My world feels surreal at the moment, but I keep breathing. Oftentimes I feel like Alice falling into the rabbit hole – looking around and seeing things that are strange, unusual and make no sense whatsoever. We talk about irrelevant stuff but feel the real feelings of fear for life, collective grief and sense of helplessness. Some of us thrive, of course, and move on easily. However, others fall deeper into the darkness of the unknown future. Finding safe spaces becomes harder and harder. But…there is a way to navigate this. I am ever so grateful for access to informed and kind people who carry me through this time with hope, care and insight. So as I continue to build my new skills and my clear vision of my future, I am also finding it easier to get back to my summer plans. It’s great to see a lot of my friends picking up sports – for other reasons, more in worry for their health due to the pandemic. But it’s nice to do things attuned with others. For me, the focus on reconnecting with my body comes from the need to improve my person-centred coaching and counselling practice. Planned in winter, after months of research, I can finally put it in practice. It is actually a fantastic opportunity to realign myself with my inner moral compass too and reflect on how I grow in this time of such obvious change. I am learning so much these days.
My new running routine is perfect for thinking. It gives me time to reflect in peace, now that I learned how to run and got used to my routes, sweat, heat and pain. Few weeks into a simple Couch to 5K training I am already feeling stronger and lighter – physically, mentally, spiritually. I now understand the importance of listening to my body and to my mind, to my gut feeling. I learn to slow down at the right time and to push myself harder at times too. I learn the importance of resting and replenishing my energy. I finally see clearly the need for space and time to recover deeply. I learn to slow down to reach a further goal, not rush things off but never miss a chance for growth.
My new weekly yoga classes help me reconnect with my body and my immediate reality. I am learning about their layers, structures and flows. I learn to listen to them and to respect them. Sometimes my body needs me to slow down and sit still. Oftentimes it actually needs me to move, to walk, to play, to explore new boundaries of what is possible, stretch beyond my limitations. My reality is imperfect, but so blessed with awe and joy of everyday connection – with people I love and who love me back, with nature, with my community. Society teaches us that joy and happiness are in resting passively, preferably far away from our daily reality. But that’s quite silly, frankly. That doesn’t work. It’s a missold dream. This approach only reinforces the idea of being a victim of our circumstances and disliking our daily reality. When actually, we could embrace it, shape it into our preferred version of it and stand up for what we need here and now: in our home, city, community. So instead of facing our challenges, we complain and escape – preferably to a remote beach with perfect sand and sunshine (certainly pushing away the thoughts about the locals who clean the beach at 5 am each morning or the carbon footprint of our flights). For the record, I think travel is important, but it should be conscious and informative, not passive. So when I practice yoga with mentors and guides who understand those modern paradoxes I feel I am home.
Getting back to cycling helps me expand my tribe. Being a Polish ex-pat in the UK it’s pretty hard at the moment. As the racist narrative eases off finally so I can stay informed and avoid those subtle moments of unconscious or well-hidden dislike from people around me (for those of you outside of the UK, the GOV.UK ads on the radio claim we have already left EU and need to prepare for the new adventure – so the public narrative is finally moving away from using us as victims and causes of economic decline). I now rarely get educated on how to behave the “British way”. I now rarely get asked about my accent. I still get ignored, dismissed or teased sometimes when mentioning new ideas, while my local friends get clear attention, but I have learned from my BAME friends that this lack of attention can actually be helpful – it’s better to be ignored than actively attacked. People still misspell my name. After a long phase of rawness and vulnerability, I am now making more and more new, resilient, nurturing connections. The cycling community is carrying. In cycling (and many other sports, I bet) the more advanced people always look back, slow down, stop to check if you are OK. People cheer you for every single small step forward, and if needed, carry you over to the next place where you can continue on your own. They share their water, feed you and fix your bike if needed. They don’t pay attention to the artificial binary divide of them and us. Everyone is in the same boat. Everyone starts one day. We all need to start somewhere.
Second thing I am learning from the cycling community is the importance of getting up and moving on, but carefully. I am never going to forget the leaders and also specific individuals around me for their silence when EU citizens needed support. I will remember each and every person who did not support me/us during the Referendum and around each Brexit deadline especially – because ignorance and ostracism hurt just as much as physical pain. My relationship with those people will never be the same and that’s a pity. However, I am learning to get up, let go, move forward – leaving their ignorance, bad intentions or lack of kindness behind. I have learned so much from those last few years for my own practice and I will be able to help so many people who are left disempowered. I always had a thing for racism (xenophobia and all other forms of divide based hatred) – even in my own, predominantly racist country. That is exactly why I left it behind. I know it’s silly to move away from unsafe places but it is also not very sensible to stay and suffer. When we sign up for abuse but have tools to move on, we become a part of the problem too. So I am slowly getting up, cleaning my gear, fixing up my bike and starting to pedal too. The road ahead of my is not yet clear. I am still a bit traumatised, battered and vulnerable, but I also feel more connected to those who can see the real strength in vulnerability. Reaching the end of my route feels more of a success, because I fell during the journey and yet, I made it. Not alone, of course. There are a lot of wonderful, kind, honest, humble and pretty carrying people around me who make it all possible. I look back at them and smile – we are in this together and when they fall, I will be there for them too.
I chose Hillfields for my running training on purpose. To me, this area represents change, challenge and the power of community. It is an area where early kings used to enjoy their hunt, but change also came their way. Kingswood was and is still crucial for British politics, I am told, so I think a lot about the powers we are all dealing with. I think about women a lot – and their rights. I run via Bryar way where back 1910 local Soufragettes organised their protests. I think about our connection with nature – I look out for ancient oak trees – so very rare today – and admire every single small wildflower. I think about our need for safe spaces. I run directly through the Homes for Heroes project and the first woman architect involved in it. Such a symbolic place to remember that society can be carrying and humane. I find it humbling to run next to the youth club in the Hillfileds park and think of all the amazing people who make it accessible and safe today. I met some of them. My son goes to a club there too. I hope to help as a counsellor one day, if I may. I also run supported by a local artist, @theartkindness, who in response to COVID19 displays positive messages across the city. His little notes of hope keep me going along my route. They make me smile.
I keep breathing the air of past, present and future. I carry the hardship of our past lightly. I take in deep breaths to nurture my entire self – gently. I breathe out with a clear intention for a better, vibrant, hopeful future.
I keep breathing.
I love this photo, as it resembles the theme of my recent pondering. The woman in the photo above is in pain, but what kind of pain? Sometimes it is so hard to tell what is really causing our pain and how we can handle it…
I continue running. I am also doing many yoga sessions in the week. I aim for at least one long bike ride each week. After six months of studying the fitness and its impact on mental health – as my next step in my personal development of a coach and counsellor – I am finally at the stage of actually doing it all.
The first week was exhilarating. I am obviously doing more because the lockdown and slow life allow me the opportunity to use the summer months to do more. I need at least three months for those new habits to remain steady and to build them into my weekly routine, so it’s easier to do it while life is somewhat slower, locally contained. It works. I don’t have to think about the morning commute and family routine, so I can easily figure out my morning run too. I can immerse myself in relevant books, movies and discuss the fitness routines with my friends who are doing the same. My boys join in and we all thrive better in the current challenging times.
However, I am also learning. I struggled to start running for a long time to the point when it had to come from a place of anger and joy at once. realising that gave me the motivation to get out of the door and totally own up to enjoying the running routine. My first week was mainly focused on learning and figuring out how to run, sorting out the gear, the route, the tracking apps and Strava community.
But in the second week of my exercise, while my mind started getting back to the old habit of questioning the entire idea of new – we hate change, we prefer to do stuff the old way by nature – I have also started paying the price for my new daily movement plan: pain.
So for the last two weeks, I was more or less in pain. I still am. I am slowly working out ways of or getting used to it, or managing it. I am learning to take it easy and rest. I am allowing myself to be sleep-deprived and then to write my book slower – I have plenty of time, and I want to be kind to myself. I am learning a lot about the value of rest to our mind and bodies. I sense the need to go out for a run, I really want to and it’s hard to force myself to take it easy, to skip a day – I genuinely want to be on the road every morning.
Both pain and rest are relatively new to me. Ask anyone in my circle and they will tell you that I am oftentimes rather occupied – with writing, gardening, family stuff, work stuff, studies, creativity, journaling, plotting with friends. I thrive in an active way of being, even if it’s a quiet pondering over my morning cuppa…even if sitting still, especially when I am very quiet there is a lot going on in my head.
I do know how to switch off, but I do that actively too. I can go to the allotment and spend hours without a sense of time just doing stuff. Switching off serious thinking, just being in the moment with Mother Nature. Sitting down, listening to the birds even, but even that feels like doing – because everything around me is so vibrant.
But when you are in physical pain, you HAVE to stop and rest. You need to give your body time to recover from the effort and restore its vitality. Regardless of our age, although for menopausal women this might be a challenge, we need to find the right balance between activity/movement and rest/stillness.
So that’s what I am practising now – being sensible about venturing out for a ride or run, or staying at home for a calm yoga session with a studio that encourages free choice and allows space to just be, not move, rest, listen to your body and its needs. Perfection.
I am thinking about pain and its different types and how our society changes and messes up our relationship with it. On one hand, we know so much about pain, even if in the history of medicine it wasn’t always the starting point for a diagnosis (back in the day it was actually ignored). On the other hand, we do our best to avoid it. And even if we do, there are huge discrepancies in how we do so. Most of our systems still completely ignore the mental pain, providing a very low level of support towards mental health (not to mention prevention or even considering the factors of mental health challenges). However, we have industries based on the notion of our strong need to avoid physical pain.
So when people like me start to take care of their bodies and the pain arrives as a natural result of those new shifts and habits, we are not prepared to cope with it. I am amazed at my rather low capacity to cope with pain comparing to my mental resilience in situations like years of Brexit or toxic working relationships.
Comparing my physical pain to mental pain is helpful though. I am using the very same tools to manage both: reflection, examination, mindfulness, gratitude, work with my inner strengths and smart use of external support (including people, of course), with a large dose of rest.
On some days I can hardly move due to my neck pains (years of bad posture really hurt at the moment). But then again, on some days Brexit and racism (no matter how subtle) hurt just as much. So I carry on, wisely measuring my pain levels, adjusting levels of rest, nourishment and support to ensure that I can carry on steadily.
Those new habits provoke a lot of growth, in so many ways. Growth is not supposed to be easy. On some days it is smooth, fun, nurturing. I can feel my muscles growing stronger, my backbone stretching, my heart pumping the blood to my brain faster. I focus better, work faster and take in more of the world around me. On other days, I shut down, ache, stop, curl up and sleep it off during longer mornings (allowing myself an hour of sleep longer and taking it easy in the morning). On those days I work less, seek friends and family and nurture not just my body, but my mind and soul.
The more I think about it all the more I realise that the pain is all the same – it is the reaction to change, to threats and a way of protecting myself and growing stronger. It does not really matter if it’s my feelings or body that experience it. I am one and to think we are not connected in all those aspects would be foolish, naive and very traditional. Thinking of myself more holistically helps me tap into my already well-known resilience, self-care and self-protection tools.
It is a learning curve and a journey. I made a promise to my clients to care for them, and so I need to take good care of myself to be capable to hold the space for them as well. I also made a promise to myself – to be well. It’s as simple as that.
Studying counselling is super interesting, extremely challenging at times and also very rewarding. I am slowly entering the stage of active practice – which is, of course, very humbling. As I enter the next phase of this journey I am also spending a lot of time thinking about health, collective wellbeing and systemic conditions we all grow up in. Not only because I am obligated to do so, but also because I want to.
You see, historically we have lived a strange paradox in carrying professions and carrying roles (motherhood etc): we were told we need to always care for the other, but never really focussed on how to recharge our own batteries. I was lucky that despite my heavily Catholic upbringing (which dictated turning the other cheek and always putting others first), I was raised by a pragmatic father. I was always expected to eat well, move, study, learn and invest in myself as much as possible in order to help others. I did not believe in complete altruism because it never really made sense to me. You cannot pour water out of an empty cup so why would you be expected to give and give without receiving any support yourself?
I learned this through conversations with dad, but also through modelling. Before my GCSE’s I was studying 24/7. One day dad walked into the room, confiscated all my notes and books and kicked me out to see a friend or go for a walk – genuinely, honestly threatening me that if I don’t stop and rest he would take me out of school altogether.
And so I lived this approach as well as I could and now that I am entering a really demanding world of mental health support, I am aware of the natural need for self-care more than ever. I spent the first few years making time for studies – to lower my stress levels. Then I spent two years in therapy working on my financial health – an aspect of life we normally don’t talk about whatsoever. And now I am moving to the most difficult area for me: fitness and physical wellbeing.
At the beginning of the year, I set myself an intention – to continue working on my financial habits but also gradually start thinking about my weight and fitness. As a result of Brexit and increased levels of racism, I have gained 25% of my body weight in the last five years, which even on paper feels heavy – not to mention me having to carry this surplus on me all the time (and put up with the occasional judgement of others too). I grew up relatively skinny, healthy and confident. Surrounded by boys (hanging out with my brother’s gang) I did not feel threatened or judged like other girls. In primary school, I grew bigger but lost the weight in puberty so I learned that it’s my body’s response to the world around me. Brexit is just another example of that. However, as I enter the new phase of my life – move through the menopause (another tabu topic) towards a fast-paced decline in my health, I remain comforted by the fact that we are an ageing society and all age better these days. I am however concerned about my general ability to stay fit, focussed and helpful to my clients. As a child of academics, I never considered running or cycling fun, so I want to tackle fitness and learn it as a new habit altogether.
Since January I was looking at my nutrition and activity levels to realise that I eat relatively well. We make our own food, grow some of it, order it from the local farm and now and again allow ourselves a take out (but in Bristol those are really good too). I don’t drink alcohol (oh, what a difference that makes to overall wellbeing) and I appreciate the power of good daily dose of vitamins too. But I do not move! I hate running. I am scared of cycling – traffic is way too fast for me, I simply don’t feel safe on the road. I think doing a fitness class at home is weird. Yoga comes in and out of my life when I have periods of quiet mindfulness or difficult life choices to make. I meditate daily over my coffee, but I do not actively practise meditation at all.
I spent six months trying actively to improve my fitness habits, but in vain. I am always back to the same place: I cannot do it and I do not like it. I am sharing this today because I finally had a really good breakthrough in my thinking and behaviour patterns so I would like to flag up a few things I have realised, just in case it’s helpful:
- Our systemic pressure to be fit, skinny, beautiful and successful is a myth, but it does affect us. Many of us avoid shopping malls and approach our body image relatively sensibly. However, the notion that we are “never good enough, and never will be” lingers like a bad poison deeply in our psyche due to severe market demands. Sometimes we might not be aware of just how detrimental it is to our willingness to change. As I went through my CBT techniques around fitness I had to admit that yes, I am conscious, yes – it is important what I wear when I run, and yes – I am more inclined to run when streets (pavements, not roads) are empty. That’s sad, but it’s a good starting point. Knowing this I am not running accepting that on some days I might feel ugly or vulnerable and that’s OK. But it should not stop me from running. That would be giving into a wider problem I do not wish to support.
- Our systemic abuse of women is making us feel unsafe on the road and that sucks. It’s incredibly sad but picking up my first few running magazines I realised that the abuse increased in the times of pandemic – because people feel even more stressed out and lash out on each other. So it’s not easy to motivate ourselves to go out and face the world like this. However, as an annoying feminist I decided to take this on and respond to every single comment and – if needed – report it. It’s the only way this world is going to change. I refuse to stay at home based on the assumption that if I am out, men are free to subjectify me just because I am wearing fitness clothing. Nope. I do not consent to this.
- I am full of excuses based on assumptions, systemic, cultural, personal biases that form a huge defence wall protecting me from…getting better at taking care of myself. I actually had to do a word map on an ideal fitness state and one I am in now to notice scary, sad realisations: feeling guilty, ashamed, worried, feeling that I might try but I will never be fit on an ongoing basis. And it does not matter if it’s due to my rather academic upbringing, a privileged and comfortable position in life over the years, good health and no need to get better or much deeper mechanisms at play. The point is this: I am setting myself up for failure by default. It took me a long time to realise this but it’s a great place to be in: realisation means I can let go of the assumption and work on fitness differently – with joy, hope, determination but also a sense of lightness of the “oh, yes I can” attitude. So these days I run, because I can and because I am capable of getting really fit.
- My ungrateful, moaning, negative thinking. I am so upset that we are all raised in reinforced negative biases. It’s not enough that our brains are searching for negativity (in the very natural need to protect us), we are also culturally adding a layer of complaint – because it’s fashionable. I find it infuriating and when I discover that bias in myself I do my best to weed it out. It’s simply unhelpful. We can sit and moan or we can consider the possibility of change for a better, dream, imagine it and aim for it too. Which thinking is going to get us to a better place? Well, that’s pretty obvious. So this week I run practising gratitude and counting my blessings: I listed my opportunities and options (green Bristol, calm streets, an immense amount of time to work with during the lockdown, a sunny summer, a teenager who can take the dog out, my own strong health-giving me a good start). And as I run I notice more blessings: the man in the wheelchair who greets me each morning during his morning patrol makes me wonder – why am I sitting on my bum at home? The mum with three children who cheerfully waves at me in the park makes me think of just how easy my motherhood is comparing to hers – and why am I not smiling? It’s tricky to make comparisons, but if done from a humble place of gratitude it really motivates me to run more. Simply because I can.
- My historical operating from my “smart head” is not helpful in picking up this new habit because I am fighting over 40 years of other habits and a pretty ancient reptilian brain. And so instead of talking about running, I have to get up and run. So these days I get out of the shower, have my morning coffee, a glass of water and then put my shoes on. I will have to do this for at least three months to override the old habits (we never actually get rid of those, we can only override them).
- Trying to be fit versus staying fit is not productive at all. I spend so much time researching, discussing and preparing for running that I have no time left for the actual activity. Yes, of course, running means I need to change my morning routine or wake up earlier but it pays off so much! I get more work done faster, I write more and I feel generally happier and more joyful. What a cheap way of becoming more organised and energised. So today I think of running (and cycling, yoga or meditation) as an investment – daily one. If I do it, I am going to get more done in the day. If I do it for a week, year, decade, rest of my life, I am going to achieve so much more and a have way more time left to rest, re-charge and socialise too. So win-win.
Last Thursday I had a difficult day. I was angry about the levels of oppression in 2020 UK reality but also about the idea that people choose the easier way of living, ending up locked in their own assumptions. I arrived to the place where I had to look hard at myself and start the change there. So on Friday I woke up, got out of the house and started running. I am determined to do it daily – weather permitting. Instead of worrying about my looks and my presence – I say hello to every single person on the way and I am validated with lovely morning smiles. I am realising that so far – after a week of running – I had only one car slowing down and no comments were made because I looked directly at the driver. He did not dare. I count my blessings and stay positive, light, joyful. I welcome every rose, every scent, every dose of oxygen as a blessing (how can one not in the times of the pandemic!). I get out of the house to work on my new habits and top myself up with even more positive energy. Then I go back home, have my breakfast and start serving others too.
Why am I writing about this? A friend of mine asked me to do so – she had found my recent thoughts on the topic relevant and recommended writing about it. Additionally, I would also like to know how you deal with fitness? We all have different, individual experiences and I would love to learn from you. So let me know. To me, 2020 feels like a steep journey. I had to learn a lot academically, in my head, to get ready to step into my heart and my body. But it is so worth it.
I know it might sound like a paradox – six months of thinking about something and arriving at the place where I “just do it”. But the truth is more complex – the change is gradual and does need space and time to reflect, to shift, to feel uneasy to the point of movement. And that’s OK.
Today look back at my Strava stats only to realise that the change was indeed gradual. I had my ups and downs, and I am sure I will have many more. But I am doing better and I intend to do even more. I want, need to for others and I can get better at taking care of my physical health. As someone wise said to me: nothing is impossible.
(A crucial aspect of this journey is friends and family – I am lucky to have wonderful support from both groups, which I am eternally grateful for. However, in my opinion, the change and the commitment to that change have to come from within).
On some days, especially midway through the week, I feel really sad. I feel desperate to get on the bus and go to the city centre. Grab a coffee. Walk at the Waterfront. Visit a bookshop, or a florist maybe. Just do the ordinary things. You see, after years of social isolation, I have actually appreciated those ordinary things since I have moved to Bristol. I do not need a pandemic to remind me just how much I love my simple freedoms – freedom to move, to travel, to meet friends. For a long time, I did not take them for granted.
So these days my voice is very silent. It feels very different to suffer from isolation where you are not one of the few, but one of many, one of all. If you happen to be from the EU, you know what I mean. In the last five years in the UK, I have aged a century.
I finally feel accepted and supported by my colleagues and friends. Now that my Brexit scars have healed and we all suffer collectively, I spend a lot of time reflecting on racism in the UK in general. And so I learn from my BAME friends and their stories – because what happened to their families in the past (and is still happening now!), is actively happening to me too and my generation of continental Europeans and so I will have to explain this to my son one day. The increase in racism is affecting all of us, but I find it easier to stand up for my BAME friends than myself. I grow stronger silently, comforted that racism is getting called out finally.
I come from a predominantly racist country. However, American Studies and my EU citizenship has educated me a lot about being united in diversity. I see so many shades of my minority identity in the UK. So many shades of my own European self and my Polish-ness. I teach my son to treasure it like a special set of skills and ability to view things from more than one perspective at least.
These days I find my mid-weeks very sad because I feel the ripples of my past silent and very quiet, unnoticed isolation. I recall that cold hatred and ignorance I have experienced from people who used to dine at my very own table and suddenly, on the day of Referendum, turned their heads away and stopped talking to me (and that one female “friend” who texted me at 8 am to say I am not welcome!). In quiet moments like these, I am reliving those horrible days – it really wasn’t so long time ago. I also suffer from the increased racism amongst my Eastern-European friends – people I lose every day in rather extreme arguments about refugees, BAME communities and any form of immigration (yes, you would be surprised the comments one can here amongst Polish immigrants about other minorities still – it’s ridiculous). For many of my friends, Brexit fueled racism and divide it is still their present reality, but they blindly contribute to it too. And it is about to get worse next year for many.
That makes me deeply sad. And so I keep my Polish morning yoghurt in the fridge, but I say my goodbyes to all my racist Eastern-European friends. In order to be more tolerant, I have to uproot myself almost completely and that process is very painful.
But then, I take a deep breath. It’s not about national identities, never has been. It’s about safe places and kind people. I am in Bristol – the city of falling statues and people who understand that history happens now. The city that listens and learns from its own mistakes, slowly – yes – but surely. So I go to walk my dog and hear my neighbour greeting me from his window with a smile. He is a Welsh Bristolian with a wonderful smile and cheer. I chat with my postman about the lovely coffee shop and jazz in his favourite city of Cracow and I feel at home in the world. I do not miss that city, but I am really humbled that he does, more than me, it seems. Funny…and so very normal. I read the well crafted and timed stories from local business owners about their respect towards EU citizens and I marvel at their tact and kindness.
The stories I tell my son will shape his sense of past, present and future so I talk to him about my experiences – even though the racists I mention are actually parents of his old friends. It’s not easy to navigate, but history is never easy. It is however somewhat easier after the move to a kinder city. The truth, no matter how hard and painful, is important for him to understand. And he does. He is mature and smart enough to see that. He now also understands his own sense of exclusion – he never fitted in, nor was accepted by many. So he finds his own tribes of quirky, extraordinary young people who will move all of us forward. I teach him that we are all responsible for finding language about racism, documenting and remembering it to ensure it grows weaker day by day. Individually and collectively. We are responsible for noticing common narratives and their impact on every single minority and smaller group – especially those who are NOT mentioned. We are responsible for noticing trends and ripples – and challenging people who initiate them.
And most importantly, we are all responsible for healing and creating safe spaces for others to heal. I have healed, so it is possible. I will create those spaces in my counselling room. No matter our individual identity, I trust under the right conditions, we will all heal. I really, really hope so.
She is silenced
As for many hearts who can see
She’s walking the corridors of her abandonment
Lightly, with her eyes half-closed over her stories unspoken
She is silenced
She is conflicted
She is never going to meet her Self again
Searching for the echo of her inner battles
She is picking up the lost pieces of her bleeding heart
She is conflicted
She is terrified
Walking her path slowly in the half shadows
And the half-truths of her untold stories
She is avoiding both the moon and the sun
She is terrified
Her female ancestors weep
As she enters her afterlife
With her story undocumented
This was written in February 2020. It is dedicated to a friend I lost. I pray she finds her way.
It’s quiet. I am writing a lot but in my journal, so it is all landing in my drawer. I am practicing writing, reflecting and sending all my negative and sad thoughts into the abyss of my black desk. I do not want to share the anger, grief, sadness and helplessness with the public – even though like for everyone else they all come in waves.
Because I do not think it is justified for me to do so.
Here is the truth: so far, I have been lucky. I have a job, two even. I have a business “in the cloud” and well established remote working habits. Yes, I am slower (affected by the lockdown and collective grief), but I am healthier than in the last five years. I have a weekly therapy as a part of my ongoing training, supervision, mentors and now also Advisory Board for Voxel Hub. I certainly do not feel alone.
I have two weekly calls with friends – on Wednesdays and Saturdays, so this way I can keep in touch with them and check-in with myself too. I feel supported.
My family have adjusted fast. We thrive in kindness and safety of our home. We meet and go away to our rooms to work, then meet again. We go for walks, walk the dog, cycle now and again. Seemingly life is actually better for us. Not having to commute to work takes away the wide range of sensory experiences that I do love, but also something that tires me out a bit. So we reconnect with nature instead.
But there is also this dark cloud of deep sadness over our heads. So far the slogan was to “stay home” and we were slowly growing over the multitude of divides unified in the response to an illness. But our leaders are smart, too smart…so now we need to “stay alert” which implies divide again, distrust and war.
There is no need for that anymore. Nature is showing us the way, keeping us in homes and neighbourhoods. Cutting down on our flights and silly holidays. More and more of us get it: we do not need to visit all those tourist locations to find another emptiness in our hearts. The meaning is just down the road, over the fence, in our streets, on Thursday night when we meet – weather we clap for NHS, others or just to support our own hopefulness.
Like with the weather, I am shifting fronts too. Most days are good, some days are cloudy. All days are movement and change. Change is coming. It is unavoidable. And I welcome it – with a bit of anxiousness and with a lot of hope.
Photo via Unsplash here.
It’s been over a month since my last blog post in English. That’s how much time I needed to rest and heal from the silence of Brexit. I have spent this time journaling about a quiet, calm life; accessing my personal self-care mechanisms and becoming a bit more available for my friends and colleagues. I finally stopped worrying. I stopped thinking about the future, focussed on the present more.
I allowed myself to explore what was it about my situation during the last four years that really affected me. I am ready to look back, open up those wounds and re-integrate my learnings into my future. (This process, by the way, is a standard expectation of coaches and counsellors – however, I have always worked this way. It’s harder to open up wounds directly after an experience, but it’s so much more effective long terms. We then get to live without any hidden ghosts from the past).
It’s terribly ironic that the fear of the unknown future, ignorance of knowledge and science, way too slow response from the people who are paid to represent and protect us, the stocking up on food, the social isolation is exactly what we are all going through right now – for other, more visible and obvious reasons of the global pandemic.
I cannot help but see the parallels between what we are all going through collectively right now and what some of us have experienced for the last four years (with not just the unknown but at least three specific dates to worry about). The educated, more economically and politically aware people living in the UK (both EU and British citizens), struggled with exactly the same feelings that we face this month all around the world.
We have spent weeks, then months, then years, awaiting clarity on the future of our country, economy and the European peace process. There is nothing more debilitating than the sense of uncertainty about the future. And so in the world of business, we have learned to actually future proof our plans – just like in the old marketing books – now actively practising the “political” in PESTEL analysis. We moved away from those rigid 12 months and 5 years of business plans to sets of business scenarios instead. We started thinking beyond political systems, geographical borders and took the legal areas of our business a bit more seriously. However, as we practised all those new, seemingly useful skills, we also felt devastated at heart. We shouldn’t have to be in this place. EU was created to help us foster our cultures while forgetting the need for passports or borders. Walls went down for a reason…now we could feel the bricks piling up again.
We looked in astonishment at the level of ignorance in our country. We saw people smoothly shifting their views led by a well crafted public narrative focussing on “the other” (immigration), not the significant – freedoms, rights and a common strong, peaceful, inclusive economy. We started realising the cost of the underfunded, broken educational system. We also understood the smart agenda of not really educating the public on the actual benefit of the union since the early years of joining. We looked at the well-crafted campaigns, almost admiring each step. We watched in despair the racism and nationalism emerge even amongst our most educated friends – regardless of their nationality. For many, the word “security” did resonate with a hint of safety. Fed outdated nationalistic values worked for some. At heart, however, we all ached. We ached for clarity and some kind of sense of morals. Since ancient times choosing leaders meant voting for the strong, smart and innovative in return for care and protection. Angry and divided does not feel safe. We did not feel cared for, nor protected. Not a single one of us.
We worried about our actual survival. Each time we approached a Brexit deadline we stocked up quietly for a few months. We learned to store dry and canned food, salt, matches and batteries. We learned to bake bread and grow our own fruit and veg. Not for a hobby but out of necessity – our leaders failed us so we had to learn to take care of ourselves. I cannot tell you how difficult, how heartbreaking it is to talk about this to our children. How terrifying it is for them. How angry it made us and how sad. In the 20th century, parents should not have to navigate such a complex reality.
The hardest aspect of Brexit years was silence and social isolation, lack of public discourse on the reality of the situation. Some of us, the EU citizens, suddenly were positioned to be on the wrong side of history with no systemic support whatsoever. Somehow we took this on – we came from a place of racism anyway, so this was nothing new to us. Just a bit more terrifying – like a dark cloud still following us since our roots. But we understood that support is only given by people who feel safe, and British citizens did not feel so. Actually, all of us ached and longed for open conversations about the pain of the unknown and the participatory grief over the country we were gradually all loosing. All of us needed help. Yes, the public discourse perfectly utilised our cultural paradigm: it’s not polite to talk about politics at work and in other public conversations, and so even the word “Brexit” was deemed dirty. Every single Brexit deadline, we all fell into the midst of pain, anxiety, quiet anger, fear and disconcert. But we did so on our own. Each of us alone in our own quiet bubble. There were no songs sang together on balconies. There was only a quiet suppressed pain of our individual hopelessness. Those of us who have faced oppressive systems walked around in astonishment – how is this even possible? But we were silence too – our of respect for the local culture, we had to join in and shut up.
I really, really wish it did not have to happen this way….However, the current response to the Coronavirus pandemic is at least collective. It unites us. It highlights the ignorance of those leaders who choose wealth over humanity. It shows the clear impact of those who focus on the health of their nation. It shows us clear proof of our economies on our climate. It closes our doors but opens our hearts. It inspires us to sing in unity. It is very similar to how many of us were feeling for years of Brexit reality but in this one way it is quite unique: it is open, collective and uniting. We open up, care for each other and start paying attention to knowledge and science. We reach out to our faiths for comfort but stop relying on it for practical solutions. We see some of our employers and other leaders step up, reach out and sometimes even listen. It is still testing and I fear we might lose some friends overreaction to this too, but we regain a sense of humanity.
I hope this learning curve ends soon though and we can all start healing.
One more week of restoration after a month of lemons, lemons, lemons. I was challenged on so many levels. There were moments when I had to sit down and rest – quite physically, I could not breathe anymore. However, my responses to all of those challenges validated my humanity, my sensitivity, empathy and resilience. As intense at it feels now, this last month was a summary of those recent steps on my journey.
I was challenged, yes. But I also grew. I steadied myself. I took care of myself. I asked for the right type of help. I deepened my friendships. I grew closer and stronger with my family. I prioritised myself and us collectively.
I listened deeper. I learned to distinguish my mistakes from the resonance of issues emerging from others. I discovered that beyond the obvious unconditional positive regard, I do not have please just so many people. Actually, the more I think of it, I need to prioritize those who take me seriously and appreciate me for my actual skills and achievements. I accepted that I am a doer – although I knew that already.
I learned a lot about my past, present and future clients – those who dare greatly, the so-called “foolish” dreamers, the believers, the change-makers. We are a precious, rare type, yet quietly we form ripples, waves and finally storms moulding our paths into new continents. We study the past and embrace the unpredictable futures. We hope in times of helplessness. We know we have not much to lose. We might be seen as subtle and weak, but we are simply open and vulnerable. It’s the most courageous attitude towards life. We have faith in ourselves and our tribes, which makes us stronger.
In the last 2 years, I started recovering from the initial racism of the early years of Brexit in Oxfordshire. Moving to a kinder city, I was welcomed and supported, so I healed even more. In the last few weeks, however, I drew the cycle of safety around my world, while also considering the sensitivities of my fellow British friends as much as I could. I have learned so much from that process about power, empowerment and self-oppression. I will use those learnings in my work to convert my experiences into positive energy in the future. I am still processing it all, to be honest.
Today I felt at home with myself again. I met a group of business planners and analysts who shared my excitement about certain opportunities – I felt at home with their professionalism and realised my core is still here. Healing from Brexit and other negative experiences will take time but I am emerging stronger. I wish we did not have to learn this way, but here’s to working towards a better future – for me, my circles and people I am to support.
The kindness of my family and friends, the bonds we have built, move me to tears. Happy, light tears of collective care and mutual support. Yes, there is darkness all around us, but there is so much to treasure and to gravitate toward. I am giving myself one more week of restoration before I go back to a very active plotting of my new ways of supporting people.
For now, I sit back, cuddle my dog, close my eyes. I rest. I hope you can rest too.
Today many of us start to feel the real pain of Brexit. But today marks the end of my EU grief. It started in early 2016 and lasted until Brexit deadline, last night. I am sad, of course, but those four years were dreadful and yet very meaningful. My roots and new identities were questioned. My networks fell apart and evolved. My choices were undermined, and thus, I grew stronger in my truths. My views clarified but to take the right stand I had to stop talking, start listening and cross many lines I was socialised into. I suffered. I did hurt.
But I also grew stronger. Grief is uncomfortable, but it’s also very formative. It shapes us into someone new, someone different. As we grow, our friends suffer too – we don’t fit their familiar, and sometimes we need to say our goodbyes. I lost a few friends who were racists because I stopped compromising. However, I also learned to grow a wide circle of safety. I steadied myself. I gave birth to an idea which is politics and future proof – because I had no choice but to design it this way. I educated myself.
I stopped travelling and sat down to figure my new self out. Shedding so many layers of systemic labels and identities is a terribly painful process, so I am exhausted! Happy that active Brexit period is over, it’s easier to navigate the new reality. One in which a system can be hacked, so we need to learn to live above it in an everlasting unpredictability. I learned the lesson and now plan to rest for a while, slowly planning the next step of my journey.
As I come back to myself, I am also noticing the change in my circles. We treasure each other more than ever, our conversations are deep. Our connection is stronger than ever. We are starting to unite, to build bridges, safer spaces & more inclusive tribes.
We are more human than ever before.