Some days are harder than others. Some days your mental (and sometimes physical) energy is just drained by all the meaningless, pointless tasks that just had to be done.
It’s mind-blowing the amount of time we waste on little and not so little things because of others, either because they are disorganised, ‘last minute’, ‘idea but not action’ people and so on, or because of… well, life, chores, responsibilities, expectations.
On those days (Monday often is one of them), what matters is, to find the strength to do at least the bare minimum, if you can, so you keep up with what’s really important to you.
I used to be horrible at this. I gave up too easily and when I felt like that, I just wanted to lie down on the sofa, staring at the ceiling, but lately I tap into my newly discovered persistence to not let nuances interfere with what I really want to do and not allow anything to keep me down.
For example, although I love running and yoga, some mornings I wake up exhausted and I feel I barely have any energy to walk, let alone exercise. But I still do it, I might go slower, run for less time, do an easier yoga session, but I get it done. I also love reading, so on a busy, stressful day, when I don’t have much time left before bed to read, I try to read at least a page or two, so I feel I’ve had a few moments for myself to do the things I truly enjoy.
Same goes for these Mental Health Mondays posts. I hoped I’d be able to write every single Monday, and I soon realised I couldn’t, but I still post every now and then,to show that it’s OK to just do something, as it’s always better than nothing(but don’t confuse this with time to rest, relax and do nothing, that’s different, and ESSENTIAL).
January is tough enough as it is, life slowing down after the hype of the Christmas holidays, but this January was just… overwhelming.
It started badly, well horribly actually. On the 4th of January, our beloved family friend Doros was beaten to death, brutally murdered. I’ll write about it when I get the chance and I can handle the emotional pain that takes to describe how we this wonderful human being, an angel on earth, had a truly horrific tormented death.
After that, a combination of really cold weather, which caused my knee muscles to hurt when I ran, so I stopped running for a few weeks (I miss the mental clarity and hype I get during and after a run, and the sense of achievement), running low on money and confidence, going through a stressful period at work, leading to tough realisations I need to deal with soon-ish, and an overall feeling of mental exhaustion made January hard to navigate.
Of course there were a few positive highlights. Yoga with Adriene’s January 30 day yoga kept me going, even on days I felt I couldn’t possibly make it, and my Surviving January calendar, with little every day activities to do to cheer me up, as well as precious time with friends, family and loved ones.
I also started a daily journal, in an effort to help myself remember what I do, since anxiety can literally erase memories, I have huge blanks from previous years because of it.
We are now in the middle of February, and there’s a lot going on, I’m working on a few things, building up my confidence, and pushing hard for a better future, whilst also finding my feet again. I continue my yoga, my daily journal, and a few other things I’d like to write about like my lean in circle powerful, inspiring ladies, and the Women Fit 4 Business programme I got in, I just need to make time to sit down and write, and get back to running again, because both of them are vital for my mental wellbeing. I also haven’t played the guitar in months, which saddens me and makes me wonder whether why, since I loved it so much, and I still do, but I never seem to find the energy or the mood.
There’s a lot of issues I need to explore, but my primary aim for this year is to keep raising awareness about the importance of mental health for all aspects of our life and to also help in practice as much as I can. So cheers to that!
I don’t really know how to start this blog. I find it hard even writing about it.
Last Monday, our baby dog of 13 years, Oscar, who would sit next to us and comfort us when we were ill or sad, who was a genius when it came to stealing food (including opening the fridge!) but would let other dogs bite his nose off, the family’s favourite companion, who’d do anything for love and affection, died.
He was old, I knew that, we all did, but as much as we kept reminding ourselves, we didn’t want to believe that he might die soon.
Even in his last couple of days, he didn’t want to overburden or cause any more pain to my parents.
On Monday morning, my mum messaged me, whilst I was at work. Oscar hadn’t been eating that much lately (his teeth were not in the greatest condition due to his age), though he’d still eat anything he could chew, but on that day he ate almost nothing. And that wasn’t the worst symptom. His legs gave up and he couldn’t move at all.
At this point, I felt that it might be the end. My heart kept beating faster and faster, I felt my blood freeze, and I could barely keep it together. I told my mum to let my sister Stella know, and take him to the vet.
Stella took our baby with my dad to the vet. She called me an hour later. ‘Are you on your own’? She asked.
As soon as she said that, I realised what happened.
He died in her arms, just outside the vet’s office. As the vet poignantly noted ‘You brought him to me when he was a puppy 13 years ago for the first time, and today you brought him back for the last time’.
Needless to say, we were and still are devastated about it. We all loved him to bits and we are trying to deal with his death each in our own way. His passing inevitably triggered painful memories of other loved ones’ deaths over the years, which makes it even harder to deal with.
I keep replaying what happened on Monday, in my mind, until my brain accepts the fact that he died. Some days I feel more sad than others, other days I’m just forgetful and irritable.
There’s no right or wrong when it comes to grief. And it makes no difference whether a human or a dog died, or whether you grieve the end of a relationship, friendship or any other end.
Oscar for us was a member of the family, who we love more than a lot of other humans.
We feel grateful and blessed we got to enjoy his unconditional love and affection for 13 years, and his death was as less traumatic as it could have been. My parents were worried he might die at home, my sister Stella worried that he might get gravely ill and she would have had to make the horrific decision whether to euthanise him, and my little sister Anna was worried he might have died as soon as she had left for her studies a year ago. Thankfully none of this happened. He loved and cared about us until the very end.
We love you our lixi (‘greedy’ when it comes to food, in Greek), now and always. Thank you for making our life more fun and colourful, thank you for all your cuddles and all the adventures we’ve been together. You will forever be the 6th member of our family.
I’m at the local park, getting ready to take part, with a few more hundred (mostly professional level) running enthusiasts, in the ‘Eurolife, Run the Park with Us’ run. My other half, who’s been training for a triathlon for the last month or so, went to find his coach and do a warm-up and I went for a wander, to check out the setting.
All I could focus on was the trained bodies, the muscles protruding around me and the pro gear most had. I even felt undedressed, if that’s ever possible.
‘What on earth am I doing here? Why did I decide to run the 10k? I don’t belong here.’
That’s what was on my mind ever since I switched from 5k to 10k. I had only run 10k twice before that day, and I felt I could probably do it, depending on the route, but I was worried I’d come last. That was my biggest worry actually until probably a few days before the run. I decided to embrace my worries and fears though, and go for it.
What’s the worst case scenario? What if I do come last? Why does that worry me that much?
It comes down to our innate tendency to avoid situations that might make us feel vulnerable, exposed, hurt, physically or mentally. So I knew I had to fight this urge.
I had recently rewatched Brene Brown’s infamous Ted Talk about vulnerability and her recent Netflix show ‘Call to Courage’ (I highly recommend both!) and I reminded myself that unless you push yourself to feel vulnerable, then you can’t really show courage and you can’t go far in life.
You need to make vulnerability part of your everyday life, get used to that uncomfortable feeling of showing your emotions, looking for a better job, asking for a better salary, being completely honest with your loved ones, letting people see your true self and above all, your feelings.
So I went for it. For a while I thought I was last, I couldn’t see anyone behind me, but I didn’t pay any attention. About half way through I bumped into an ex-colleague who kept cheering me on. That boosted my morale, as the route was not easy (but it was really beautiful, amongst trees and plants, and panoramic views). So many hills, up and down, and running on hills is not my favourite! Towards the end I thought I was lost as I couldn’t see any signs on where to go, but after probably the toughest hill of the route (they saved the best for last!) I finally heard the presenter at the finish line.
I almost burst into tears. My mum and my boyfriend were there, waiting for me, cheering me on. I did it! And apparently I didn’t come last, not that would have made any difference.
A few days later I decided to sign up for the Larnaka 10k route of the Marathon, which was two weeks later. If I could make it through the hills of the park, I can make it on a flat surface.
The 17th of November was an incredibly hot day (for November) and we ran at 10am. Needless to say I had a migraine for the rest of the day, but oh my, it was worth it.
I ran alongside professional athletes, blind runners from Israel, a woman running in memory of her son, young people, older people. I was in great company.
I wasn’t sure I’d make it, I never ran 10k in those temparatures, but running with others is motivating on its own. I can’t accurately describe that feeling. You have to experience it, to fully understand.
I almost cried when I high-fived a kid holding a sign, near the 7th kilometre, which was one of the toughest.
The route was beautiful, especially the second half. The last part of the run was by Saint Lazarus church and then alongside Foinikoudes beach, which was just gorgeous and it definitely helped me going.
I’ve now signed up for the 7.7 mile ‘Stelios Kyriakides’ run at Nicosia Marathon in a couple of weeks, which is around 12km. That will be the longest I’d ever run, so I just hope I can make it.
This push and dedication, powered by vulnerability, also helped me in my personal and professional life. In the last few weeks I felt more like myself, the closest I felt in years, and awakened my feisty spirit. I feel more inclined to speak up, and I believe more in myself and my abilities.
So, today’s message: embrace your vulnerability. It’s tough, and painful, because it inevitably means failing over and over again, but it also lets in love, light and above all, courage.
I had a headache every day of last week, from Saturday to last Friday. Every single day.
My formerly hypochondriac self would have probably panicked and immediately thought that it was probably a brain tumour and death was imminent, but years of self-exploration taught me better. I knew why and how.
I hadn’t had a good night’s sleep for a few days now, I constantly felt tired and I was exhaustingly stressed. I’ve also been grinding my teeth in my sleep due to my anxiety, which gave me headaches.
The reason: I was about to quit my job and I’ll be soon starting a new one.
I’ve been thinking about my next stop for a while now.
I wasn’t happy in my job anymore, I was tired of the nature of it, the trips, the events and so on, there was no real progression, I wasn’t learning much anymore or developing professionally and a few things wore me down. I wanted to quit for a while but I was too scared to do it without getting another job first, which I finally did, last week.
Living in your 30s and having worked for a while it’s both a blessing and a curse. You are acutely aware of what you can put up with and what not and when it’s time to move on.
Some people are happy with what they have and they don’t mind if their job consumes them, affects their personal and/or social life or if doesn’t offer them any new skills or experience anymore. And that’s great for them. We all have different priorities. But I’m not like that. And although I know that this job might be ideal for someone else, for me that wasn’t the case anymore.
So, last Tuesday I quit my job.
‘But why did you keepg getting a headache and couldn’t sleep for the rest of the week?’ one might ask.
Quitting from a job, however frustated or exhausted you are doesn’t mean you won’t miss the good bits. The people I spent the last two years with, the banter, some of the work, some of the partners etc.
It’s sad and it’s OK.
I also feel anxious about the next chapter, whether everything is going to work out, whether I’ll adapt quickly, whether this is the best career step for me now (considering what I really want to work on is Mental Health, especially when it comes to the workplace, which might get to work on in my current job),whether my new colleagues will be as nice and cool as my old ones (It will be hard to beat!), whether I’ll finally have more time to do things that are important for me, like writing, being creative, volunteering , more time with friends and family, new experiences (and the list goes on).
It‘s OK toworry about it.
It’s been almost a week and I’ve been sleeping better and I haven’t had a headache in three days. I still feel sad and worried but I’m also excited about the new chapter and I’m open to whatever the universe brings.
A lovely friend of mine actually gave me great advice and without realising, reassured me that what I feel right now is normal. So I’ll leave you with that.
I was recently asked what motivates me to do what I do, write, make videos and so on. What is the reward for me as I’m not trying to make money out of it.
Let me tell you about Marcel*.
Marcel is a partner from France and we’ve been working together on a project since November 2020. I remember the first time I virtually met him, as our first meeting took place during another lockdown. A 50-something year old, with a heavy accent I absolutely loved. I really liked him as a person and his sense of humour since the first day.
I met with the rest of the partners face to face in Nicosia, about a year ago, but I’d never met Marcel in real life and he was busy during some of our online meetings too so when I heard he was joining our partner training in Slovenia, I was pretty excited to finally meet him in person.
And it was genuinely a pleasure. Well-read, smart, sophisticated, a wine and fine dining lover without the pretentiousness, also funny, witty, surprisingly honest and a true gentleman.
On our last dinner together, we started talking about how the effects of the pandemic still lingered for children, as some started school during COVID-19 and spent months on end locked inside, with no other social interaction. We all agreed that it’s been tough on all of us, especially children, but Marcel said:
‘Yes, I agree, but children are resilient, look at me, I still suffer!’
I failed to mention at this point, that Marcel wore a mask for most of the week and avoided sitting close to anyone. The reason: If he catches the virus, his wife might die. For that same reason he moved in a rural area with his wife during the pandemic (he still lives there), with minimal social interaction with anyone else. He told us how much he hated it and how he drove himself mad living in the middle of nowhere, in a small village with just a few houses.
How incredibly sad. Older people already find it hard, feeling isolated and lonely, as it is, society somehow forgets about you when you grow old, although it should have been the opposite, we can learn so much from older generations, they are beacons of knowledge and wisdom, but the pandemic has made it even tougher for them to cope.
A couple of others shared their stories. I mentioned a horrible news story from a Cyprus, an old man who died alone during the pandemic and was found days later, since he had noone to check up on him.
This is the sad reality and we need to do something about it. We need to look after, love and nourish the people who took care of us and kept the world going whilst we were growing up. We owe it to them.
During that same dinner, Marcel asked me if I still wrote. It caught me by surprise.
–‘How do you know I write??’
-‘I remember when we all first met online, you told us that you had a blog, and I found it and read a lot of it. Do you still do it?’
-‘Yes, I do! Not that often but I do. I don’t write much about travel or food anymore, but I still write about mental health’.
-‘Oh nice, I’ll read it when I get home!’
And that’s why I keep writing. This is the reward. The impact however small or big on someone’s life when they read one of my posts, either because they feel the same, or they learnt something or they just enjoy my writing.
*Marcel is a pseudonym, in case the person wishes to remain anonymous.
I just woke up from a two and a half hour nap and felt that I was hit by a bus.
I rarely nap, I hate the feeling afterwards, but after about 30 hours of travelling in 4 days (around 60 hours of buses, trains, planes and running around airports in the last 15 days), my body and mind just gave up.
A week later and I still have a lingering cold, I missed a few important gatherings I wanted to go to but couldn’t and just woke up from one and a half hour nap. I’m flying again on Monday at 6:25 in the morning (I’ll probably be in Slovenia by the time this is out) and I’m not sure if my body can cope.
I’ve been trying different remedies, I’m taking vitamins, trying to exercise and rest as much as possible, but nothing seems to be effective, at least not to the degree needed for me to function at least a satisfactory level.
Inevitably, I’ve been complaining about it, because I’m exhausted. I know it doesn’t help in anything and I try not to do it as much but it’s OK to not feel well and not hide it.
Feeling guilty because you are sad or angry, hiding painful emotions, dismissing other people’s difficult feelings, ignoring your problems, only posting ideal photos on social media, and reciting ‘positive’ quotes about tough situations are all examples of what’s called toxic positivity.
I’m sure most of us have been told these before:
Everything happens for a reason.
Just be positive!
It can always be worse, be grateful for what you have
And the list goes on.
I noticed that a lot of people do it (sometimes even I fall into the trap of doing it) and I absolutely hate it. Emotional intelligence in general, and empathy in particular is all about identifying and acknowledging the other person’s feelings, and respecting what they are going through without judgement.
We all have been guilty of ignoring our and other people’s feelings and promoting all this (toxic) positivity. Yes there’s always worse and I’m grateful for what I have, but there’s also better. Also, not everything happens for a reason. Sometimes it’s just (bad) luck, coincidence or unfortunate circumstances. Most importantly, we don’t always have to be positive, as long as sadness and pessimism don’t take over and disrupt our functionality.
Here’s some photos from my recent travels. I didn’t have time to see much of any city, just a couple of hours in each as I had to work and travel. I’d rather I travelled for leisure, rather than this, but I’m doing the best considering the circumstances. I’m still exhausted and I hope this doesn’t continue for long. Today I’m not that positive about it, maybe tomorrow I’ll be, but it’s OK.
Have you experienced toxic positivity? How do you deal with it?
The first Monday after the summer holiday. The absolute dread of having to get out of bed and get ready to go to work. A week of overcaffeinating yourself to stay awake, missing the sea, the soothing sound of the waves (but not the sun, it’s still 39 degrees Celsius in Cyprus), the food, the daytrips, reading, writing, swimming, your friends, your family, all the free time you felt guilty about (Mental Health Mondays – 6. The guilt of doing nothing) and desperately thinking of ways to prolong your annual leave.
Why are summer holidays or any holidays for that matter never enough?
Maybe because most of us don’t spend much time resting or having fun? Or perhaps we don’t have enough time during our hectic daily routine and work life to enjoy ourselves or catch up with friends and loved ones as much as we’d like to because ‘we are always busy’.
It made me wonder how humans came up with this work model. Who decided that the majority of us need to work about 340 days out of 365 a year (taking into account that we get about 21 days of leave and 4 bank holidays on average) for 50 years until we retire, old and exhausted?
It’s a cliche but we should work to live and not the other way around.
I hope in the future I can change that for myself and for others.
I’m not sure what can ease the post holiday blues until then, for me what helps at the moment is planning mini-holidays or day trips once or twice a month, have something to look forward to. How do you cope?
“Il dolce far niente” Italians infamously say. The sweetness of doing nothing, the ability to completely and utterly enjoy and savour each moment, the pleasure of being idle.
Why and how have we lost this ability to enjoy our free time? Why do we feel guilty about it instead? I had this very discussion with my wonderful friend and kindred spirit Marithea a few days ago, whilst catching up after almost a year. ‘I have an idea, why don’t you write about it on your next blog?’ she suggested and it couldn’t come at a better time.
I’ve taken two weeks off work to relax, rest and recharge before the September madness and I think I managed to do that for just one or two days. I spent the rest of the time doing everything else, shopping, going to a pottery workshop, catching up with friends, a few days away with my crazy family and a lot of thinking about my next career step, as well as feeling guilty I haven’t made any videos or written anything in a while. I barely made time to read, write, play the guitar, or just sit and listen to music.
Even when I try to relax some weekday evenings, after a long and busy day at work, I feel guilty. I feel this deeply rooted shame for my inability to read a book or stare at a screen again after more than 8 hours of screen time, or even have clear thoughts and make sensible decisions about anything.
Why is that? It’s what’s commonly known as productivity anxiety. We humans have the innate obsession to get things done and be creative ALL the time, something we all struggled with during the pandemic when our options were severely limited. Surely, as soon as we could get out, most of us got even more obsessed with being productive, which is incredibly unhealthy. Our bodies and brains need rest and idle time, to be able to function fully and correctly.
Maybe the 8 hours of work, sleep and play model of the First Industrial Revolution was an improvement on the 12-14 hour day shifts, but none of us really works for just 8 hours a day. Most people work for 9-10 hours a day taking into account commuting and lunch break. By the time you get home, cook, clean and prepare for the following day, (unless you are one of the lucky ones who have help or someone else does the house chores for you) that’s it, the day is over and your brain is already overheating.
We need to learn to make time to rest and have fun, our whole life can’t be just work. And workplaces should accommodate human needs to the highest degree possible. We need to work to live, not live to work, otherwise what’s even the point? Retired old and exhausted at the age of 65 (if it doesn’t get higher by the time I retire), desperately trying to squeeze as many life experiences and joy as possible in the few years I have left? No, thank you.
So, I’m going to try harder to make time for rest and relaxation. How do you manage your free time?
My grandma Eleni used to work as a cleaner at a psychiatric hospital, raising three children on her own. My grandpa Costas was a shephard and after the 1974 invasion a factory worker providing for his wife and their 5 children.
My dad has had two jobs since he was 20 years old, and my mum worked on and off, focusing on looking after us most of her life. They both spent the last 40 years making sure my sisters and I have everything we needed. And they absolutely and utterly succeeded, with no shadow of a doubt.
We might not have had the most expensive cars or clothes, or holidays abroad, but we had a comfortable childhood and teen years, making cherishing memories, holidays in Cyprus with family and friends and endless support, due to their hard work and love. We were always bought new clothes once or twice a year, there was always plenty of food on the table, we were all bought cars to be able to drive to uni and we all studied.
My parents were always stressed about money, as you could imagine, as their parents had no money to help them . They were worried they might not have enough to look after us. My dad still gets anxious about it. We grew up appreciating what we have because we knew first hand how hard it is to get it.
I’d have never been able to study in the UK if it weren’t for my parents. When I finally graduated and started working and looking after myself, I worried about money from day 1. I learned how to prioritise my needs, what I could spend on what and learned to manage, so I didn’t run out of money. I would hate to ask my parents who already did so much for me, I already felt bad enough I couldn’t help them financially as much as I’d liked to. I did waste some money over the years but most of the time I managed.
When I lived in the UK for 10 years, I always paid my rent and bills on time, I got to travel a bit in Europe, I watched plays and musicals, went around the country, bought myself what needed, ate out with friends often, and although I lived a comfortable life, I always worried about money.
Living in Cyprus, earning significantly less than I did in the UK, not being able to save much, restricted to what I can spend on myself and my personal, social, mental and emotional needs, on travel or anything else I’d like, has intensified that worry and anxiety.
What I wouldn’t give to wake up one day and not worry about money, my parents housing situation, about paying the electricity bills or worrying when I’d afford a new car, or go out for fancy dinner, to be able to book the more expensive hotel I’d like or book tickets to Latin America, or buy a new laptop and not having to save up for months (or years) first.
Money doesn’t bring happiness, but only if you have everything you need and you don’t worry about it. It may not bring happiness but it can surely take away large part of (my) anxiety and worries.
When I was younger I felt ashamed I worried about money, I tried to hide my financial situation from friends and colleagues. But struggling or asking for help is nothing to be ashamed of. We were not all born in wealthy families, and for some of us life is harder and things don’t come easy. It made us stronger though, we learn how to live with little and appreciate what we have. So if you also worry about money, just know you are not alone.
I hope you and I and everyone who struggles one day we have enough money not to worry about it but even if we don’t, let’s talk about it, share our experiences and help each other, and try as much as we can not to stress about it. Easier said than done, I know… but let’s try anyway!