Happily Imperfect‽ Posts

I got a new bike (before my birthday but I’m saying that it was my present to me…) and this was the first proper spin on it. Lovely!

Life

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It’s World Mental Health Day, which falls at the end of a rather crap week for me, but which weirdly has re-enforced some of things I’ve developed throughout the last few months, and reminded me why I did them in the first place.

What are you good at? What have you learned and practiced? I don’t mean through lockdown I mean in general? Nothing? How modest, but ok. What are you ok at? What are you good enough at? What are you able to do quite well and, more importantly, what is the one thing you enjoy doing no matter how good or bad you are at it?

When I was younger I took piano lessons. I say took, it was more a decision made by my parents for me and I wasn’t old enough to say no; they also managed to get me to cycle to my lessons at 9am on a Saturday morning come rain, shine, or snow, I must ask my Mum what her technique was!

I bought an electric piano a couple of years ago and, to my delight, found that I still had a basic level of knowledge and after a few weeks was able to play Fur Elise. I wasn’t great at it but it was good enough to make me smile and give my heart and soul a little lift. Then it’s on to the Billy Joel songs my Mum loves and next thing I know I’ve been sitting there for an hour thinking about absolutely nothing and having the best time.

It’s a little like the focus moments that sometimes arrive when you are working, or those glorious gigs that grab hold of you and make you forget anything else exists in the world, the ones where you and everyone else leaves grinning and happy and ready to take on the world!

Alas gigs aren’t happening just now and my mood for playing the piano ebbs and flows – although it’s a fair bit more ebbing than flowing – so as we continue to learn how to live in the middle of this global pandemic and with fewer distractions provided by the outside world I find myself turning more and more inwards, exploring my own self. I’m not alone in this of course and, as the deluge of articles and posts and instagram stories suggest, it’s also creating a marketplace. Adverts in my social media feeds are almost wholly now about exercising BETTER, living CLEANER, being MORE, and all of these notions seem to include downloading a new app and subscribing to THE program that will finally unlock your FULL POTENTIAL.

Ugh. It’s all so boastful, and all seems destined to push you into the path of comparison and right now it’s the last thing I think anyone needs. So, being somewhat contrary I’ve been looking at all of these things and decided to push against them. I do not want to compare myself to others (been there, done that, it’s not a nice place) and so thanks to the laws of physics, as I rail against the very notion of being told to live BETTER, CLEANER, MORE, to my FULL POTENTIAL I’ve head off in an equal and opposite direction.

Welcome to the world of good enough. Turning up is good enough, doing the thing badly is good enough, trying and never doing it again is good enough. It costs nothing, there is no subscription, and you can do it yourself! I know, this is nothing you don’t know, but maybe if there were more adverts that said things like that we would need World Mental Health Day at all?

For the first few weeks of lockdown I struggled with my attention span. I’d be ok for a while but would then drift off and spend hours of my day doing nothing other than flit between social media channels (something I had aimed not do at all back in January!), and the various tasks and chores of day to day life. Social media was ablaze with people learning sourdough (do you learn it?), knitting for the first time, starting up daily yoga routines and more. And there I was, striving to do nothing of much at all.

Now before I go on, to paraphrase Kottke, I realise what I’m about to talk about sounds a bit woo-woo bullshit (and like him, a younger me would’ve been rolling his eyes by now), but after taking a step back from social media and focusing on myself I found a couple of things that I did enjoy doing, and when I coupled those with my new ‘good enough’ personal mantra I realised I had something I could hopefully pick up and use, something I’d been doing on and off for a few years and which I was contentedly, already, good enough at, meditation.

My meditation journey started almost four years ago.

Like most journeys it’s had to endure all manner of incidents, changes of direction, endless roadworks, and the odd puncture, all played out to the soundtrack of the niggling voice from the back of my mind that continually whines “Are we there yet?” and, like many journeys, it turns out that it’s the journey itself that I’ve enjoyed more than the destination because, and it’s taken me a while to figure this out, meditation doesn’t have a destination.

A few years back, when I finally started to explore meditation properly, it took me a while to land on a method that worked for me. Every now and then I’d meditate, trying my best to make it a habit and doing my utmost to become good at meditating like, somehow, it was a competition, or a life skill that I could work on until I perfected it.

Yet the harder I tried to get better at meditation, the harder it got to meditate well, it became a chore, lost its effectiveness and slipped from being something that I thought was well embedded as part of my day to day existence, to something akin a passing acquaintance that I’d forget about for weeks at a time.

I can still remember the sensation of lightness I felt after the first guided meditation I had attended, and I was lucky to have been able to recapture that feeling a few more times on my own. One time I found myself sat on a rock halfway up a hill, the sun shining down, and quite happily zoned out during the meditation. It wasn’t until I tried to move that I realised I’d been sitting there, in a state of blissful calm, for about 45 minutes and I had a very numb bum! A small price to pay for that lovely state of being that relaxing into meditation can bring.

Yet the practice fell away from me and whilst I revisited it sporadically, spurred on by the knowledge that it was something done by people who I aspired to be like, ohhh and that it was also good for my mental health. But it never really stuck and I ended up falling back on the less fulfilling routines of self-care I had unwittingly been cultivating for most of my adult life, the usual social media scrolling, playstation playing, emotional eating routines all happily stepped up to fill the void. Meditation became something I did now and then, and more and more infrequently.

And then I stopped altogether.

The app I was using sat on my phone staring at me, but it had a few niggles that created just enough friction to stop me bothering and, for some reason without an app, without a guide, I found myself standing at the crossroads of the decision to meditate or not and, rather than get completely lost, I’d just turn and head for the same well trodden paths as before.

I was happy though and didn’t really miss meditating all that much, so it drifted away from me and joined the ever growing pile of ‘things that I’ve tried’ (don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of that pile and aware of how lucky I am to even have such a pile). Somewhere in my brain the idea grew that meditation was a useful tool for when I wasn’t too happy or feel overwhelmed and, as my life was (and still is!) in a good place, I had no real need for it anymore.

Yet as I took stock of my own actions over the course of the latter half of 2019 I realised that I wasn’t as happy as I could be. It’s a weird thing to realise that, despite being generally happy with my life, there were aspects of it that I didn’t like and so I set myself some aims for 2020. I didn’t realise it at the time but this was really about focusing inwards, as it’s entirely possible to look out upon the constituent parts of your life, see how good they are and presume you are happy because you should be, all whilst ignoring the little voice inside you.

When you start thinking about your own happiness it’s important to understand that that isn’t a selfish thing to do. You’ll have no doubt seen and heard phrases that suggest you have to learn to be happy with yourself, to love yourself first and foremost and I think it can be easy to presume that you do, just because so many other parts of your life are going well.

So there I was, with 2020 looming, and I was focussed on building new habits, thinking I’d lean on some things I new worked for me in the past (hello writing, hi meditation, howdy exercise!) – to try and temper the habits I didn’t like (bye bye endless scrolling of social media). Surely then I would achieve some form of satisfaction with myself?

Well it’s October, and we all know that 2020 has been a bit of a year and yet here I am, happier than ever and with a meditation habit again and it’s been a constant throughout lockdown, and the death of my father, and all the mental strain many of us have been feeling.

So, how did I do it?

It started with a snippet of advice I read somewhere, it’s been repeated in a few articles I’ve read since:

“Changes that seem small and unimportant at first will compound into remarkable results if you’re willing to stick with them for years.”

James Clear, Atomic Habits

Looking back at how I meditated in the past I knew I would need some guidance, and whilst I’d used Buddhify in the past, I decided to look at some of the alternatives like Headspace and Calm. The latter is the one that stuck, offering daily 10 min guided meditations, and longer ad-hoc ones available whenever you wish. So, there was my first aim, start doing a daily 10 min meditation. Other apps are available.

The key for me was dedicating myself to this, making it an important part of my day and so I set up a 30 min part of my day that was for meditating. 10 mins to make sure I can relax into the meditation time, turning off notifications and alarms (and making sure the dogs have been out for a pee!), and then I can start the meditation app and, 10 mins later, my mind feels quieter, and I have another 10 mins to just sit in that state and let it rest within my mind.

That’s the plan at least. Some days I achieve that, some days I don’t, and some days I don’t meditate at all. Some days when I do meditate I can’t seem to focus, my mind wanders, and I lose track. Sometimes I’ll start a meditation and not finish it, some days I’ll restart it when I’ve finished as I realise I wasn’t really participating.

However, most times, even if my mind does wander I still feel some of the benefits and that, for me, is the entire point. I am not the best person at meditating, I don’t always finish it feeling refreshed and ready to take the world, and I don’t even do it every day.

But when I do, it’s wonderful, and that keeps me trying it, and the more often I manage it, the better I feel and the keener I am to repeat that the next day, it’s a joyous circle.

This past week has been a hard one, and I haven’t had the inclination to meditate until today.

It’s apt, given it’s World Mental Health Day, that as soon as I was done I felt that sense of calmness flooding over me and realised how much I’d missed this simple practice that I’ve developed over the past few months.

Meditation isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve always felt like trying it then try not picture the zen monk, sitting cross-legged atop a mist covered mountain, instead think of me, a middle-aged balding overweight man, in shorts and t-shirts, sitting in his office chair, headphones in, who spends half of his meditation time with his mind wandering all over the place.

But when it works, it’s a wonderful release, a freedom, and a lifting of unknown tensions and stresses and I’m so happy it’s now part of my own wonderfully selfish routine.


If you are struggling today, or any other day, there are resources available, people you can speak to, you are not alone. Reach out to any of the organisations in the link above, or drop me a line. I’ll help if I can.

Personal Musings

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I think, on the whole, I’ve been pretty good at sticking to my minimal principles (replace or improve!) through lockdown with only one or two impulse buys amongst the variety of things I’ve bought, and only one item I regret although that’s more about the company than said purchase.

I’ve bought somethings that are definitely investments, somethings that were needed, and of course some frivolous purchases were made (and some regretted).

Stand/Sit Desk (base)

Whilst I’ve been even more conscious of NOT buying via Amazon, sometimes it’s the cheapest option so whilst I did check a few direct sources, given I was spending a couple of hundred quid on this, it ended up being the cheapest, the fastest delivery (it arrived the first week of March) and by far the most valued item I’ve purchased.

I’ve been lucky enough to be working from home for most of lockdown and decided now was as good a time as any to invest in a stand/sit desk. I already had a desk in our spare room/office, so I just needed to find an adjustable base, which I did. It’s wonderful.

I also purchased a second monitor, largely for personal use as I am working on a couple of websites in my spare time, and as I was kitting out a little office space of my own it made sense.

Tripod for iPhone

Sounds like an odd one I know but bear with me.

I no longer own a camera, my iPhone (11 Pro) is my only camera and it’s one of the reasons I’m in the upgrade programme as the camera just gets better and better.

Becca and I like being outdoors, but it can be tricky getting good photos of the two of us (dog nonsense aside!) with just the reach of my arm. So I looked for something better. Fully height adjustable from 11″ which is actually a good height for my desk, to almost 40″ this, coupled with a Glif mount (that I already had), and the joys of remote camera operation from my Apple Watch to my iPhone means we can now get photos of the two of us like this:

Dafties at the Butter Bridge
Dafties on the Butter Bridge (Glen Kinglas)

Shoes

I’ll start with the impulse buy:

Aside from those, I was mostly replacing old/done shoes. First up a 10yr old pair of Salomons for these new Salomons for when we are out somewhere muddy (hello Mugdock!), and to replace a pair of trainers that my big toe ripped through (crap material + solid big toe nail did not work) a new pair of New Balance to be used for the usual round the streets dog walks. And no, the fact that both pairs are in matching colours wasn’t planned…

Other bits and bobs

I may have been influenced to buy some sweets, and we may have bought a snazzy new fruit basket too.

Things I haven’t bought

NEW AIRPODS – I bought a pair of AirPods almost as soon as the first version was released. They were, and remain, a joy to use. Alas they are now a couple of years old and the battery is starting to deteriorate and I’m unable to use them for any calls longer than an hour. I’m working from home so most meetings are by teleconference now so this was an issue. But I have a wired set of headphones which do the job, and the battery for just listening to music still gives me a couple of hours so, until they die completely I don’t see me replacing them any time soon.

Update: I drafted this post a few weeks ago. Since then, the battery life dropped to 30 mins of music listening so I bought a new set. I tried the AirPods Pro but couldn’t get a good fit in my ears, so returned them and went back to the standard AirPods (which has the benefit of returning the ‘double tap to skip’ functionality the Pros lack!).

NEW BIKE – One of the changes I made during lockdown was to get out on my bike more often. It’s worked, I’m out at least once a week (although also started running again so that may change?) and I’ve been loving it. So much so I started eyeing up a new bike. My bike is fine, it’s just a big heavy lump of a hybrid, so something sleeker and faster would be great. Add in Becca getting a shiny new (second hand) triathlon bike which weighs less than my cycling shoes(!)… and bike envy kicked in. But my bike is fine so I’ve made a promise that I won’t get a road bike until I can maintain my mileage through to next year.

Update: I’m wavering on this one. I’ve been out a few more times on longer runs and I’m starting to feel the heft of my current bike. Right now it’s brain over heart but, I think the heart is winning….

Worst Purchase

I succumbed to a persistent Instagram advert for a pair of trainers (since replaced by the New Balance mentioned above). They were from Opp France.

Alas they turned up as a size 9.5, not a size 10, and the customer service has been shocking. At present I can return them by shipping them to the USA as the France depot doesn’t accept returns. Shipping will be about half the cost of the shoes themselves so… anyone want a pair of trainers? Size 9.5, as new!

Stop buying more stuff

I’m aware that I’m in a very privileged position as I’ve worked through most of lockdown; I’ve swithered over posting this at all when some people are struggling just to pay their bills.

I’m also constantly fighting my desire to have fewer things, not more, and more recently we’ve had a clear out of the kitchen, replaced ageing cutlery and crockery with only what we need, got rid of a few gadgets that we had two of, etc etc.

We’ve bartered away most stuff too, well everything that we could – that hand-held food processor we no longer needed left us with some candles in exchange, for example – and overall I think we are being smart enough with our choices.

Yet here I am, and just looking around my ‘office’ there are still many things lying around that we don’t need, many things without a place to put them and that latter fact is always the one that plays on me the most.

When I moved to my last flat, it was a lot smaller than my previous one, both in terms of volume and number of rooms, and so I worked hard to minimise what I owned, and for what I kept I made sure everything had a place so it could be put away.

It’s always going to be something I look towards, but thankfully I’m much more relaxed about it these days. Not that a good clear out doesn’t feel good from time to time, but most of the times our purchases are required, not frivolous, and serve a goal rather than just sating the presumed joy that consumerism feeds on.

Now, if you don’t mind, I’m off to see if that bike I want is in stock….

Home Personal Musings

I know you’ll all excuse these more introspective posts, and hopefully you’ll forgive me as I repeat knowledge that is mostly already known but sometimes, when such things fall newly into your world they take on a new light, and are all the more vivid and vital for it.

I don’t remember my Dad’s parents. His father passed away before I was born, and I was maybe four years old when Nana passed so she lives in fuzzy memories that are mostly about her box of costume jewellery and a particularly colourful necklace. I have few real memories of the woman herself. I don’t remember if I was sad or upset when she passed away.

The next time I was faced with grief was ten years later when my Mum’s father passed. He’d spent most of the time that I knew him declining after a number of strokes so my interactions with him were always from a bit of a distance. As an early teenager I wasn’t really sure how to process what I was feeling when he died, and all I really remember about his funeral was seeing my Aunt Anne there and suddenly sobbing on her shoulder.

Another ten or so years down the line my Grandma was next after a long slow slide into her latter years. It was time for her to go, the grieving was hard but inevitable and that softened the blow. I loved my Grandma dearly, I spent many weekends staying with her and Grandpa, and as the first grandchild I was spoiled rotten. But towards the end she deteriotated to the point where a final peaceful slipping away was a mercy.

My mother-in-law was the next one to leave us. It was sudden and painful. She was a wonderful, cheeky, caring woman who made me feel so welcomed into her family. I really did get on well with my in-laws. They had moved to a small town on the coast of Spain when they had retired a couple of years beforehand, and I’ll always have fond memories of visiting them there. When Grace passed, we all flew out to be there and I busied myself looking after my wife, my nieces and nephews, and generally trying to hold things together so her direct family could grieve.

But I can still remember realising that I needed a little time to process things too and so I took a longer walk back from the shop one evening, wandered down to the beach, left the shopping bag on the shore and waded a little way into the rolling surf. The sun was setting and I stood there and marvelled at the view, the cold water ebbing and flowing round my feet as the day ended. I sobbed, my salt water tears falling to the sea.

I read an article a while back about the stages of grief, it suggested there isn’t really any defined stages that you move to and from, rather it’s a constant flux of emotions that catch you off-guard. You’ll go from denial to acceptance to bargaining and back again in minutes.

Which sounds about right; I’ve gone from laughing at a daft video on Facebook to an ugly crying mess a few seconds later; the other day I just sat on the bed and tears started rolling down my face. Recently I’ve caught myself living a ‘normal’ life and had odd misgivings because I was out in the world, enjoying a good coffee, and laughing and joking, shouldn’t I be home in a dark room somewhere?

It’s weird, is what I’m saying.

I’m coping though, quite simply by letting the emotions happen, accepting that my moods will be what they are and, whenever I feel like crying I’m doing just that.

OK, I’ll confess, this is all apropos of nothing whatsoever except to say that I’ve been crying more than usual.

And that’s ok. Mind you, even if I wasn’t processing my grief it would still be ok because, as I’ve said before, I’m a bit of a cryer at the best of times.

Then so was Dad so I know where I get it from, this tendency to tear up at the slightest, daftest little thing.

I’m a big one for a good greet at the best of times. As friends will attest I’m prone to crying at gigs, and not always because I’m sad. When I saw LCD Soundsystem at the Barrowlands a few years back, I can remember feeling such an elated high that I stood in the middle of the crowd, arms raised to the sky like a preacher, joyful tears streaming down my face, I was elated and happy, it was glorious.

It wasn’t always this way though. For a long time I denied this part of me as I was tried to fit in, to be the model type of man that society suggested I should be; I struggled for a long time with how to make my peace with the simple fact that I am not that type of person. I don’t choke back my tears, I have no stiff upper lip, and yes I’ve told all my friends I love them because I do (luckily they’ve all said it back to me too, phew!).

Back then I did what every young person does and pushed away any thoughts of the traits I’d inherited from my parents, denying them space in my life. I think I was so hell bent on NOT being my parents I forgot I was supposed to be figuring out who I was. It’s so easy to get caught up in defining a negative that, when someone points this out, it’s a little startling.

But now I see the wisdom and benefits of accepting those aspects of my parents personalities that I tried to shy away from and over the past few years I’ve embraced them and enjoyed realising just how much of who I am I owe to them. I am a good man. I am my father’s son.

So yes, I will cry during THOSE episodes of The West Wing, I will cry when we watch THAT scene in E.T., and I will cry when Elbow sing THAT song about my sister buzzing through the room leaving perfume in the air, and when I’m done crying I’ll wipe my tears away and find solace and happiness on the other side.

I will cry whenever I need to, wherever I am, because it’s just another emotion that needs to come out.

As ever part of me is writing all of this for myself as a way to process how I’ve been feeling these past few weeks, but equally there is a part of me is writing for anyone who reads it that is struggling with this too. It’s the same part of me that wants to reach out and shake the toxic masculinity out of some people (well, ALL people) as it serves no good purpose. No man is better because they push their emotions away. Believe me, I’ve tried it, it’s not good for you.

I’m lucky though, I acknowledge that. I have the love of my family, the willing strong arms of my amazing partner who holds me whenever I need it with no question of why, and the support and love of my friends who know the best way to put me at ease is to try and match my sarcasm (I should point out that my use of the word ‘try’ is, well, let’s just say charitable… at best).

My Dad was not one to dwell on things. He was a planner, for sure, but his laidback approach can roughly be translated into more modern terms of ‘living in the moment’ and so I find myself taking each day as it comes and doing my own planning for the future.

Which, given all the uncertainty in the world at the moment, seems as equally pointless as it is desirable; Remember Brexit, well we’ve still got that shitshow to get through, you know, whilst we continue to try and get a grip on the global pandemic, dismantle the current power systems in place, protest (again) about violence and prejudice against the BAME community (this is a white people issue that we need to fix!), and that’s just the currently newsworthy items. The MeToo movement still rolls rightly onwards and any notion of equality across genders remains frustratingly elusive.

Regardless, we are doing our best to cope, paddling hard against the current and, no matter which way we choose to go none of us have any idea what the future will truly hold. It sounds trite but it’s true.

Yet the joyous thing about being human is that as well as our struggles and trials, we also have hopes and dreams and so we act on those as best we can and take whatever life throws at us next. How else should we live?

You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.

Albert Camus, Intuitions (1932)

As I recently posted, I find myself in a good place on the whole, despite all of the weirdness of the world and the sadness of recent personal events. Putting all that behind me where it belongs helps, and in a strange way it feels good to be moving forward again, to be headed in a definite direction, regardless of how we get there. I’ve no doubt there will be more tears in the future, although I hope there will be more happy ones than sad.

All of this is not to say that the past is forgotten, naturally it still bubbles up on occasion to meet me, and more and more it happens at the oddest of times.

It’s 10pm. I’ve got Dave (the dog) out for a final pee, he’s snuffling about the grass at my feet and I’m standing staring at the night sky. The clouds are scrolling casually, as the last embers of daylight glow out, tiny spots of light are appearing in fluffy gaps and the crescent of a moon is hazily rendered from afar.

I find myself staring up this way more and more often. It’s not a recent thing at all, but it feels more poignant to stare at the universe and contemplate my place in it. A small speck, a fleeting moment of time. I am nothing at all against the mind boggling scale of what’s out there. With that thought it’s easy to put all of this uncertainty, all of this pain, all of this happiness and joy into perspective. It feels almost to much of a cliche at times but it is what it is, we are here for the briefest of moments.

I don’t regret not spending more time with Dad before he passed. I am confident I was a good son, that he loved me as I loved him. But he is gone now, that won’t change and so we look forward at what life will bring us next, whilst standing and staring up into the outer reaches of space.

I feel a solitary tear roll down my face and tilt my head to let it fall to the grass below me. With a smile I turn and haul Dave back inside for the night for tomorrow is a new day and I need to live it.


P.S. For those who recognise the quote, no I’m not a big reader of philosophy, I am reading The Midnight Library by Matt Haig and to say it’s a timely read would be an understatement (it’s very good too!)

Personal Musings

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A long post which could be subtitled – the ever evolving state of Gordon McLean and how he’s finally found his identity – and definitely one that was as cathartic and mind opening to write as it is scary to share. But this is my journey, my blog, and my happiness. Read on if you dare!

If you’ve been paying attention over the last ten years or so of this blog, you’ll have spotted a recurring theme. No, it’s not (only) my obsession with Apple products but rather it’s something reflected in the title of this site, something that people have gently taken me to task over in the past, whenever I mentioned that I was looking to try and improve myself in one way or another; Why can’t you just be happy with who you are? Why are you always striving for more?

When I finally landed on Happily Imperfect as a name for this site, it was a knowing hat-tip to those people who lovingly challenged me to step back from the continual push for perfection and try and find a way to accept who I am. A previous HR manager of mine was among the first to realise the deeper seated tendencies of mine; to constantly look for ways to do things better when they were already good enough, to immediately push away praise and not give myself any credit for the work I’d done, to take all the blame of anything bad that happens on myself whether it’s my fault or not.

I now know these behaviours are ways that my perfectionism is brought to the fore, and I’m even more aware of just how damaging some of those traits can be to my well being (and that of others around me). Part of these realisations came a few years ago during a counselling session when, talking about ways to make new ways of thinking ‘stick’, my counsellor suggested that sometimes saying things out loud, with confidence, would help. ‘Fake it ’til you make it’ I replied with a smile, thinking back to David, the HR manager who first spotted these traits in me.

I once had a conversation with him about that exact thing, it was part of a follow up from some leadership training we’d had, and we were discussing how sometimes, as a manager, you had to fake it until you make it. He confessed that, whilst he always gave the same stock reply to the passing “How are you doing?” question from colleagues, sometimes he didn’t mean it. Anyone who knew him already knows that his response was always “I’m great thanks, how are you?”, and it was always delivered with a warm smile.

I’ll happily admit I’ve stolen this approach, particularly at work when I’m not having a great day. A quick pause is all it takes to realise that I have a chance to adapt my mindset with one simple phrase, and it works, honestly, give it a try.

Except, I guess it’s not as easy as that anymore – what is? – given how many of us are no longer working in an office every day. It’s not quite the same to type the words in response to an instant message (I’ve tried) but I guess on the flipside, if there’s no-one else around why not say it out loud anyway?

Ahh the joys of working at home; comfy clothes (I’ve not worn trousers for months and only the weather will force me to finally abandon my shorts in … a month or so?), your own music, your own coffee, your own space, and no more of those overly loud annoying co-workers, or that guy who walks about on his mobile phone like he owns the place!

I’ve found adapting to working from home pretty straightforward. I’m very thankful that it’s an option at all as I know not everyone is as lucky, I can do the bulk of my job from home and the challenges have been minimal and mostly down to communication issues, that said, it did take some a few weeks to adjust properly and get into a sustainable routine.

The first few weeks of working from home were full-on, 9 to 5, with few breaks to let my mind and body relax. I was finding myself exhausted at the end of each working day and I was baffled; why was this so much harder than my normal working day?

It’s obvious really, without interruptions from colleagues, whether work related or not, my days didn’t have any breaks. I’d sit down at 9am, log in, work until lunch, then work until 5pm. That ‘always on’ aspect was very easy to fall into and without the natural cadence of office life, where an invitation to go for a coffee is always a welcome distraction from whatever task is at hand, so I found myself slavishly attending each and every incoming request immediately.

This is not a new problem, with the ability to access emails and instant messages on your phone it’s far too easy to get into this mindset, and I think everyone in my team probably did the same. As it’s so easy to send an email or ping an instant message, and as everyone else is working from home, the expectation starts to form around swift replies. Also, as there are no meetings to attend in person, it’s even easier to pick up the phone and find yourself annoyed that no-one answers, what on earth are they doing if they aren’t working and answering my call!

Add in the fact that we were in the midst of global pandemic – News Flash: WE STILL ARE! – and it’s no wonder that this new mode of work, plus the stress of lockdown and all the uncertainty we all faced lead to complete exhaustion.

A few weeks in though, and as I headed for yet another Monday (was it even a Monday, the days were all blur) I realised I was dreading having to sit at the same desk, and have another day where I felt trapped in a routine that I didn’t not choose. So, realising that this new set of working habits that had snuck their way into my day was not something I could sustain, I took a step back and started making some changes.

First I looked at my day and started to schedule it to give me some sense of control and also to force me AWAY from my desk more often for both a physical and mental break. I set up recurring appointments in my calendar prompting me to grab a coffee mid-morning, stop for an hour for lunch, take a break mid-afternoon, and a hard stop at 5pm. My wonderful partner also suggested I add a commute, so whilst I was going to and from the same place, I would go for a 10-15 min walk each morning, by myself (no dogs, the novelty!) to adjust my head space.

Fast forward and with that routine well established I deleted most of the calendar entries as I’m much more aware of how I spend my day now, well that and the massive life event that happened last month also forced me to re-evaluate that too.

So now, if possible, I pause for 15 mins at 10:30am for Popmaster (I’ve got a rolling weekly average of 19 don’t ya know and yes I have asked for a meeting to be rescheduled more than once to I can listen live), I log off at lunchtime and if I can I’ll get outside, even just getting the dogs out for a few minutes. More importantly I’ve silenced notifications for emails and only check them at specific times of the day, which has had huge benefits to me and, well I’m pretty sure no-one I work with has even noticed. All in all, I’m much more considered with how I spend my working day.

I’ve even gone so far as to find an app that will force me to take regular screen breaks and I’ve got it set to lock my screen for the last 10 mins of every hour; Apple Watch users will recognise this behaviour as ‘Time to Stand’. For those interested in similar, the app is called Time Out and you can configure it in many different ways, this is just the one that works for me.

My working days are now much more balanced, I have time to meditate each day, I listen to Popmaster, and I feel less pressure to respond the instant an email or instant message arrives. Ohh and thankfully we haven’t really gone in for video calls all that much, we tried at the start, but I think no-one was really enjoying them, so they’ve stopped.

The physical differences of working at home are interesting to observe too.

I bought three things very early into lockdown to improve my physical working space. I already had a desk and office chair at home, but I quickly added a posture cushion to the chair, a second monitor for my laptop, and by far the best purchase was a new stand/sit electric desk base. As an investment I was wary but for a couple of hundred pounds I figured my body would thank me for it and I’ll admit it’s been an absolute revelation.

I now spend most of my mornings standing at my desk and depending on how I feel after lunch I might not sit down until the last couple of working hours of my day.

As a result, I feel much more in-tune with my body as I spend more time standing at my desk than I do passively slumped in my chair these days. I feel more productive and focused when I’m standing, able to context switch, and I’m much less easily distracted (no YOU procrastinate!)

Early on I also started doing some basic stretches to help my body cope with this change and, on the whole, they’ve helped me stay reasonably mobile (supple is not a word that features in my vocabulary) and a recent visit to the wonderful Mz. Bandeen for a massage confirmed that, bar a slightly tight shoulder, I was in pretty good nick.

So far so good, and a few weeks into lockdown I felt reasonably good, I’d made adjustments to both my mental and physical spaces that were working and whilst it was still very strange not to be in the office every day, I felt a level of balance returning to my life.

For the first few weeks of lockdown I also looked on at the ways other people were handling it; the planners and goal makers, the suffering acceptance, the drinkers, the eaters, the home bakers et al. Like many I flitted between grand plans of new regimes and habits, and accepting that if you plonk a big bag of chocolate buttons down in front of me, I’m gonna eat the entire thing. I am not going to say any of these are bad things, they aren’t, they are all just ways to cope with the massive uncertainty COVID-19 brought with it and I have my own coping mechanisms that, with confirmation that I won’t be back in the office this year at all, I find I’m keen to hold on to.

But it’s not just about adapting to working from home, more and more I’m realising that my own mindset has shifted, and the person I self-identify with now is finally feeling settled, strong, content, and happy. Am I finally the me I want to be?

Perhaps I am, and without realising it I’ve been following through on those aims I set out to establish at the start of the year. I’ll happily admit this has been more by happenstance than any specific planning, although I guess there is something about having these things kicking about in your brain for a while before trying to fix them into place, planting the seeds and all that.

Largely though it’s been a change in my attitude towards these things that has made the difference, a casting off of any notion of what others may think of me, and accepting that these are things that make me happy and are now part and parcel of who I am, regardless of how well, or often, I do them.

Ultimately it means I am building a new id (for the Freudians among you), a new identity for myself, structured around a new set of desires which are now just part of who I am. At my core I am the same me, but now I am much happier to identify as someone who meditates regularly, someone who keeps a journal, I am a vegetarian, I cycle, I go to the gym. This is who I am now.

None of this is revelatory, yet there has definitely been a subtle change to my approach to these things. In the past I would shy away from even mentioning that I meditate, and exercise was largely something I forced myself to do because I had to do something to balance out what I was eating. Yet now I look forward to my daily meditation, deliberately carving time out for it, I enjoyed my cycle last weekend so much I actually considered going back out later on that day. Who is this guy?!

It’s me.

It’s taken me a while to figure out how these changes have landed without me fulling noticing. At some point these activities switched from being things in my calendar that I’d sometimes do because, hey it’s in my calendar, to things that I actively want to do, things that I’m trying to figure out how I’ll fit in in the coming days and which I’ll feel bad about NOT doing. I don’t like cycling in the rain but if this weekend is to be a complete washout then I know I’ll still be going out, even just for 30 mins, because I want to do it.

For someone who has lived, unknowingly for a long time, with a set of behaviours that are almost entirely driven by my desire to make other people like me and not have a single reason to think anything negative about me, this is eye opening. For example, I now find myself deciding to go out on my bike when best suits me (within reason, I’m not an asshole) rather than putting it off if I can’t quite make it work around the schedules of other people. I’ve turned up slightly later than planned at a friend’s house a couple of times, and I’ve stopped presuming that causing the smallest annoyance is a big deal when it’s just that, a small annoyance.

It would be trite to say that I’ve gotten to this point purely because of adopting that fake it ’til you make it approach, but perhaps I have. Perhaps I’ve brought that simple phrase to the fore and used it to power a positive mental attitude which, in turn, has fostered an acceptance of these things and the part they now play in my life. Perhaps I’ve been unwilling to vocalise this, to publically offer this new me because, well, I’ve never really been all that proud of who I am. It’s not quite imposter syndrome, but is definitely an odd sensation to step back and consider the person I am today, the things I’m prioritising in my life, and realise that, yes, this is me, and I have every right to shout it from the rooftops (and I don’t care if no-one else hears or responds either).

Fake it ’til you make it doesn’t always work of course, but that’s ok too. Even the experts, the greats, have off-days, and it’s important to recognise those days too, the days when I don’t meditate, or write in my journal, or when going to the gym is a real effort. There is only so many times you can utter “Let’s do this” with forced vigour and have yourself believe it. Yet these moments can be used as a way to check in on whether this new thing, this new me, is still valid and correct. Maybe there is something else I can tweak, a small change of direction that will get me back on course. And that’s all part of it, part of growing and adapting and finding your way to happiness.

So here I am. Shiny in my imperfection, happy in the moment as best I can be, adapting to life as it is forced upon me, and in adapting myself to all of this I, oddly, wonderfully, find myself exactly where I want to be.

These last few months I’ve slowly realised just how happy I am, how easy my life is, and how lucky it is that I have found myself here. It’s a place I’ve been striving to get to all of my life, even if I didn’t realise it, and whilst I’ve come close in the past there are enough indicators, small changes of my daily thoughts and habits, that confirm that I am where I should be.

I’ve also spent the last few months questioning all of this, all of these new ideas, new ways of thinking that seem to have fallen into place in my brain. Switches have been flipped and part of me likes to figure out how that happened. I’ve wondered if I’m simply clutching on to these things to counteract all of the swirling chaos that Coronavirus has wrought on the world, but even if that’s the case, so what? It just happens to have been part of this journey since this year and so I’ll accept things as they stand today.

There have been other tumultuous changes in my life these past few months, not least the death of my Father, and it feels odd to be writing about the benefits of self-care, of meditation and happiness in the wake of his passing. Just over a month ago I was delivering his eulogy, but perhaps that in itself has been the catalyst, the final push on this journey of self-discovering and awakening that I didn’t know I needed. Or perhaps this is all just a natural reaction to the death of a parent, a realisation that time moves ever onwards and, to steal a line, we’ve all only really got one choice in life; Get busy living or get busy dying.

I choose living, I choose a life that is mine, a life that I’m proud of, a life that makes me happy. It is well balanced, considerate of others, but places me in the centre with my own needs catered to, listened to and acted upon. I’m putting aside the thoughts in my head that are saying I don’t deserve this, and that I certainly should not be publishing it to the world, and I do all of this not to seek validation but to confirm to myself that, yes, this is me, this is my identity, this is who I am.

At last.

Personal Musings

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The last two weeks have been a whirlwind.

The day of my parents 50th Anniversary – 30th of July – was when Dad fell ill and was taken to hospital with stomach pains.

I visited him, the sole visitor that was allowed due to COVID restrictions, on the Friday, he was taken into the ICU that night. He had acute pancreatitis which rapidly gave him sepsis and he sadly deteriorated from there.

Mum says he’d been a little off earlier in the week but my Dad was never one to make a fuss. I’m not sure that if he had it would’ve made any difference though as, in one short week, he reached the point the ICU staff couldn’t do anything else for him. He was on a ventilator, dialysis, and the sepsis was shutting down his major organs.

A few years ago Dad was diagnosed with an untreatable muscle wasting condition called Inclusion Body Myositis – it falls into the wider category of Muscular Dystrophy – which left him weaker and weaker, so much so that my sister (thankfully) brought her wedding forward a year to ensure he could walk her down the aisle (almost exactly a year ago). He did, although it was a fair effort to get him up into the carriage that he and my sister arrived in!

He never let it bother him, never complained, just adjusted his life accordingly, and continued to provide care for my Mum (herself a stroke victim without use of her right side). That was his way, just get on with things, don’t dwell, just look to the next thing that needs done.

As I said in my eulogy, he was always busy, always planning what was next but it was clear he was slowing down. Over the past few months he was starting to struggle to stand unaided, walking was getting harder, it was clear the IBM was starting to kick in and that made the future for Dad pretty clear. Once he got too weak to walk he’d be in a wheelchair, and eventually IBM impacts the swallow muscles, meaning he’d move from solid foods, to liquids and ultimately to a feeding tube.

I can’t imagine my Dad in a wheelchair, dependent on others for basic tasks, but then who can picture their parents that way? Yet that’s the way his life was heading.

I say all of this is a prelude to the small measure of relief that sits alongside the sadness and grief that still washes over me unexpectedly. When we first spoke to the Doctors in the ICU, they were very clear that Dad was gravely ill, and that if he did manage to pull through he would likely spend months in the hospital and, given his advancing IBM and the damage being wrought on his body, he would be lucky to be get home at all, with a care home a more likely outcome.

Mum was adamant that Dad would hate that. Given their advancing years, the conditions they both live(d) with, and the fact that they are both very practical about such things, they had discussed all of this. Dad did not want to be resuscitated, preferring I guess to have a few moments of dignity, of ownership of the last moments of his life and, whilst that decision ultimately falls to the Doctors, my Mum made it clear, on more than one occasion, that this is how Dad would’ve wanted it. Just let him go.

We talked about it every day as we drove up and down to the hospital, and waited to get in to see him. I guess we started accepting things that week, seeing him hooked up to all those machines, all that ‘fuss’ over him. I guess we knew he was going and that while it was far far sooner than any of us wanted, it was for the best for him.

My Grandpa, my Mum’s father, spent many years in care homes before he passed. Robbed of his ability to walk and speak by numerous strokes he was reduced to a shell of the man I vaguely remember. I was 15 when he passed, but I struggle to remember his voice, and can barely remember him walking without at least the help of a zimmer. From all accounts he was a life and soul kinda guy, a salesman. I can remember him smiling and laughing, the love in his eyes when Jennie arrived to show him her latest toy or drawing, just as I can remember the frustration and rage that built as he tried to communicate yet could only bang his fist on the table whilst moaning loudly when all he wanted was someone to pass the salt.

It was upsetting to see my Grandfather like that, and I’ve no idea if Dad would’ve gone the same way; he was a very patient man, but I fear he would’ve retreated from life so as not to be a ‘bother’ to anyone.

What a daftie, eh. I miss him so much.

I think it’s natural to contemplate your own mortality at times like these, to look ahead to your future years and ponder and consider what might happen. Like my Dad I’d rather not be in a situation for people to have to make a ‘fuss’.

My Dad lasted a week in ICU before we said our goodbyes, after which he was removed from the ventilator, the dialysis was stopped, and he was given morphine to make him comfortable. We didn’t wait at the hospital, instead we took Mum home, and sat and waited. As the nominated contact it was my phone that rang, my sister and mother looked over at me as the voice at the other end of the line confirmed that Dad had passed away. A little over an hour had passed since we’d said our goodbyes.

We all cried.

We consoled each other, wordless hugs, a cascade of silent tears, as we sobbed.

It was my Mum that broke the silence that followed. ‘Aye’ she said, ‘he was ready to go’.

I think there’s a fine line between hiding from and denying your grief, and accepting the sad moments but not letting them dominate. I know that type of thinking comes from Dad, I spent enough time with him on various gardening projects and home improvements to know that if you get a bit stuck, or a setback occurs, you pause and then figure out what’s next and move on. I appear to be treating my grief the same way, my sister is doing the same.

Every now and then it hits me that he’s gone. It’s not really been triggered by anything, I just suddenly realise that I won’t speak to him again, or have him show me his latest project (more on that later). The tears come, I let them fall, then wipe my face dry and figure out what’s next.

Of course, with life doing what it always does, there have been some other things going on; One of our dogs took unwell last week, thankfully he’s on the mend now but we will need to source two new rugs as … well, I’ll spare you the details.

In nicer news, my sister is pregnant again! It’s not, as my niece hopes, with twins, but Lucy should be a big sister round about the time she turns 5.

The timing of this news is good for my Mum, as it’s something to look forward to, but a little sad nevertheless. Dad was already in ICU when Jennie broke the news to him, she had planned to tell the family that weekend whilst we gathered for their Golden Anniversary celebrations, but we are all sure Dad heard her, responding with a flickering of his eyes and a faint smile.

Yes indeed, one life ends and another will begin, t’were ever thus.

As for my own life, well, I already know what’s next. Just gotta get on and live it.


Image courtesy of The West Wing Weekly (featured on this t-shirt).

Life

It was my Dad’s funeral this afternoon.

It was a short service at a local crematorium, with only 18 attendees allowed, all of us sitting in socially distanced seats with our masks on. Surreal.

That aside it was, as my Uncle Nigel said, a dignified service. The Rev Ian Miller led the way, and I said a few words myself, words which were easier to write and deliver, than I thought.

My Dad was well liked and we were all very moved to see old neighbours waiting to say goodbye as we left the funeral parlour, members of the Rotary and Burns clubs flanking the road into the Crematorium, and so many people waiting outside as he was piped in ‘up the hill’ by a well kent local figure (thanks again Colin).

It was a sad day, but a wonderful celebration of the amazing life my Dad lived. He touched the lives of so many, and was proof that being a good guy is something to aspire to.

Here’s what I said (and no, I don’t know how I made it through it without crying):

My father was 5’4, on a good day. Being slightly taller than him I occasionally used to tease him about this, yet he always gave the same good natured reply; Good things come in small packages.

Good is a word I’ve seen used to describe my Dad frequently over the last few days as the messages of condolence and support have flooded in. As well as family and friends, we were all heartened to read the hundreds of responses from ex-pupils as well, all of which used a variety of wonderful adjectives; good, thoughtful, kind, considerate, lovely, generous, best, he even got a ‘legend’, a word I know my Dad would’ve baulked at.

I have many more words I could add to that list but, if I had to pick only one it would be “busy”.

Dad always had something on the go; between the numerous home improvements and landscaping of the garden in Barloan Crescent (under Mums close supervision of course), the races to train for, the choirs to sing in, performances to rehearse, poems to write and learn, any number of helpful projects on the computer and, of course, that was all on top of the usual duties involved with being a devoted husband, and a caring and supportive father. He was always busy, but never too busy for us.

When I think of Dad I guess I’ll always come back to that phrase of his, good things come in small packages.

Those thoughts were running through my head as I drove to Dumbarton last week; on the radio they started discussing the Robert Burns poem, Tae a Moose. In it, Burns looks on with envy at the mouse as it only lives in the present, it’s us humans that are cursed with the ability to dwell on the past and fear the future:

Still, thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But Och! I backward cast my e’e,
On prospects drear!
An’ forward tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!


I don’t fear a future without Dad but it makes me sad to think ahead to the life events he will miss; the beginning of my own family and the continuing bloom of my sisters, not to mention all the missed coffee, cake and ice cream trips with Mum.

Instead I’ll look to the past, not to dwell but to remember the happy times, for there are many to choose from.

Dad was always laidback about life – so laidback he was horizontal – and he was always ready with a silly comment or a smile, always there to support the family however best he could.

Our family home was one full of love, joy, laughter, and a never ending stash of biscuits and sweets. Those, and many more, are the memories I will look back on, the past that I’ll carry with me fondly, as should we all.

My Dad was no mouse and, whilst he may only have been 5’4 (on a good day), I know I’ll always look up to him, and aspire to be, like he was, a good man.

A sad day, but I know Dad wouldn’t want us to dwell. He helped his family find happiness and we will strive to continue to live our lives in that same kind-hearted way he exemplified.

R.I.P. Dad. x

Life Personal Musings

I can’t recall where I saw it, or heard it. It might have been on the radio, it might have been on Twitter, or it might have been a line an article I read somewhere. Annoyingly I can’t recall the exact phrasing but given I can’t even find it to quote it I don’t think I’m doing anyone a disservice by paraphrasing this in my own way.

I am done with the wilfully inconsiderate.

I do know it concerned right wing factions in the US and their protests against wearing masks – this in a country that is currently leading the way (go America!) in COVID-19 deaths – and how it wasn’t the people who lack an education who we should be dealing with here, no no, instead we should be looking at those people who are WILFULLY IGNORING advice from scientists.

I am done with the wilfully inconsiderate.

At this point I should admit that I have a pet peeve, I identified it a long time ago and it’s one I know I’ll never shake; It’s the person who doesn’t glance behind as they open a door and who just lets it swing back into… well whatever is behind them, they don’t know. It’s the person who litters. It’s the person who looks at an already full and overflowing recycling bin and things they’ll just dump a bin bag next to it anyway.

I’m not sure if it’s a growing trend, this air of ‘but it’s not my job’/seeming self importance, but it is most certainly an annoying one.

Is it a lack of education? I’m not sure, and it’s hard to get into this without rolling out class based reasoning and accusations. So let’s not go there, especially as I’ve heard and seen all the counter-arguments to these types of minor misdemeanours; someone else will do it… I was only gone for… and so on.

Oh yes, there is always a ready excuse, just as there is usually a quick escalation to anger. Is that because they know, deep down, that what they’ve not done isn’t right? That it goes against the idea of a community, a society in which everyone has the same rights and expectations? And when called out on it the reaction is usual a spicy ‘Mind your own business’ (and that’s the polite version).

For a while I thought it was my age, or a change in my demeanour that was making these little transgressions fit into a large pattern, but no, when a traveling writer (himself a renowned anti-litter grump) visited Glasgow a couple of years ago he commented on the same thing, how shameful it was that such a lovely city was covered in litter. Disgusting, he said, and we sat in our shame and agreed.

I miss lockdown. Walking the dogs through the early weeks and the change in our local environment was telling, the streets were cleaner than I remember them for a long long time.

Lockdown lifts and it’s already heading back to where it was, with the added bonus of discarded masks lying in the street alongside the McDonalds containers and coffee cups. It’s all so enraging and I can feel my patience wearing thinner and thinner.

Yet the ones that pique my rage the most are those who actively go out of their way, who wilfully choose to go against the grain. No more so than the current trend (is that what it is?) of choosing not to wear a mask.

It’s all subsumed into a world of fake virus claims, 5G hysteria, and largely driven by bogus information that is easily fact checked and flagged as such. I’ve even seen one Facebook page linking to articles that Facebook itself is flagging as false information (but of course that’s all part of the conspiracy too, right?).

What is the reasoning here? Is it a weird unthinking reflex that flies in thousands of years of self-preservation, or just an obstinate choice to be contrary for the sake of it?

This virus kills people. It damages survivors in ways we don’t yet fully understand. Those are the facts, I’ve a friend who tested positive, had self-isolated and still doesn’t have much of a sense of smell or taste.

But that’s ok, that doesn’t impact you so go ahead, don’t bother with a face mask, don’t look where you are walking, and feel free to drop that plastic bag of rubbish in the street.

Of course there is part of me that realises I’m speaking from a place of privilege (of which I have many), and that allows me to look at people who demonstrate these traits and determine the actions that I want to ensure I avoid (however subtle) and if nothing else they are a shining example of the type of person I do NOT want to be.

Yet I find myself casting around for ways to get a handle on these things, a way to process my initial reaction (anger) and find a way to better approach these things, whether that’s directly with the person – a polite request might be all some need – or through community action perhaps?

It’s the one thing that I hope is carried over from lockdown, a sense of community, a sense of doing good, or at least doing better, for your local area. Perhaps it’s overly optimistic but these days I’m not sure how else to be, and I’m not sure how else to combat these things.

Is it just me? Is the world slowly slipping away from the basic tenet of ‘be nice’? It certainly feels that way.


Image source: https://www.instagram.com/p/CDCHDymJ9jz/

Life