Elixir

via Daily Prompt: Elixir

So this is a first – I logged in to write a blog post about Iceland, and all the amazing food we had out there, and saw this ‘Daily Prompt’ title and thought I’d give it a go…

Initially I thought I could link it to that aforementioned Iceland food post – but that would be cheating!

Instead I’m going to write about the green smoothies I’m starting my day with and my addiction to caffeine!

I have – at various points in my life – been told to avoid caffeine. I’ve had caffeine poisoning, from guzzling far too many strong coffees, and had a few periods where my M.E. was terrible and my migraines were unbearable, and the caffeine made it all worse – I wasn’t allergic, but certainly had an intolerance to the magical beans. I’ve since pushed through the pain…

In my caffeine-free days I also had to avoid chocolate – which is NOT FUN – and I did search out caffeine-free chocolate. In one health food shop I found some and was over the moon, until I ate it; it looked like chocolate, it smelled like chocolate, and it tasted like absolutely nothing. Like the inside of my own mouth, with lumps. It was like eating a chocolate scented candle.

In my 30s now, one thing everyone who knows me knows is that I love coffee. Properly LOVE coffee. I’m a revolting snob, I won’t drink instant, and I start my day with two (or seven) strong coffees made with my magical aeropress. Pretty much every day I am tagged on Facebook with some coffee meme or funny story – and my friends have all started getting ‘proper coffee’ at home so I don’t pull awful faces when I visit!

But when I get palpitations, my anxiety ramps up and my sweat smells distinctly of coffee, even I have to admit there’s a problem brewing (see what I did there…) and make some changes.

The change I’ve made began – as with so many of my recent positive changes – in Iceland. As well as some amazing food – which I promise I will blog about next – one thing I really enjoyed was the ‘energy boost’ green smoothie at Blue Lagoon.

We got our hands on the recipe for their smoothie, and made some of our own at home. It’s now the start to my day every morning, sometimes followed by a coffee, sometimes not (and just the one if I do, not bottomless cups) and I’m becoming That Person who raves about her green smoothies making life magically better.

But in my case, I often suffer with low iron, dancing on the edge of anaemia pretty much permanently – so the iron boost I get from this is going to have a positive impact. The bananas I have in mine are full of potassium and goodness, and I’m sure there are health benefits in ginger and apples that I can’t be bothered to google – and it gives me a pack of vitamins, minerals, flavour and energy first thing, and it’s reduced the amount of caffeine I’ve been increasingly dependent on, which can only be a good thing. I’m not going to cut caffeine out of my life, I’ve had to do that before and MAN is it dull, but I’ve cut down – and I’m drinking more herbal teas in the afternoons and evenings.

Spring is a time that a lot of us get more energy and drive, and feel more ready to make positive health changes – I started my diet just after Christmas and have been doing ok, but trips away and indulgent weekends mean I’ve only really lost a few pounds – then been putting the same few back on and off every month. So I’m going to take that more seriously, and this green energy boost to start my day is just part of it. This elixir (see, I’m tying it all back to the prompt!) is part of a bigger picture in which I’m also outside a lot more, going to bed earlier, and have gone back to the gym – where I was pleased with how much I could do as much as I was frustrated with how much I couldn’t compared to last summer.

The Blue Lagoon recipe uses orange juice as a base, and mango in the mix – I changed mine to use water as a base (because the kids had guzzled all my orange juice the first day and I realised it tastes just as good this way!) and I throw in two apples, two bananas, a good chunk of ginger root and a few handfuls of spinach. There’s very little measuring (by which I mean none) and I just poke it around the blender until it’s all smooth (which with my crap kitchen appliances takes ages) and then I feel all smug and healthy and superhuman, even if I am drinking it through a novelty straw.

I live in a body that sometimes feels like it hates me – with constant pain, bloating, and bone-deep fatigue that stops me from functioning at the level I want to. I can’t cure my endometriosis, or my M.E. or even determine if they are separate issues or just different manifestations of the same problem – but I can stop damaging myself more by using caffeine as a prop and actually start to take care of myself, with diet, fitness and being outdoors. I KNOW all these things work, and I know that I feel less unwell when I’m doing them properly – but I also know that when I’m unwell and I’m struggling, I just can’t take care of myself, and I have to ride through the gloom before I start to perk up again, and only when I’m already perking up can I begin to take the steps I need to.

I want to be as comfortable as I can be in this sack of skin and bones that rebels.

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I’ve never been a together girl

When I think of the women I admire, and aspire to be, I think of women who fill a room with their presence, who laugh loud, speak up and engage people. 

Women want to be their friend, men want to…well, be their friend, because why the hell wouldn’t they?! 

These women – the ‘together women’ as I call them – have their shit together. They are smart, talented, witty and confident. They don’t fall when they stumble, they keep going on their way. They brush off adversity, and they power through from dreams to doing, to find success and achievement and reach their goals. They don’t think “I wish” and sit back down, they get up and go. 

I have these women in my life. I love them with a fierce flame, and feel grateful to have their influence in my life. 

I was raised around these women – the strong, successful women who influence the world around them; who change lives, with passion and fight, or with a kind of inner peace that spreads by osmosis. Women who make the people close to them want to be the best version of themselves. 

I am friends with these women; I draw them around me like a safety blanket of power and good. Of strength and kindness. Gentle but immense. 

I also know that the ‘together’ that I see, admire and aspire to isn’t the version of themselves that they see. 

Where I see a confident woman who strides into a room, fills it with warmth and draws everyone to her, I also know that before the door opened she was taking deep breaths and clenching her hands together, psyching herself up first. 

Where I see a smart, witty, brilliant woman heading a growing business empire and attracting all the right attention for the success she so very much deserves, I also see someone who has questioned her decisions over and over and worried she’d fall – but who loved what she was doing enough to never give up. 

And the older I get, the more I realise that for every moment in which the together girl truly has all her shit together, there are many more moments in which she’s trying to, failing to and salvaging the pieces that survived the last drop from the mountain top. For every perfectly groomed moment played out to the crowd, there’s the sweaty palmed anxiety behind the scenes. 

I’ve also realised that for every moment I am panicking that someone might see through my facade to the angsty, madly paddling wannabe I see in the mirror, there’s someone who sees me stride into a room with my bright lipstick, big smiles and a firm handshake – and buys into it. 

For all the times I’ve looked at those other women and dreamed of one day being who they are, perhaps I’ve missed that I already am – and that these snatched moments of appearing to be a together girl is all we get? 

If we can walk the walk and talk the talk, and we can make that room full of people think we have our shit together, are we already there? 

Whether it’s true or not, I feel far more like a true together girl when the lipstick goes on. 


Here I am last week; last week I bought a car. The salesman had a weak handshake and told me I’d been a pleasure to do business with, and admitted he finds confident women a little intimidating. 

I threw up before I went, and had been awake most of the night with stomach cramps and anxiety. He had absolutely no idea that I’d cried for an hour before I did my make up – purely because I had never bought a car from a dealership before! 

I knew my anxiety was ridiculous – but buying this car shows how far my life has come in the past two years, from a position where I was feeling completely lost, in a financial hole and believed I had no way out, to sitting down and making a plan, and sticking to it for two years, building up a business from nothing, clearing debts and improving my credit, all very boring and grown up things, and achieving it. 

So many times I have doubted myself, my abilities to do any of this, whether I’d ever make anything of myself. 

And here I am. My business is going great, I support myself and my children and have a comfortable life, we have a nice home, we do fun things, they get new clothes when they need them – I’m not wealthy of course and the clothes are generally from Tesco, but still! 

And I can see all of that and take pride in it – but I still have moments when I feel like the broken shell who was lost all that time ago, and have to remind myself that she’s gone. 

I am the lipstick wearing, room filling smile with a firm handshake. I am a together girl. I am that woman. 

When I need to be. 

Arriving in Iceland

 

For many years I have longed to go to Iceland – of all the places I wanted to travel, it has forever been top of the list, for a string of reasons which include a childhood fondness for Norse Mythology, and the adventures the Vikings had rampaging around Northern Europe, landing on Iceland and creating a new culture because they’d pretty much made themselves unwelcome elsewhere, and a dream of seeing the magical Northern Lights!

Now, I know that isn’t really how it works – you don’t rock up to Iceland in a silly pom-pom hat and just…see the Aurora Borealis – nobody is that lucky, and the chances of getting the right conditions and a clear sky are slim at best – but Iceland has so much more to offer that when the chance came for me to actually go, I threw myself at it, and set to with my notebooks and travel guides, putting together a list of adventures I wanted to have, places I wanted to visit, and experiences I wanted to share – with, of course, the hope that I’d at least see a glimpse of green dancing in the sky at some point.

Our adventures in Iceland were five nights and six days that felt – in all the right ways – like a lifetime of magic and adventure, and I’ll be sharing different aspects of it over a few blog posts in coming days. Nobody in the world ever has a holiday that looks or feels anything like the way a travel magazine or blog can make it seem – but I think my time in Iceland wasn’t just ‘Travel Blog Good’ it was PHENOMENAL, and we got ridiculously lucky with the way we got to experience the country.

It was my first time – but my lovely man has been a few times before, so was able to help me prepare with the right clothes (thermals, waterproof/windproof coat, a ridiculous pom-pom hat and some very good socks!) and to manage my expectations for the Aurora and seeing actual Vikings.

We set off, after some delay (thanks Storm Doris!) and the first excitement was that the Weasley Twins were on our flight out – and I did get a photo with JamesOrOliver Phelps (both of whom were LOVELY, and who only laughed at me a bit when I was the least cool person who has ever accosted them in an airport) but my hands were shaking so much that you can’t really tell who we are, so I shan’t bother sharing it here! My kids were as excited as I was when I told them, so at least they think I’m cool!

Our plans for the first night were to drive north up the coast to our first hotel – the Borealis Hotel, a ten minute drive from Thingvellir National Park, in preparation for starting there to do the Golden Circle (visiting the main highlights of the famous Icelandic natural springs, waterfalls, geyser and such!) before heading a little further north the following evening for a night in a fancy-schmancy hotel with our own private hot-tub under the stars.

That isn’t quite how that panned out!

The storm we’d left England through was heading north, and it hit Iceland as we arrived, with heavy snow the day we arrived, which made our journey to the Borealis Hotel a little nerve-wracking. The roads were covered in snow and ice, visibility was poor, our hire car was dainty, and the sat-nav was determined to send us up what the locals call ‘summer roads’ – narrow lanes that wind through mountains that aren’t passable in winter, and are in fact closed at all times apart from the height of summer!

After battling through the weather, reversing down a mountain with no visibility, getting briefly stuck in a snowdrift, and finally making it to our hotel three hours later than planned (only getting to the door thanks to a tractor with a plough clearing the way up the drive as we approached!) never have I been more pleased to see a welcoming light!

Once we got inside it was even more welcoming, and the glorious barmaid/receptionist told us that we’d missed dinner and the kitchen was closed, but that she could whip up some carbonara for us if we wanted…we wanted!

A (very) short while later, with a bowl of pasta and a beer inside us, we were too giddy to sit in the bar or head to our beds, so we decided to go outside and – as the clouds had momentarily cleared – do a bit of stargazing, take a couple of photos of the night sky, and play in the snow!

We literally stepped outside and walked a few metres to get behind the main building and as he set his camera up, I stood and looked at the sky. We knew we weren’t going to see the Aurora, because the weather was bad and the predictions for Aurora were pretty poor…only, when I looked up…

“Is that the thing? Am I imagining it or is that green? Because it looks green…”

OH MY GOD!

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Image copyright Alex Speed

Look at it! It’s right there! Just…in the sky!

So he panicked and took photos and got very excited, because it NEVER HAPPENS, and I stood like a useless moron and cried at the skies as the colours danced and span and twirled above us, all shades of green, and the camera caught the reds and every hue in between, and we leapt around like crazy people.

Within ten minutes the clouds had flooded back in, the snow had begun to flurry again, and the Aurora had disappeared – and just as we were ready to head inside, another couple came out with a camera and asked if we thought there was any chance the lights would appear tonight…

A couple of snow angels later we headed inside, drank more beer, then hung our wet clothes on radiators and fell into the most comfortable twin beds we’ve ever known (possibly simply because we were so exhausted!)

The following morning, we awoke to even more snow, and severe weather warnings. Our plans for the Golden Circle were off…and our chances of making it to our hotel for the evening, up in the mountains, with the sexy outdoor hot tub…nope. No way we could get close – the roads that way were closed all day because they were too dangerous in the storm – but there was a chance we might make it into Reykjavik if we left immediately. Well, immediately after the plough cleared the road to the hotel, where we were currently stranded…

 

There is only one ‘main’ road in Iceland – the 1 – it circles the country and though there are some good B roads, they aren’t cleared as often by the ploughs as the 1, and so our route of choice to Reykjavik was the 1 – only, as you see in the image above, our simple, 45 minute direct route was…well, not an option! The main road was closed – high winds made driving across the mountain route too dangerous. We spoke to the police manning this blockade and they said our only option to possibly make it to the city was the coastal road. We asked if it was safe. He said “well, it’s not closed yet!” and with that dubious reassurance, off we went!

You can see all the data here from the weather, road closures and wind warnings from the drive. We battled for hours through a blizzard trying to just get to somewhere we could stay – ideally Reykjavik, but as the day wore on and we seemed to be driving for hours without getting anywhere, we just wanted to be somewhere safe.

We ended up making it to a small harbour town on the south coast called Grindavik. Here we were told that every road was closed, that they might open in the early evening if the storm blew over as it was expected to, but that the next few hours were too wild and dangerous for people to be out in.

We found a tiny, harbour side café where we could hole up for some food and warmth while we waited to see what would happen – and were a little thrilled (once we’d managed to battle from the car to get inside, the wind was so strong I could barely take a step, and his glasses were blown straight off his head and the length of the street before landing, chipped, in a snowdrift!) to find absolutely delicious coffee, and the tastiest lobster soup we’ve ever had – salty, packed with chunky lobster pieces, served with fresh bread and bottomless refills!

We spend a lovely few hours in our safe haven – I wrote in my travel journal and filled up on the soup and coffee, enjoying the sense of adventure and uncertainty. My poor chap enjoyed it a little less as he kept tabs on the weather and road updates and tried to find somewhere we could stay, since we weren’t getting to the hotel we had booked, but with all flights grounded and all roads closed, Reykjavik was full and it took a lot of searching and worrying before we managed to book the last room available in the entire city (in a hotel I won’t link to, because though it was beautiful we got overcharged because of the storm, and had no sleep because the staff clattered around in the kitchen – which was next to our room – until well past midnight and from 5am!)

Eventually, as evening began to fall, the roads were opened between Grindavik and Reykjavik – so we jumped into the car and raced (carefully crawled) up the now surprisingly clear road to the city – and once we’d parked and confirmed we had a bed for the night, we found a safe place to sit and enjoy a well deserved beer!

Our first 24 hours in Iceland weren’t anything like we expected – but what an adventure, what a sense of magic and wonder, what an incredible range of emotions and experiences, and thank goodness for beer and brennivin! (That’s the shot you see above; I can’t really describe what it tastes of, but it’s the Icelandic schnapps that certainly warms you after you get lost in the snow!)

Do the thing 

A little over a year ago, with Christmas approaching and the close of a bloody rough year, I sat in a warm, tiny room across from a kind, tiny lady and cried in a way I never had before. 

The kind, tiny lady was a counsellor. One my GP had recommended, and one I just couldn’t afford. I was working from home, part time, a single parent, getting a divorce, dealing with the aftermath of all kinds of awful things I shan’t bore you with, and had been through the freedom programme, a secondary course by the same providers, and some NHS counselling that pushed me to the absolute edge because the counsellor was so terribly, terribly wrong for my needs. 

Counselling is a thing that so few people will speak about. Counselling is hard, and personal, and private. It’s something we all think we should be embarrassed about needing, or wanting, because surely going means you’re broken?

But that’s not true. I went because I didn’t want to be broken. Because I didn’t want to give power to the idea of being broken. Because being broken wasn’t an option. 

And I went, and cried, and gave the kind, tiny lady a piece of my soul – and she cried and gave back a piece of her own. 

Over a year has passed. Most weeks I have seen the kind, tiny lady. For some of them she didn’t let me pay her. For most I insisted on doing so anyway. She wanted to help me at a time I very much needed her help. I wanted to pay for that, because I refused to be dependent on anyone and I knew paying meant I had to appreciate what we had together. 

I’ve seen many counsellors through the years – my life hasn’t been peaches and cream, and I’ve battled against neurological disorders, poor health, poor choices and a string of shitty people. 

Through the NHS you sometimes get people to talk to. Most are disinterested, overworked, demotivated, and your access to them is limited.

 It doesn’t help.

 The pressure on the service means you wait months for someone, get a slither of them, and begin to see your issues for a moment before it’s snatched away and you’re abandoned to coping alone. 

Because the system is so flawed, doctors will Medicate you to help you through a rough patch, knowing that it’s – at best – a band-aid with no stick, and will do nothing but buy another week before you might be someone else’s responsibility, and the system is why so many young people and sick people and sad people and damaged people and lost people don’t make it.

I won’t lie – there’s times I almost didn’t make it. But I have two babies, and not making it wasn’t an option, and it’s not strong that I made it, it’s just that I didn’t think there was another choice, so I had to. 

But without the kind, tiny lady? No. I quite probably wouldn’t have made it. 

When I handed over some of my soul with wet tissues, tears and a sense of absolute panic, and was given a piece of someone in return. I was saved. I would say she did it. She would say I did. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

For the weeks and months that followed that day there has been a huge journey – and the person who first walked into that room became someone else, but at the same time just showed who she’d really been all along. Some weeks it’s easy, and funny, and light. Others I don’t speak for 24 hours after I walk out of the door. 

Some weeks I skip out to see friends. Others I climb into bed and sleep until I have to parent again. 

Some weeks I am happy to share where I’m at, and others I’m absolutely incandescent with rage I don’t know how to explain. 

Most of it, now, is just life. Most of it back then wasn’t, or at least shouldn’t be for most people. I was broken, and I have spent many months rebuilding myself from the scraps I’d been left with. 

And it’s hard, it’s really hard, and it sucks. But it’s also amazing.

And some weeks I think about how much I pay each week to do this thing, and what I could have bought instead. 

I could have bought a car, or a posh holiday, or a designer outfit, or some really great nights out, or a very expensive prostitute, or a panda bear on the black market.


But instead I invested in myself. 

Each week I have put that money aside, even on weeks when I didn’t really have it to spare – because it wasn’t spare.

 Some weeks I had the choice between that or buying exciting food – and I chose my mind and health over branded cereal because I know the long term benefit is worth it. That I’m worth it. And even putting that into words shows a journey I’ve been on, because the me who first met the kind, tiny lady wouldn’t have ever thought I was worth investing in. 

I began as a background character in my own life and am now a main role in the days I live through. 

Last week the kind, tiny lady set me a task. It’s one I am really struggling to do, and one I’ve put off for months, and one I don’t know how to even start, and I’m writing this blog instead of doing the thing, because it frightens me, because it is looking a bit too closely at the things that hurt the most from the very middle of that part of myself I keep packed away from the general public. 

It’s all well and good keeping parts of yourself from the world in general – but this is a part I keep from myself, and I’m someone who should really be able to connect with it. 

But it’s hard. Even all these months later, it’s hard. 

But I’ve written this now, and walking into that room was hard that first time, walking into that room has been hard many times, speaking there has been hard, meeting the eyes of the kind, tiny lady has been hard, meeting my own eyes in the mirror has been hard – Christ, breathing in and out and just taking another step has been hard. But I did it. I did it, over and over, so I can do this thing too. If I can face my demons, I can face myself, right?! 

Just do the thing. You’re worth it. I promise. 

Here’s to the ones who dream…

Obviously – to those in the know – my title today is stolen from La La Land (AKA the greatest film of all time, ever, since making films began, and if you disagree you’ll have to do so quietly, or I’ll talk at you with a long list of reasons that you’re WRONG)

The song that is strongly expected to win all the Oscars and accolades is ‘City of stars’ – but it’s not The Song. The Song is Emma Stone’s audition song. The Song is the one which talks about how important it is that the world has dreamers, the ones who dream, foolish as they may seem, with hearts that ache and the mess we make.

That ‘we’ in the song makes it burn even more closely to the little girl who lives inside me.

There are two other moments in the film that make it feel all a little bit too real, and made me feel my feelings all visibly on the outside, where people might see. One is when Seb (The Gosling) says dreamers need to grow up because it’s frightening wanting anything good, and then later Mia (Wonderful Emma) says chasing your dreams just hurts too much, over and over.

Obviously I’m paraphrasing – I’m not going to quote the lines word for word – because the important thing is the message.

We all have dreams. There are things we all want from life. And it’s hard to get to them, to achieve them, to reach our goals – but what if – like the flawed moments in these characters as we watch their story unfold – the only thing between us and our dreams is our fear of never reaching them and the hurt that goes along with the trying?

I have dreams. I have the dreams I’ve tried and failed, and I have even more of the dreams I didn’t even jump for because I was so afraid I’d miss and fall.

When I was younger I had one of those dreams (an actual in the night, sleeping one) that I think everyone has at some point – the one where you think you can fly, and jump off a cliff and magically soar above the world like a bird. Only I didn’t fly, I just jumped and plummeted, and when the moment came that I was supposed to soar, I just…fell. And when I think about shooting for my dreams, I wonder if that was prophetic, and because there’s this tiny voice saying “but what if I fail?” I can’t hear the other voices from all the people who said “but what if you don’t?” and I back away from the edge of the cliff, saying “I’ll do it, I promise, just…not today. Not right now.”

I would love to end this with a proclamation that I’ve changed, that I’ll be flying, that I’ll aim for the stars and shoot for my goals and pick some dreams to really focus on…but I won’t say that. Because then I’ll have to come back and say “I promise. No, really, I will…but maybe tomorrow…”

Because, like they said, it’s scary, and it might hurt.

You’re not broken.

For long periods in my life, I’ve felt broken. Broken by things that have happened to me, by the things that other people have done, and said, to me. About me. I’ve felt that I’m shattered into pieces, and don’t know how to carry on, and I’ve felt lost, and alone, and afraid.

In those times, where I’ve felt that I’m simply the dust that once made up a person, with no idea how to put myself back together, I’ve wished for someone or something to walk into my life and sweep me back together into some semblance of a whole.

I’ve sought out a fix, a solution, a magic Fairy Godmother or dashing Prince Charming, to take over and tell me, or show me, how to be whole, and to put my flyaway pieces back into a mould that can form the shape I’m supposed to be.

That sense of loss of shape has given people who didn’t deserve it the power to shape me, to tell me who I should be, how I should be, what I should be. I’ve given far too many people that power over the years, and always felt that the shape I naturally was, my inner self, was all wrong and was letting them all down.

The self I was inside never matched up to the standards they set, and I broke myself even more, snapping off the carefully glued together edges to try to fit myself to what I thought they wanted, what they thought they wanted, under the assumption that their views of me were more right and more important than the feelings and ideas I had for myself.

There are many reasons for this voice inside my head that told me I had to be other. There were many other voices from the people I surrounded myself with backing it up.

Even when I reached the point where I said “ENOUGH” and fought back against those cruel voices, I still doubted that inner voice, and still spent time seeking out the answer, some other voice that I could trust, who would shape me without taking advantage of me, and give me some guidance on the right way to be.

But there isn’t one.

There is no external body, no outer voice, no all powerful being who can give you the answers to who you are, what you are, and what you ought to be.

It’s already there, on the inside, and the answer doesn’t come from a guru, from a gathering, from a friend or a partner or a paid counsellor who can tell you how not to be broken any more, or hold your pieces together for you.

And it’s taken me a long time, and a lot of voices, and a fortune in counselling through various sources, to realise that and recognise it.

To recognise that the only voice that truly matters is the one that was there all along. The one I boxed away, stopped listening to, tried not to hear, and doubted all my life.

Among the many voices saying “no” or “you can’t” or “you’re actually no good at that” there is just one quiet voice, who never shouts, who never argues, who never hurts. It’s the smallest of the voices, and the one I’ve heard the least throughout my life.

But she’s the one who matters.

The one who says “maybe not, but how can we know for sure unless we try?”

The one who rumbles in my gut when something seems a little off, but I’ve always done it for the sake of someone else, only to be hurt by the doing.

The one who knows me, best of all.

That inner voice is the one I need to learn to listen to the most – the one I need to trust. Because despite the many years of being ignored, questioned, battled and shut down, that voice is the only one who has never guided me wrong.

If that voice wants it, it’s the right thing. If that voice doubts it, I’ll get hurt. If that voice questions it, I need to look at why.

And  the idea that someone or something external needs to enter my life to give it meaning and paste together the dust I became when I fell apart doesn’t exist. All that exists is the knowledge that, really, deep down, I was never broken anyway. I might have shrunk, I might have hurt and been afraid, I might have doubted – but I never broke, because every day, no matter what, no matter how hurt or how afraid, I got up and did the day anyway. Sometimes just the bare basic necessities, but I did it. It might have taken time to get there, but I always protected myself in the end. It might have been hard and I might have been lost on the way, but I always found the path.

That voice has always been there, and no matter how small, that me has always been whole – and the only thing that broke was my ability to see it.

The only thing that has ever truly been broken by everything I’ve lived through is my ability to hear that tiny voice, and act on the things it says.

Even very recently I was still hoping for “a real grown up” to tell me what I need to do, and how to do it. But I sat in my little home this evening and I realised that I’m already doing it, every single day, and more successfully than I give myself credit for. And rather than thinking of all the things I’m not achieving, and the things I failed at, I looked at what I have done, am doing, and can do, and I realised that I’ve never been broken, and the only thing getting in the way of me achieving even more and reaching the goals I dream of for my life is me; the only block in my path is the blinkers I wear, and the way my inner self puts her fingers in her ears and shouts “lalalalala I CAN’T HEAR YOU” when that other tiny voice tells me what it is I need to hear.

Sometimes that little voice is critical – but when it is, it’s just because I need it to be.

Sometimes that little voice wants to celebrate, and I shut it down, as if being proud of myself is somehow shameful – but that shame doesn’t come from my own voices, it comes from all those others – and there’s a reason the people they echo aren’t here in my life right now.

I’m not broken. I never was. And the only shape I should be, when I’m building my true self, is the one that was there all along.

So that’s what I’m doing. This little voice, and me. Because we’re ok.

What are you reading?

For Christmas one of the gifts I got for the man who puts up with me was a book club. I chose a book to begin the year, and made a leaflet to go with it, explaining the ‘rules’ of our exclusive book club; we’ll take turns through the year to choose one book a month, and read it at the same time, and talk about it, talk about what we liked and didn’t, try new genres that we don’t ordinarily read, try out new authors, expand beyond the ‘reading rut’ we both found ourselves in.

Reading is something that I’ve always taken enormous pleasure in. Until I started talking about, and sharing, books with him I had let reading slide out of my life. I hadn’t realised how little I’d been reading, and how much I’d been missing it, until we were talking about favourite books one day. He’ll never forgive me for making him read ‘A prayer for Owen Meany’ – a John Irving book that I maintain is truly excellent, but which he absolutely detested – and the debates we had about it sparked the idea for the book club, because we laughed so much and got into such heated conversations, and it reignited my passion for reading.

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In the last few months of my marriage, and once it had ended, I wasn’t reading at all; this is very unusual for me, someone who often has half a dozen books on the go at the same time, depending on what room I’m in, and who used to drive teachers, parents, friends and bosses mad because I’d drift off mid-conversation or task and be found reading somewhere when I shouldn’t be. (A trait I see in my own children, particularly Jellybean who, at seven, has to have torches and books removed from his bed an hour after bedtime most evenings!) and though life had settled down I struggled to get my reading mojo back.

But that Owen Meany conversation was the beginning of a rejuvenation, and since then I’ve found myself back in the swing of obsessively devouring books a handful at a time – aided by the man who puts up with me getting me a Kindle Paperwhite for my birthday – which I still think was more a gift for him than for me, because I can read in bed without the lamp on and he can go to sleep like a normal human while I “just finish one more paragraph/page/chapter…” – I almost always fall asleep reading and now the Kindle will just quietly turn itself off, and there’s no lamp blaring all night disturbing anyone’s beauty sleep!

So the world’s most exclusive book club was born – and I had first choice. The book I picked for January was way outside my usual go-to genres of fantasy or historical fiction, and I opted for Gregg Hurwitz’s thriller, Orphan X – and couldn’t put it down.

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The first in what’s going to be a series, Warner Bros. are looking to buy the movie rights and are looking to cast Bradley Cooper as ‘Orphan X’ Even Smoak, aka ‘the nowhere man’ – and I can see why they’re so keen. Smoak is a very humane assassin, trained since childhood, who gets caught up in a series of ever more dangerous attempts on the life of his latest client, and on himself, breaking down his barriers and encroaching on the secret identity he’s built, leaving him wondering who he can and can’t trust. There are twists and turns, drama and heartache, real emotion on a level you wouldn’t ordinarily see in a character who is trained as a ruthless killing machine, and it’s a story with a lot of depth and excitement.

The next book in the series is out at the end of this month, and we’ve already discussed whether it should be February’s book club choice – but I thought that would make it too easy for him to choose so vetoed it simply to make his life more complicated! I’m nice like that…

But I have another five months of this year to choose book club books for – and a lot of time between them to cram with anything else I can get my grubby hands on to – so I’m looking for recommendations for the books you love most, the books you’ve read most recently, the authors you can’t wait to hear more from, and anything else you want to wave at other people, yelling “read this, read this, read this!”

Comment below with your top recommendations – and get a copy of Orphan X as soon as you can, trust me!