Resigned or Re-assigned?

Similar to many others, I have been at home for the last 12 months. I have been furloughed (UK term: technically employed, but not physically working) for 11 of them.  

I saw the beginnings of working from home and to some extent the practical impact of working with COVID. I expected to get back to work later in the year, hopefully around September, but the market had another agenda. The Oil and Gas industry, where I generally entertain myself from Monday through Friday was desperately quiet.

I spoke to a guy a few years back; he had returned to work after an 18 month unplanned break. He told me he was unable to enjoy the time off, because he was so consumed with the worry he would not have something to return to.  I understood the concern, but I promised myself I would not be that person. To have this opportunity.  To be physically and mentally fit.  To have some savings to tide me over – not lavishly, but enough. I was going to enjoy every minute of it.

And I have.  

This sabbatical can only be described in terms of pure, unadulterated enjoyment.  An absolute blast springs to mind. I feel absolutely privileged to have been gifted this time. COVID or not.  I’ve cycled thousands of kilometres. Conquered two Munro’s, including the highest in Scotland. Practiced yoga around 5/7 days. Gained a qualification and am working towards another. Fully fitted wardrobes in my dressing room. Sanded and waxed my kitchen table. Completed artwork for my home and that of my friends. Made wooden planters from an old bed. Made dividers for my cutlery drawer. A water bottle holder for my cupboards from a long tube destined for recycling. Had my writings published in Womankind, a renowned worldwide magazine. I’ve perfected a pavlova, layered cakes, vegan recipes. Developed an electronic recipe and menu planner which spits out a shopping list. Baked bread and pizza.  Made my own pasta. Tortillas.

The list goes on.

And on.

My partner has also been off since June. I thought I may murder him in the early stages, but in addition to loving him (because he is a truly amazing human; sorry for the slush), I’ve reminded myself I actually really like him.  We are not a ‘living in each other’s pockets’ kind of couple, but we have developed a greater closeness this past year. We have had some Monday mornings where we have just watched a movie. I think, what do I want to do today? What would I NOT be able to do if I was at work? And a further rendition of Layer Cake was born. No pressure. No agenda. Just whatever comes.

I am not saying there have not been some moments of pressure during the last few months.  But they have been only moments. Wondering if things will pick up. Wondering if I’m getting too old. Wondering when I will have the requisite funds to retire for real. That kind of thing. But they are fleeting. I know everything always works out. I have a brain in my head. I am kind. I am real. It’s all temporary. I can do this.

And guess what? Transpires I can.

I had an interview last week.  I received notification on Monday that I got the job.  To say I’m delighted would be an understatement.  It doesn’t matter how many interviews I have attended in my life; it is always a great feeling to be wanted.  They had the choice of everyone.  But they chose me.  For whatever reason.  And they will only ever really know why.  They saw something they liked. Regardless of my jokes of adorning pyjamas on a video call (I wasn’t, honestly). It’s just my feeble attempt to keep things light-hearted.

So now. Head needs to firmly return to the game. 

Amidst the return to the ‘game’ I commit to remembering the enjoyment brought by simple pleasures. I will contentedly take what I’ve learned and enjoyed in the last year and continue with much of it. I imagine an earlier start will be a prerequisite, but at this time of year who doesn’t want to see more of the morning anyway. It is one of life’s true pleasures and provides outstanding potential. They give me joy.

So, it transpires, everything is going to be OK. I’m proud to be able to say, I always knew it would be.

Humble Hobby

I’ve never really been much of a hobby’s person.  I mean, I’ve had periods of going to the gym.  Hillwalking. Arts and crafts. That type of thing.  But never really a hobby and never something I’ve stuck with.  To be brutally honest, I’ve always considered socialising a hobby.  I did it a lot. Nurtured it.  Evenings out. Weekends away. Saturday lunches. Me and my girls had a hectic time together.

But then it became clear to me, I needed something else.  You may have read some of my alcohol-free journey posts; in which case you will recognise this as the likely catalyst. The subsequent COVID-19 socialising ban has further cemented this sentiment. 

I needed to stretch myself.  I needed to get a better understanding of what I was capable of.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I expect to win any medals. Or break any world records (or even local ones). But I think I’ve always had the potential of being relatively fit and strong.  Partly due to my physiology and partly because I’ve always taken an interest in sport and fitness. I care.  I’m 48, so there are certainly limits, but what can these legs produce and for how long?  How about the old ticker, still capable of beating calmly under pressure?  And very importantly how will my head cope with it all?

When I first set out on my cycling journey, I started with a 10km return journey (total 20km) along a very flat old railway line. A ‘way too big for me second hand’ bike, a pair of ‘hand me down, gents’ padded shorts with no bib, gloves with irritating fingers, which following ride no 1, I cut off. Humble beginnings to say the least.

There is no doubt the entire ensemble left a lot to be desired. But you know what? I did not care. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was dipping my toe in the water of a potential ‘hobby’. I had the wind in my hair, at least those protruding from my (yes, you guessed it, second hand) helmet, fresh air in my lungs and Scottish scenery to die for. I was out there trying it.  Not talking about it. Not thinking about it.  Just doing it.

None of this is long ago; I am not a seasoned cyclist by any stretch. I got my first new bike in August 2019, so you get a rough timeline.  Since then, I have invested in some long and short bib shorts which are wonderfully comfortable, some fluorescent, jazzy outerwear and a helmet which lights up like a Christmas tree. Oh yes, and a small emergency puncture and basic mechanic kit, two water bottles and a small treat bag.  I’m a little more equipped than when I first started.

I’ve subsequently cycled thousands of kilometres, few of them fast, climbed some tremendous hills, many of which I would never have dreamt I’d be capable of completing. I’ve talked to myself.  I’ve laughed at myself. I’ve even cried. But I’ve kept turning those pedals, kept getting stronger and continued to enjoy doing so.

I think I can officially say, cycling is my hobby.

Sometimes I feel like a tiny bit of a fraud because I haven’t had the same time in the saddle as other more seasoned cyclists. But then I remind myself everyone was once a beginner. I am entitled to feel excited as spring approaches.  I am entitled to feel motivated as I plan my first ride outside. I am entitled to enjoy it. Whether I’m a 48-year-old novice or not.  It’s all valid. Maybe sounds naff, but it is never too late to be the very best version of me I can be.  

Have a great day!

Helen x

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Temporary? Yes it is.

So here I am, 587 days into my alcohol-free journey.

I don’t think about alcohol anymore. 

Alcohol is not (and never was) part of my DNA. 

I don’t crave it. 

I don’t miss it.

I don’t need it. 

Nada. Nothing. 

It is one of society’s great failings coupled with an absolute travesty that anyone thinks they do.  I would never have believed that 587 days ago I would be here. Sober. And not only sober, but absolutely kicking the arse out of life (my version). Enjoying the very process of life itself. Who would ’a’ thunk it?

Don’t get me wrong I was a functioning human. Partner. Friends. Job.  Life. To all intents and purposes things were going reasonably well. Madly, it was far from that.  It was pretty dire if I’m brutally honest.  But I didn’t even realise it at the time. I thought life was good, with a dark side of hangovers and a sweet dessert full of regret. 

But boy do I know it now.

It got me thinking about what I’ve learned on this journey. One key thing is everything is temporary. Every thought.  Every feeling.

🙇🏻‍♀️ Wanting to drink because I believed it relaxed me, when I knew it didn’t.  The feeling was temporary. Any anxiety or worry felt was only heightened by booze.  The trickery passed and I realised I coped better with life without it.  Seems unbelievable right now, but it’s actually true.

🦹🏽‍♀️ Fear of missing out. I will acknowledge perhaps for a brief moment (one sip or half a glass of), alcohol in the bloodstream seems uplifting, thereafter that feeling is replaced by stupidity and bad judgement, paranoia and anxiety, tiredness and sleep.  FOMO is temporary. I wasn’t missing out on anything.  I am an adaptable human. I am funny. I am smart. I don’t need alcohol to be those things. Through time I have learned I am just me. 

💔 Feeling annoyed that I cannot just have one drink.  I wondered why I couldn’t be one of those people? I’ve realised there are three types of people – those who can take alcohol or leave it, those who can’t and are a ticking time bomb and those in denial. I have so much pride for being a 2. I am a warrior.

🤵🏻‍♀️ Wondering if sober-me will fit in amongst my friendship group.  I reached a point where I actually didn’t care.  Like it, don’t like it. I’ve lost one friend, some have annoyingly tried to encourage me to start drinking again, most have just been thoroughly supportive and helped me on my journey.  Sorts out the real friends from the acquaintances. Those acquaintances are temporary. They are in your life for a reason and sometimes that reason is alcohol.  Remove it, remove relationship.  I was actually surprised. 

🏋️‍♀️ Wanting to be fit. When I got used to the idea of getting up early I then had a phenomenal desire to get out and get super fit.  The fittest I’ve ever been.  I’ve seen a number of people who have felt the same.  Exploring my potential. An inner confidence eating at your insides; if I can stop drinking what else am I capable of? 

If you are on this journey, I hope wherever you are, you are seeing subtle changes in your behaviour. More patient perhaps. More motivated. You may be starting to feel a new and deeper confidence. Perhaps beginning to like yourself a bit more. I mean the real you. Not this charicature of the person you may have created with booze.

Don’t forget too, you are rapidly becoming an inspiration to others (you probably already are).  My fiancé and sister have both stopped drinking. The positivity of my journey was the catalyst. 

I feel moments of euphoria sometimes. It’s so odd, but there is true happiness in my heart. A carefree lift. A real excitement. This can be when I’m walking down the street.  Working. Cooking. Cleaning.  It’s an honest appreciation for the life I have been given. I can truthfully say I never felt any of those feelings when I was a pi55head.

Everyday is new. 

Everyday is exciting. 

Everyday holds new opportunities that are mine to make the most of.

I’m off to do just that.

Have a great day 🙂

Turbo Trainer: Tonic or Tedium

There has been some recent debate about the use of the turbo trainer round our way.  We have one of those Wahoo KICKR beasts.  It seems to be relatively capable; had a few Bluetooth teething problems at the outset, but other than that it’s been grand. I use the Sufferfest app which is also good (albeit the name might put some people off), I’m not crazy on video games so it is my preference, but each to their own.

Anyway, I digress. As mentioned, there’s been a bit of discussion around the use of them. Why not just cycle outside? What’s the point? Cycling in your garage? That type of thing. I get why these questions would exist, and of course they are valid. It is a bit odd if you think about it. 

For the record, I would far prefer to be cycling outside. The whole point of cycling for me is absorbing the entire sensory impact of my surroundings, blue sky, rugged landscape, chatty birds and insects, even the wind engages me. I thoroughly enjoy every moment, me and my bike against the world, just being. Nothing compares to that. However, I live in the north-east of Scotland.  It’s cold here. And wet. A lot. And I must be honest and say I prefer cycling when it’s not absolutely tipping it down. But I also don’t want to head out in March, after being stuck inside all winter and feel entirely and painfully sluggish (being I’m a novice, I’m sluggish enough at best anyway!).

I get into a zone on the TT. My body is in the garage, but my head is far, far away. I find a rhythm. I still sweat. I still hurt. But I still continue to progress.  And I still feel a sense of achievement, similar but different to the one I feel when I’ve been out on the road. So, while it is by no means a replacement for the real thing, it does manage to tick more boxes than sitting on the couch waiting for the storm to pass would.  

I know a guy who had an ‘off’ last year and lost his confidence; really helped him get back in the saddle and also kept him training in the interim.  It also enables me to do e.g. interval training or cadence builds that may be more difficult to do on the road. It brings different things to different people.

So yes, for anyone looking in, it’s just cycling in the garage, watching TV. But to me it’s actually so much more than that.

Chastising Challenges

Does anyone else find Strava challenges addictive? I am constantly searching for the next one. Constantly checking my progress.  My latest conquest is 800km in February. Why on earth did I choose the month of the year with the least number of days?!

Anyway it’s done now. I’ve signed up. So complete it I will. 

I’ve been covering approximately 60km every second day and at half way I have reached the dizzy heights of 432 km. It’s painful at times. I feel a dull ache in my left leg which I believe is a slight weakness. It has been more noticeable when lifting at the gym. I even feel a pain in my elbows after a ride.  What on earth is that about? Holding on to something too tight I suspect.

On Saturday I reached a pain threshold around 20km. I felt like I wouldn’t make it to the end. In contrast when I reached 67km, I felt like I could cycle another 67. The mind is a powerful tool, one I haven’t fully mastered in my training.

This is a bumper month for me, being my farthest previous best in any one month was 663 km. I originally fancied the 1,250 km but it’s upwards of 83 km every other day and I’m not sure how I feel about that. Next stop 1,000, which is not a Strava challenge.  How unfortunate. 

I try to remember in amongst all of this where I started.  Initially I cycled 10 km along a very flat railway line and back again.  A total of 20 km.  I’ve since cycled 3,500 km.  Many 50, 60, 70 and 80 km rides. One 109 km. In one outing.  One cycle.  I’m very proud of that and it reminds me, that it’s progress, not perfection. One day this will only be my warm up!

And today is Monday. A new week in the 800 km challenge. Another 60 km effort required today. I will go forth and conquer. 

Strava is my new God.

A Short Step Back in Time…

So, I’m pretty much a novice to this cycling malarkey.  In April 2019 my partner was taking part in a sportive reasonably local to us (Etape Loch Ness); I got up early and held his hand for his brave 6am start.  He is an avid cyclist and had completed the event twice before, so he was pretty confident of a decent completion time. There was certainly little doubt he would finish.  Anyway, off he trotted and I returned to our bed for the night and tried to get some sleep in preparation for meeting ‘a spent him’ three hours later at the finish line.

When I got back into bed, I couldn’t stop thinking about the general feeling at the start line. The trepidation. The excitement. The calm. The fear in some cases. I then started to think of the finish line and the achievement of it all.  It’s no Tour de France, but it’s 106km with around 1,200 metres of climbing, containing one entirely mammoth and gruesome climb, so not to be sniffed at.

I returned to my wrecked soldier and the atmosphere did not disappoint.  There were tired but smiling humans as far as the eye could see.  There were families enjoying their wives, husbands, parents, children’s achievements.  Smiles. All. Round. No one sat around wishing they had stayed on the couch instead of completing it.

I didn’t know it then, but the seed was sown. In the August of that same year my new bike arrived. When the entries opened in October, I signed up for the 2020 Etape Loch Ness and so the adventure began.

COVID-19 – It’s the end of the world as we know it, but I feel fine

OK, I admit it. Sometimes I don’t feel fine. I miss the freedom to do what I want when I want. I miss seeing my friends and family. I miss the days of not wearing a mask!

I’m also dealing with the disappointment of the Etape Loch Ness being postponed again. The endurance race (not actually a race but anyway) that whetted my appetite two years ago…. It was due to take place in April 2020. Postponed to September. Postponed to April 2021. Now postponed to August. Not unexpected of course. I just keep telling myself I will be even more prepared by then. The positives.

In amongst some few minor inconveniences as noted, there is so much to do. Opportunities are in abundance and I’m doing my very best to make the most of them all regardless. When will I get the opportunity again? I am learning new recipes (aiming for 2 vegan days per week), baking the most beautiful(ish) layered cakes (my artistic flare does not run deep) and breads, practising yoga most days, cycling 600-800km a month. Studying for my professional procurement qualification. Journalling daily which keeps me vaguely on track. The list goes on and on.

I expect things will return to some sort of normal in time and perhaps this oddness will be forgotten. Perhaps the lack of freedom will become a distant memory. Who knows. For now, I am making the very most of every minute of it.

Alcohol Free Me

On 16th July 2020 I could officially say I’d been and gone and done it. 366 days with zero alcohol passing my lips. Not one drop. What an absolute stormer of an achievement. I have continued and I will continue, but I thought I’d give you a little taster of the journey.

Prior to the challenge, I must say I’ve had some cracking nights in/out whilst sozzled, pissed, lampshaded, mortalled. All of the above. A lot. And I was getting to be a pain. Sometimes teary. Maudlin. Mouthy. Gobby. Unpredictable. Irrational. It was time to make a change.

I’ve had a number of periods of not drinking before. A month, three months. I’ve also attempted to implement personal drinking rules. Only drink at weekends. Nothing before 8pm. Glass of wine with dinner. That kind of thing. I’ve always gone back to it, worse than before.

It’s been a super interesting ride. I’ve experienced many things. Horrible anniversaries, birthdays, Christmas and NY, funerals, weddings, lockdown, sober dancing, new job, lost and found friendships, concerts, meals out, nights in. Everything. 100% Sober.

It has not been easy at times and I’ve almost cracked. But I haven’t. That’s not who I am.

What I don’t miss:

🍷 Commiserating with wine. Crying with wine. Using wine as my go-to for anything in the least bit stressful.

😰 Hangovers, headaches and feeling sick. Awful times; lost hours and days.

🤪 Falling over or swaying like a numpty.

🤬 Forgetting conversations or worse still saying things I really shouldn’t say. “I wasn’t going to say this but…”

🙄🛌 Sleeping in late and feeling lethargic. Many Saturday’s and Sunday’s totally wasted.

🤯 Feeling anxious and worried – hangxiety. Sunday fear. What did I say/do?

💤 Having zero motivation – so many ideas, none of them achieved.

🏋🏼‍♀️ Feeling unfit – not wanting to ride my bike or exercise. Crap.

🚘 Queuing for a taxi – instead jumping in the car which is parked right outside. Ingenious.

What I’ve gained:

💡 A realisation that I can cope with life. I have the strength. The tools. I’m actually quite resourceful.

🚲 I’m fitter than I’ve been since I was in my twenties. Cycling. Yoga. Exercise without fail every morning. Love it.

💪 My motivation is cavernous. It’s like I’ve been given a drug (ironically). Have you seen the movie Limitless? This is literally me. Projects started and finished. I’ve made pottery items. Artwork. A beautifully crafted herb planter for my kitchen. The list goes on and on.

👁I get up latest 6am. I will never get tired of being up and having this time to myself. It’s wonderful. The days are long; I’ve literally been given a second half of a life. My life.

🧠 I remember everything. I always thought I had a terrible memory, but it transpires I was actually just drunk or hungover most of the time. My brain wasn’t processing or recalling information efficiently. Who knew.

😴 I sleep like a baby. Head hits pillow. I sleep. Clear unadulterated sleep. Natures way of preparing me for a new day. Then I wake, no alarm. Just time to get up. I’m excited about it in fact. Sound odd? Well I’ll take it. It’s literally fantastic.

I’m proud. Every day I wake up proud. Even more proud than I was yesterday. I’m doing this. Not just talking about it. I’m practicing a different way of life. I’m becoming a better version of myself; which is what I set out to do. I’m living it.

I don’t miss it. At all.

Much love

Helen x

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