Back in February 2016, on the 25th of February, I started a blog, this very blog.
I wanted to for a while but my then boyfriend kept discouraging me, arguing that I had nothing to say.
So, just after our break-up and a series of other unfortunate events (which I wrote about at the time), I started “What I learned before I turned 30”, a personal journal sharing what I learned so far in life, a few months just before I turned 30, which actually has helped me (and it still does) to make sense of what was happening at the time and helpfully reassure others that they are not alone, we all struggle in life.
A few years later, I decided to change the name of the blog, since I had already turned 30 and it didn’t make sense anymore. At the time I thought it was a good idea to name it ‘Eleni’s world’ since it was more autobiographical and a mix of different things, and honestly I couldn’t think of a better name.
A few days ago, whilst pondering how to make more time for myself and things I enjoy doing, before I turn completely crazy and exhausted from life, running around like a headless chicken, I had an epiphany.
Why don’t I name my blog ‘Lessons I learned after I turned 30’?
I haven’t been posting as often lately, though I really want to and I’m planning to, and giving the blog a revamp and a more specific identity can movitate me to do that.
So here it is. The new name of my blog.
Lessons I Learned after I turned 30, let it be English or Life lessons, lessons from my travels, personal and work life.
It often comes to my mind, that, when I was in high school, I’d regularly get upset about the fact I couldn’t accurately, and in the way I truly wished, articulate my thoughts and opinions when writing essays. There was always a barrier. There was always something missing.
Years later, when I started putting my thoughts on paper (and later on a blog) it somehow became easier, as if I was released from whatever kept my expressive side blocked and silenced. And I feel that’s how talking about mental health evolved over the years not just for me, but for the rest of the world too.
Although I studied psychology for my first degree, even then, about 18 years ago (I’m almost 36, to save you from the trouble of calculating my age), there was a stigma about it. Not many (if any) would openly admit they suffered from depression, or anxiety, or autism, or bipolar disorder, or panic attacks, as it was considered a weakness or pure ‘insanity’. You would only see a psychologist if you were ‘crazy’.
After living in the UK for 10 years, having volunteered for a mental charity, having written about depression and anxiety myself, seeing, listening and reading about people openly sharing their feelings and troubles, witnessing mental health organisations growing in numbers and popularity (NGOs such as the Samaritans or Mind or social enterprises like the brilliant Touch I used to volunteer for) I was under the impression things would have progressed in Cyprus too, not to the degree they did in the UK, but certainly to some extent.
Surely by now people would have realised that is as important (if not more) to look after their mental health the way they look after their physical health. If you break your leg, you’d go to the doctor, if you are paralysed from anxiety, you’d go to a psychologist, right? Not to mention the effects of the digital era, as well as the global pandemic on mental health, and the fact that we are all busy, all the time. One day we’ll reach to a point we’ll have no time to breathe (just writing about it stresses me out) .
A few days ago, whilst enjoying a coffee on my own at a local cafe, I was brainstorming ideas on what organisation I can volunteer for, and I was unpleasantly surprised to discover after looking up mental health NGOs to volunteer that there aren’t really any on the island!
Why is that? Is it because there’s still stigma around mental health here? Are people here still in denial about the importance of looking after your mental wellbeing? Are they scared to admit when they are struggling? Do they still perceive sharing your feelings as a weakness (it’s one of the hardest things to do actually and it shows strength and character, a brilliant example of the power of vulnerability as Bene Brown eloquently talked about it a few years ago https://youtu.be/iCvmsMzlF7o) ? Is it because there isn’t enough interest by locals or psychologists?
I have been talking about it with a few friends and colleagues lately and I’m still baffled why that is and I wish I had the means to set up a mental health NGO myself, just to make a start.
For now I can’t, but what I can do is continue to talk about mental health with friends, family and strangers, because every time I do, someone would relate to and share their own experiences (which I love to hear about, everyday human stories are so powerful in so many ways) and that’s a clear sign that any outlets to talk about mental health struggles with others in a safe, non-judgmental environment, where you can also receive relevant advice and/or training on how to identify signs or symptoms of a person suffering would be of great benefit.
Who knows, maybe we can soon start a movement and change things up on the island, at least when it comes to mental health!
Wrapped up in a blanket on my sofa, Friends playing in the background, the Christmas tree lights warming up the place, I’m re-reading my New Year wish for 2021 and I can’t help but think how lucky I truly am to be surrounded by people I love at home and at work, proud of what I achieved over the last 12 months and the fact that my friends, family and I we are healthy and safe.
Most of us found 2020 challenging (to say the least) but not many thought 2021 was going to be equally bad if not worse than 2020.
The year didn’t quite start off on the right foot. Locked inside again, like a caged animal, I knew, as the majority of the planet did, what to expect, which somehow made it less tolerable than the first time I experienced a lockdown. This time nobody tried a lot of new things, nobody aspired to become a home chef, we were all sick and tired of this situation.
I felt restless, eager to get out and I still carried the weight of the previous lockdown (s), as most of us did and I turned into healthy eating and exercising. I feel as humans we desperately needed it.
Yoga with Adriene 30 day revolution definitely helped to keep me mentally stable in January and somehow after that the year just flew by.
Although I spent almost half of the year in lockdown, looking back I feel I achieved a lot and grew workwise and personally.
On a personal level, although I admit I didn’t manage my work-life balance well and didn’t have much free time for myself, I rediscovered my love for running, I met the ambassador of Austria, I started dating again after years of avoiding it, I met amazing humans, I caught up with friends I hadn’t seen for years and I made new friends I already love, I took part in a week long sustainability challenge which helped me realise how much more I can do to protect the planet, after years of thinking about it and wanting it I finally got braces so I can fix my smile, I had a great summer and Christmas with friends and loved ones and lastly, I flew again, this time to beautiful Leuven with my best friends and sisters. God I felt so alive and happy to be able to travel again!
On a professional level, well I spent most of my time working and though exhausting at times, I learned A LOT, way more than I expected in a year. I ran focus groups, designed surveys, interviewed people, wrote and published articles and reports, organised an (online) event, I closed off a project, produced a serious board game, created 2 modules, hosted a transnational project meeting and almost met the Pope, amongst other things. I love my job and my colleagues, despite the heavy workload!
At some point in the year I went through a major anxiety crisis, during which I almost stopped eating completely and I was in pain because of it for a month. After that, I promised myself I’ll never let it go that far.
I don’t regret anything but I do wish I savoured and enjoyed everyday life more than I did and stressed less. Because it doesn’t really matter what you or I or anyone else achieved.
I feel everyone needs to hear though that if the only thing you did in 2021 was trying to survive, that’s an achievement in itself and you should be proud of it.
I’ve been reading Derren Brown’s Happy again, which I’ve recommended to all my friends already and it reminded me that as humans we don’t need much to be happy if you ignore the artificial needs marketing firms have been creating for years. We just need health, love and to keep growing.
My New Year wish is, consequently, similar to last year.
Keep growing and learning as a human, try new things, keep moving on but above all enjoy moments, love and be loved, and make memories with special people. And travel every now and then.
And I hope I make it back to my second home I miss more and more as time goes by, the UK and give all my friend there a tight hug.
On my way to work a few days ago I noticed a guy enjoying a bite of his sandwich. He looked so content, truly happy he had his breakfast whilst walking down town and I felt a bit jealous. I wish I was that happy.
Last November I wrote about this disturbingly confusing state of mind, not feeling myself (you can read about it here). I never would have thought that almost 8 months later, I’d still feel lost and not that happy.
I’ve been meaning to write about it for a while, hoping it will help my brain to at least attempt to make some sense out of it but all I could produce were interjections of confusion and desperation (e.g. AAAAHHHHH), but I’m now at a place I can better articulate my thoughts.
Have you ever experienced heavy turbulence on a plane? Holding on tight, scared to death but not able to do anything, that feeling of having no control?
That’s how I’ve felt for a while, intensified by the recent pandemic. I feel I can’t plan anything, I have no free time for myself, hell sometimes I feel I have no time to think. I’m stuck and I’m not sure what’s the best way out because I just don’t feel I’m in control and my confidence also went down a notch.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for what I have, a job, a place to live, my friends and family, my loved ones. I’m happy for these.
But I know I can and want to do more and the lack of me-time and inability to make any firm plans or big changes at the moment are feeding my misery.
So what can I do? Well, focus on what I can control for now and work on improving myself on all fronts in order to make moving forward in a turmoil easier. So here’s one of the things I did.
I recently got braces.
‘How come you decided to do that at this (*late) age?’ a colleague asked.
I was taken aback. I didn’t expect such a question. I guess because I wouldn’t ask something like that and I wouldnt expect someone as open-minded and liberal as him ask such an old-fashioned in a sense question. Do only kids get braces? Does getting braces have an age limit? Does anything really have or should have an age limit?
‘It’s not just for aesthetic reasons, it will also help my bite, it was needed to be done’, I said. I didn’t want to point out the obvious, that the question was not appropriate, or share my deepest insecurities with a stranger, that I always hated my crooked tooth and the side gap I had and I’ve been wanting to fix it for years but couldn’t afford it or the timing wasn’t right.
It’s been almost two months now and I don’t enjoy wearing braces, they are not the prettiest and are QUITE uncomfortable, they need constant cleaning and looking after. I can’t wait to take them out. Weirdly, though I hate them I also like them, because at least I have something to look forward to and that helps.
Getting braces isn’t the only change I made or going to make, but it’s just an example of how doing something with an ‘end date’ , (especially in time like this when uncertainty is part of our life and noone knows when this horrid situation will end), can help you move forward or feel a bit less stuck at least.
PS. Here it’s me with braces, in case you were wondering.
I first opened my eyes at 6am. My head still hurt from the day before and the feeling of exhaustion still lingered.
No, I didn’t have a wild night out drinking and dancing. That’s not my cup of tea, though I wish I did for once (I actually missed one of my dearest friends’ birthday party, which I feel devastated about) but instead I suffered one of my occasional migraines, which blurs my vision and keeps me paralysed in pain, lying down in a dark spot until it goes away.
I’m not surprised this God Almighty migraine happened when it did though. When my mind and body are working overtime for a while as soon as I get a minute to relax, my body doesn’t miss the opportunity to let me know I overdid it and I need to slow down. And it does that in the worst, most painful way possible, quite often a migraine.
Lately I had close to zero time to myself (other than my morning running and/or yoga), I haven’t made a Love to Learn English mini-lesson for a few weeks, I haven’t played the guitar for a while, I had to cancel some of the my English lessons and some days I hadn’t even had time to think, especially this last week. By the way congratulations to my little sister for getting her Maths degree. I’m glad I made it to her graduation!
Why am I writing about a migraine? Because ever since I moved back I often forget that I shouldn’t succumb to social pressure and I feel it A LOT back in Cyprus. It’s as if people don’t know how to be by themselves and there is always something to do. I’m still not used to being back, let alone adapting to this life, particularly now that lock-down is over (for the foreseeable future anyway) and what really helps me in busy and stressful periods is having time to myself, rest and have time to figure things out.
I just need to remember I don’t need to go out or do something every day and I not just want, I NEED to remember to make time for myself, otherwise I will keep losing myself and damage my physical and mental health.
So today’s advice from a struggling-with-stress-still-figuring-life-out-but-also-already-learned-a-lot 35 year old is ALWAYS remember to make time for yourself, there’s nothing wrong with declining an invite or postponing a lesson and having an evening to yourself.You need to look after yourself and devote time on your wellbeing, in whatever way it works for you, a relaxing pampering afternoon, reading a book, a walk in nature, anything that gives you peace of mind . And don’t worry about your friends, if they love you, they will understand.
There’s a Greek saying (which may originate from other countries) that loosely translates to
” Whatever you do on New Year’s Day, you’ll do all year around”.
I’m not superstitious at all but after the year the whole planet has endured and considering I spent the last few days of the year and New Year’s Day lying down weak and in pain , I certainly hope this one never comes true.
Last days of 2020…
A couple of days before the end of the year I got food poisoning. It only happened to me once before a few years ago but it wasn’t nearly as bad as this time. I threw up all night and the following day I just couldn’t move because even the tiniest movement made me nauseous.
On Day 2, New Year’s eve the nausea went but my stomach still hurt and I had almost no energy left in me, just enough to move from the bed to the sofa. It took me 10 mins to go for a pee and make it back to the sofa. During these difficult times, Oscar, the family’s guardian angel just laid on my feet, looking after me.
It was still a fun day, the whole family together (most of us struggling to stay awake after the tiresome couple of days each of us had) watching Christmas films, playing board games and having a laugh together. We made it to 12am and cut our vasilopita (New Year’s cake traditionally made in Greece and Cyprus, which contains a hidden lucky coin. Whoever finds it would be lucky all year, apparently.) but none of us found the lucky coin yet.
First day of 2021
On New Year’s Day I felt better and my stomach only hurt a little but I was still weak to move further than the living room. I just watched Yoga with Adriene’s first day of the 30 Day January Yoga Revolution, watched a few more films and had a little bit more food than the day before (dad turned on the foukou/Cypriot BBQ).
Yesterday I finally felt I could move and get out of the house, but after my morning walk with Oscar, I realised I wasn’t well enough to venture further than that.
I did however the Day One 48 min yoga session and it just felt amazing. Honestly, it’s humbling and moving to know that thousands of people across the world devote the time to themselves to do the session and at the same time I’m doing it, the chance is my friends as well as strangers are doing the same. I’ve written about Yoga with Adriene, a lot, if you want to find out more, you can do so here.
My 2021 New Year’s Wish
I decided a few years ago that making resolutions for the new year doesn’t and has never really worked for me. It only leads to unnecessary disappointment, plus I firmly believe you can make a new start at any time in the year. So since then I just make a wish for the New Year. (2019 Wish,2020 Wish).
2020 has been challenging (to say the least) for the whole planet. Never have I ever in a millions years thought that the entire world would be locked inside for months, queuing at the supermarkets wearing masks, people dying off a global pandemic and all that during my first year of teaching English and living abroad.
After a pretty tough couple of months, teaching full time and a short break visiting my best friend in Barcelona, I had to (as well as thousands of other teachers across the world) learn how to teach online in three days and continued to teach online for months. For a first year, newly qualified teacher, it was a hell of a task, but I managed. I made a series of vlogs on how I dealt with the pandemic, I read, I drew, I even spoke to BBC World and BBC Solent about it. Being in Italy in March 2020 was just surreal.
After a heavenly few days exploring the South of Italy and two horrible days of travel amidst the pandemic I made it back home to Cyprus and enjoyed the summer, for a while, travelled across the island, started my Kopiaste vlog and blog until the nightmare of having to find a job and survive for now until the bloody virus goes away kicked in.
All that happened whilst I was and I am still trying to adapt to living in Cyprus for the foreseeable future, dearly missing life in the UK, travelling and trying new things.
I’m lucky though I have great friends and family who have always supported me either nearby or from a distance and I’m sure it will all work out in the end, it has to.
So my wish for 2021? Beside health, physical and mental, which for all of us has been a great challenge in 2020 in one way or another, I hope you feel and give love, do what you love and love what you do (being stuck in a horrible job is miserable enough as it is, let alone during a pandemic, but if you can’t quit for financial reasons, I hope you find ways to survive it, that’s what I did a few years back), I hope you don’t compromise and fight for what’s right and noble (that’s often the hardest road to take), let your creativity juices flow and above all enjoy life, enjoy the little things, that’s what life is after all, little moments.
PS I also hope we soon get to travel again. Life is just not the same without it.
I put the bread in the toaster, put the saucepan on the hob and whilst stirring I was instantly distracted… thinking of the day I had, the great people I met, friends I’m seeing this week after a long time, worrying about things, how fast time goes, life and then suddenly, the smell of the forgotten, almost burnt toast…
And just like that I was back, back in my great grandma Annou’s home. I must have been around 6 or 7 years old, I had just started school and I loved it. I loved my teacher, who had the same name as me, Mrs Eleni Iakovou, my uniform, my new friends, I loved learning, I loved everything about it. But what I loved most was my afternoons with my favourite cousins Georgia and Andreas and my dear dear grandma Stella who never hid the fact that I was her favourite grandchild.
Every day, before going to giagia Stella we’d pop to giagia Annou first who permanently lived on the first floor of her house. She was, in her nineties, too old for those old creaking stairs to be going up and down, so she stayed in this big room, full of her favourite things. She had a little old toaster right next to her and what I remember most of her was offering us toast every time we went to see her. And the toast, almost always slightly burnt, but not quite. That’s how I like my toast to the day.
My mind then wandered to my grandma Stella. I spent most of my time with her until she died when I was 9. I remember her making me chunky, delicious, greasy fries when I didn’t want to have the healthier lunch my parents prepared for me.
I remember the smell of roses. The smell of the rose water she often asked me to sprinkle her hair and face with on those hot, summer days, back when air conditioning was not common in every house. I remember how I loved to smell my hands afterwards, the delicious, sweet smell of roses, that I love so much I can’t use any other smell for my perfume, because it will always remind me my time with my grandma.
I only have an old, half-ruined from a flood picture of us together, still in my school uniform, happily, proudly kneeling next to her, smiling.
I smiled. And then I cried. I cried tears of nostalgia but also joy, gratefulness, love.
Blessed I was so dearly, unconditionally loved by my great grandma, my grandma, my cousins. Blessed I had an amazingly, crazy childhood full of smells, food, love, adventures, bruised knees, dirty clothes from playing outside, people, beautiful, pure, kind-hearted people.
I finished dinner and sat on my guitar for hours. Playing the same song, again and again.
Let these fools be loud, let alarms ring out, ’cause you cut through all the noise…Bring me some hope, by wandering into my mind, something to hold on to, morning, noon, day or night. You are the light that is blinding me, you’re the anchor that I tie to my brain, ’cause when it feels, like I’m lost at sea, you’re the song I sing again and again, all the time, all the time, I think of you all the time…
And that’s how I put all the worrying, stressful, painful thoughts aside for a night.
Whatever the future holds for me, I’ll always have the memories and I’ll always have my loved ones, the light blinding me, the anchor that I tie to my brain.
Yesterday was a long but exciting day. It was my first day working with a new team in Academic Services (exciting projects coming up!) and when I got home I was exhausted.
I thought that was the perfect opportunity to finally try the handmade bath treats sent to me to test and review by a new local business, Sabão. Nisha, the lovely owner sent me a pretty, colourful little package with a couple of bath bomb and body butter samples I received at the weekend. As soon as I opened the box I fell in love. The scents were just magical.
So after my day 10 yoga session and quick dinner I lit some candles, I’ve put a relaxing Spa Music playlist on Spotify and I got in my filled with hot water and smelling like I’d imagine heaven would smell like bathtub.
As you may know, I’m obsessed with smells so I chose to go for the one I liked the smell the most first. It was a tough choice but I went for the West Indian Amyris & Egyptian Geranium one. That’s exactly how I’d thought Ancient, Exotic Asian baths would have smelled.
Honest to God, I do not remember the last time I felt so relaxed. The scents, the music, the tranquil sound of the water, the candles and their reflection… I’ve created my own, personal home spa and it was pretty special.
I’ve never tried a bath bomb before, I tend to go for bubble bath foams or soaks mixed with sea salts so I didn’t know what to expect. But I absolutely loved it.
As soon I got out of the bath my skin smelled incredible and felt as soft as silk (unlike other bath products that sometimes leave my skin dry, Nisha uses essential oils in her bath bombs, which makes a huge difference.)
I tried some of the organic raw shea butter afterwards purely because I wanted to see how it smelled on my skin and I can’t even put in words how amazing it did smell.
I honestly think everything I tried was worth more than their actual price.
As you know I’m not a professional blogger and I don’t get paid to write this, so this is my personal opinion.
For someone who is enchanted by smells, like myself, my home spa evening was an incredible experience.
If you want to find out more on Nisha’s story and support a local business whilst treating yourself to luxurious bath bombs and other handmade, organic skincare goodies all details are on their website.
Thank you lovely lady again for the amazing treats you sent me. I absolutely loved it. I can’t wait to try the rest.