologies. Not long after I was out for breakfast with my friends and we happened to start talking about retreats and what we had planned for the following year. I can't remember who mentioned Green Farm first, but it turned out Claire had been before and loved it. She was planning to go again so she said she'd dend me the details so that I could join her. I didn't need to be asked twice!

What seemed like many months later we arrived at Green Farm one lovely Friday afternoon and Claire introduced me to Maryann and Kathryn who would be looking after us for the weekend. We were shown to our room at the very top of the house where we relaxed while waiting for everyone else to arrive before.
Dinner was amazing (every meal was home cooked and freshly prepared) and it was lovely to be able to chat to and get to know everyone that first evening. We all had a right laugh and went to bed (way past my bedtime) in good spirits ready for an energetic weekend.
Saturday morning we were all up bright and early for breakfast and then into the forest for cardio and strength circuits. It started off well and despite my level of fitness I was quite impressed with how well I was keeping up. But then came the step ups on, what I now attectionally call, the log of doom. I was just getting into a rhythm when I stepped up, slipped on the log, felt my ankle twist and fell on my arse.

Kathryn made me stick it up in the air few a few minutes so I just lied down on the ground feeling mightily embarrassed that I'd fallen not far from the first hurdle. I took it easy on the rest of the circuits and was happy when I noticed that it had started to feel better.

Once our circuits were complete we had free time so Claire and I went on a mission to find somewhere that sold magnesium sulphate for a nasty insect bite that I got on holiday. Nowhere seemed to have it so I ended up settling for antihistamines and hoping they would do the trick. When we got back I was under orders by Kathryn to keep 'log foot' elevated and for good measure I decided to do the same with 'bite foot' as well.
I was famished by the time we sat down for lunch and the soup and freshly baked bread that we had was exactly what the doctor ordered. After lunch we were all due to go for a walk in the woods, but while we were eating my ankle really began to throb. The adrenaline that has been pumping through my body during the morning session was wearing off and it was becoming obvious that my ankle was not OK as I first thought.

The walk through the woods was the part of the weekend that I had been looking forward to the most so I stupidly decided to ignore the increasing pain and go for the walk. Bad idea! We'd barely been out for five minutes and I was at the back of the group when normally I'd be holding my own pretty well. It hurt so much that I was fighting back tears and I was so annoyed because I thought I'd ruined my chance of doing anything else for the rest of the weekend. Looking back I'm still glad I went though as I got to feed the lambies!
Once we got back we had a short break before our core, yoga and pilates session. I really wanted to do it, but by now my ankle was throbbing so much that I felt physically sick. I took some painkillers and went up to bed so that I could stick it up on a few pillows. I tried to keep it elevated as long as possible, but the pain was so bad that I went on to plan B and decided to sleep through it. Needless to say I missed the afternoon session.

Claire woke me up when she got back, for which I was very grateful as I had booked a massage and there was no way I was missing that. Never had one before and now I have, I don't know why I didn't before. It was amazing and just what I needed to help relax.

Walking was a serious issue now and I tried to stay off it as much as possible, but the sessions for the day were now over and I just had to hope that a good night's sleep would sort it out.

The next day was much the same minus the woodland walk and the massage. After breakfast we ventured back into the forest for circuits where I point blank refused to do step ups on the logs. Nope! No way! Not doing it! I was glad that I was feeling up to doing the yoga session though. Love a bit of yoga, I do. Kathryn was absolutely amazing advising would I should and shouldn't do and giving me suggestions of alternatives. This woman knows her stuff!

As well as the circuits, core sessions, walk and spa treatments that were available, we also had the opportunity to book a review session with Kathryn to look at our fitness and nutrition once the weekend was over. The weekend really was tailored to suit everyone's level and goals.

Despite my mishap, my weekend at Green Farm Farm was absolutely amazing and I would love to go again next year. And even if I don't get back to a fitness retreat as soon as I would like, I'll definitely be heading back to the spa for a massage!

December Reflections: Favourite Photo of 2017

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When I was looking back through my photos from this year (which didn't take long - sadly I don't take as many photos as I used to), there was a recurring theme as I picked out my short list of favourites. They all contained my little pickles, Benjamin and Scarlett. 

I have been very lucky to have spent more time with them this year than I have in previous years and have enjoyed babysitting them when my brother and sister-in-law have been off shooting weddings or Mayor's dinners (they're photographers, not Bonnie and Clyde, by the way). 

I love driving down to Bexhill after work on a Friday evening, giving the little rascals a big squish before they go off to bed, and then spending the evening with my big bro and his lovely missus. We usually just have dinner and watch a film, but as I didn't get to grow up with either of my brothers, any time I get to spend with them now is cherished greatly. Plus by brother has amazing taste in films!

Once the adults are out at work (I still can't quite grasp the idea that I, myself, am an adult), our day of fun begins! This year we've had lots of fun this year celebrating Chinese New Year, going out for pizza, snuggling up in the cinema to see Despicable Me 3 and getting Alexa to fart (sad, but true!) and then I got to spend a week with them in August too.

The photo I have chosen though is not from one of my babysitting escapades or even from our summer holiday in Spain. It is from a day out at Blackberry Farm in Sussex. Gigi and Grandad (aka Caroline and Dad) had been looking after the kids for the weekend and we all decided we wanted to get out of the house as it was a beautiful spring day.

When my brother found out we were taking them to the farm, he made us swear that we would cover them in antibac gel so that they wouldn't pick up any bugs. When we arrived at our destination, I couldn't resist setting up a photo to send to Simon and Abi so show that we had taken their request seriously. It didn't come out quite as well as I'd hoped, but we got a few laughs out of it and it's a reminder of a wonderful day spent in the sunshine having fun.

December Reflections: I Was Challenged By...

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18 months ago my mum and I joined Slimming World. I had been unhappy with my weight for a while and I decided that enough was enough and it was time to do something about it. We went along to our first meeting at the end of June last year, sat through the talk, picked up our books and left ready to commit to our new, healthy lifestyle.

One week later I stepped on the scales to discover that I had lost 5lbs. I was thrilled and it spurred me on for the next week where I lost another 3lb and was awarded Slimmer of the Week. At the end of our first month I was awarded Slimmer of the Month and I was well on the way to losing a stone.

The feeling was absolutely amazing and I felt confident that it would not be long before I reached my target weight and fit back into my favourite dresses.

However it wasn't long before I plauteaued and began to alternate between losses and gains each week. Then Christmas arrived with its advent calendars, mince pies, tins of biscuits and chocolates, roast dinners and alcohol consumption at any time of the day. There was no way I would be counting syns during my favourite time of year. I was going to enjoy all aspects of the festive season. I would renew my efforts in the New Year.

My plateau continued into 2017 with the additional inconvenience of the Christmas weight gain. Up and down each week and then up, up, up...

Then in July I went to see a documentary called Embrace and it changed my perspective on everything with regards to the way I viewed my body. It made me realise that I didn't miss the way my old body looked; I missed what my body was once able to do.

If I'm being honest I've never been totally happy with my body even when it looked amazing (even if I do say so myself). When I look at photos of me at my slimmest, I am also reminded that they were often the times when I was at my unhappiest. Weight loss caused by heartbreak, stress, depression and anxiety made me look great, but inside I was feeling crap. 

I was also a very fussy eater when I was younger. Over the past few years, I have actually started to enjoy eating things I would never have dreamt of even trying in the past. This has been great in the sense that I now eat a much more varied and therefore healthier diet. It also means that I began to put on weight as my body was finally receiving the nourishment I'd never allowed it to have. Combining this with the fact I still love my pizza and have quite a sweet tooth and you can see how I ended up the heaviest I've ever been.

Watching Embrace helped me to understand that I should be grateful for everything that my body allows me to do and to treat it accordingly. This doesn't mean starving it of the things that I enjoy, but to help it to grow in strength. Exercise is what I was missing.

I never thought of myself as particularly active when I was younger, but looking back I walked everywhere because I couldn't drive, I'd dive right into a gym session and I loved my nights out dancing. 

I started to think about back at my recent peaks of activity. In 2015 I spent nearly every day during the summer walking the three miles into work each day. I didn't seem to lose any weight, but when I went back to Rainbows after the break, I noticed that I was finding it easier to join in with the girls.

Then I thought about last summer when I challenged myself to walk at least 10,000 steps a day for a month. I felt fricking awesome and I think it was that feeling that actually made me feel like I could accomplish my goal at Slimming World. I was still walk fairly regularly when I started. Were my achievements in those first few weeks actually down to my fitness regime as opposed to the food optimisation that I spent ages planning each day of each week?

Last month I went to my last Slimming World meeting. Rather ironically my last weigh in revealed that I was back at the same weight that I had been at my first meeting all those months ago. In the end it had been a waste of time and money.

And I think that right there is one of my main issues with programmes like Slimming World and Weight Watchers. You have to pay week after week to stand on the scales and be told what you weigh. It gets shared with the group and if you haven't had the best week, that can make you feel like absolute shit, like a failure. If you aren't able to go one week, then the next time you have to pay not only for that week, but also the week(s) you have missed.

I went to a Prosecco and Positivity evening that my friend held a few weeks back and she explained that everyone has their own set point when it comes to weight. This is why when we diet, we may lose in the first few weeks, but it will nearly always go back on. And this is how companies like Slimming World make their money as many of their customers end up in a continuous cycle of losing, maintaining and then gaining weight. 

Don't get me wrong, I realise that programmes like this do work for some people and that is amazing, but I need a new approach and that has to start with me embracing the body I have, loving it and thanking it for what it can do and then encouraging it to acheive even more.

In 2017 I was challenged by my desire to lose weight and my reason behind that desire. In 2018 I will challenge myself to embrace every part of me. I am who I am and I don't want to go back to being the fussy eater who wouldn't touch a single vegetable on her plate. I want to continue trying new foods and not have to worry about what that might do to the number on the scales. Instead I will work on my fitness and making it a daily part of my life so that I can make my body stronger and more capable.

December Reflections: Best Book of 2017

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I'm going to come straight out and say it. I can't pick just one 'best' book from 2017. It's impossible. There have been so many that I have enjoyed reading. I nearly ended up picking three, but as I wrote about the princess saves herself in this one back in January, I decided I'd keep it to just two books, one fiction and one non-fiction. But that's great, right? You're getting two for the price of one. Bargain!

I'd had the book Running Like a Girl by Alexandra Heminsley for quite a while, but hadn't got around to reading in. In the end I actually downloaded the audio version using one of my Audible credits so that I could listen to it on my daily commute and I'm so glad I did. I think it can be so powerful to hear an author tell the story that they have written, especially when that story is real and not fiction.

Listening to Alexandra tell the story of how she became a runner made me realise that I could actually do it myself despite the fact I've believed since primary school that I'm 'not a runner'. I've always associated running with coming last in every single race I've ever been in, whether it was the egg and spoon race at Sports Day or the 800m in PE at secondary school.  

As an adult I now see it as an opportunity. While I am not yet a runner, I love nothing more than sticking my earphones in, blasting some music, an audio book or podcast and setting off on a long walk. When I'm walking I forget about all my worries and, despite the ache in my legs, it stands me in good stead for the rest of the day. I can only imagine that running gives you a similar, maybe even more intense, feeling. When you are on your own and it is no longer a race; exercise can be a tool to improve your mentality instead of destroy your confidence.

Alexandra's story goes through all of her ups and downs in her journey to become a fully-fledged runner. Her initial belief that she would never be able to do, her growing confidence, self-doubt in the middle of a marathon, injury and even things you wouldn't initially think of like the trauma of shopping for trainers.

Whether you are a runner or not, I think everyone can gain something from Alexandra's enthusiasm and  determination and I would recommend picking up a copy or even downloading the audio like I did. 

Anyone who knows me, knows that I'm a fan of Giovanna Fletcher (I've now met her five times in case you're keeping count) and I have to say I think this is my favourite of her novels so far. 

Some Kind of Wonderful tells the story of Lizzy who embarks on a mission to find herself after her boyfriend of ten years ditches her in the very same moment that he proposes to her. Harsh, right? It's a thought-provoking tale about how much of ourselves we sacrifice in our relationships (not just the romantic ones) and how the people that come into our lives change us.

I'm not ashamed to admit that I cried buckets for the first few chapters as it brought back memories that I had intended to keep well and truly buried, but as the story moved on I found myself cheering Lizzy on and realised that I have been on a similar journey myself the past two years. 

Without giving too much away, I love the way that Giovanna brings characters from her other novels in so seamlessly. You know those moments when you find out that you and someone you've just met have a mutual friend and you realise that the phrase 'It's a small world' is actually very accurate at times. It feels very much like that.

Having said what I have about characters from her other novels, this story is a stand alone one and can be read without have read any of her other ones. I hope Giovanna decides to continue Lizzy's story in the future, but regardless of who the characters are in her next story, I can't wait!
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