Author Archives: mfoulia

About mfoulia

I live between two coutries, Wales and Cyprus but half my life has been spent between England and Cyprus. i am 44, a mum of 3, I home educate, write, travel and try to change the world. :)

Seize the day

A couple of weeks ago I finally started my coaching business.

It’s not the easiest profession to describe, but for me, a coach comes alongside someone who is stuck; someone who is struggling in their life, career or business and needs a helping hand to lift them out of the hole they find themselves in. It’s a way of supporting someone so that they might continue onward to their desired destination through a trusted relationship (not friendship).

The ability to coach is both an honour and a blessing. It’s a vocation rather than a job and it makes me feel one hundred percent alive. Yet it took me some time to get here.

I started training in 2016, but didn’t take it further because I felt I needed more training. I wasn’t ready. I was too busy shifting my own junk to pretend to be someone who had it all figured out. I was in no position to coach others.

I hope this irony isn’t lost on you.

Then, last year, I signed up for a three-year course in counselling and psychotherapy. So far, it has been incredibly revealing and, as many of you know, a few months ago I began my own journey of healing from complex trauma, which is primarily what this blog is about. But, I also came to realise a few fundamental truths.

I initially delayed my coaching business because I thought I had to be a perfect coach, that I needed to have it all figured out and be completely healed of my own issues; to be a ‘success story’, if you will. What I didn’t realise was that healing is quite often a long process. For many of us, it’s a life-long one. Yet this doesn’t mean we stop living until we have it all sussed out. In fact, I already possess the skills needed to be a good coach because I have a lifetime of experience behind me.

Every challenge and achievement taught me strength, resilience, adaptability, congruence, empathy, curiosity, positivity, optimism, vision and determination. And while I still have issues to work through, I am perfectly capable of coming alongside others to help them on their own journeys.  I learned this in my counselling course by observing the group I was in.

Many of my fellow students are teachers, mentors and therapists using various methodologies. They help people every day while still working through their own issues. Understanding this convinced me to take my own first step. I needed to overcome my fear of getting it wrong and actually do it. I needed to stop procrastinating.

Procrastination, in my experience, is caused by two main factors: a fear of failure, so we stay in our safe place, dreaming, hoping, wondering, but never quite moving; and the pursuit of perfection, believing we can’t do x, y or z because we need to get it absolutely right, cover every eventuality and ensure there is no room for error.

Perfection is, of course, a pretty high standard to set and even if we get close, fear usually jumps in to shame us. What if we get it wrong? We’ll be exposed as a fraud. What will friends/ family / social network / clients think of us? We’ll make fools of ourselves. This kind of inner dialogue can shut even the best of us down. So, we head back to our safe space, the comfort zone where we remain dreaming and wondering with the curse of ‘what if’ bringing its own frustrations.

But unsurprisingly, there is more to procrastination than is immediately apparent.

I have spent a lifetime starting and stopping thanks to a lack of self-belief. I would tell myself I wasn’t good enough, that I would never be good enough to achieve what I wanted to achieve, that I was somehow different – if not inferior – to the over-achievers I knew or read about who had attained success, fame and fortune.  

This belief that you’re not good enough can be paralysing. Not only has it led me to start and give up on many projects, but it has also affected other areas of my life leading me to distrust myself, my intuition, my inner voice. I tried to do what other people suggested or recommended. If other people were not involved, my own logic ran roughshod over my heart and dictated my steps. But what is logical is not always correct.

Over the years, I have bounced from one profession to another, from veterinary assistant to dog groomer. I started driving instructor training and attempted to write a cookery book, which I ultimately gave up on because I couldn’t get it perfect. I tried and followed many paths, but I never finished the journey because the fear would paralyse me before the end was in sight.

Fast forward to today and something has shifted. In reality, the shift started many years ago as a drip that got stronger with every small failure or success, that drew power from disappointment and growth from the lessons learned. Then, when I started the counselling course a few months ago, this shift became tangible. I gave my heart permission to lead and my brain to take a back seat. I started to face up to, and acknowledge, the truth of who I am, of what drives me and what fulfills me. I started to see my path more clearly.

At the same time, I began to afford myself more care, love and honour. I finally recognised how badly I treated myself; dishonouring and neglecting my body, soul and spirit. And, as I have begun to take more notice – getting to know myself and to take value in myself as a human being – lots of other things have fallen into place. One of those things is the coaching.

Coaching is not a job that my fellow Cypriot country folk admire, understand or approve of as it doesn’t come with multiple letters after your name, degrees and a graduation certificate that shouts “I made it, I am ticking the boxes of acceptance, admiration and becoming someone.” But as I let go of the need for acceptance and admiration, it allows me to step into the shoes of the woman I really am, and boldly walk the path ahead of me.

When I coach people, I come into my own. I am alive, I am on fire. Joy fills my heart and love pours out to my fellow human beings as I try to help them navigate their difficulties, free themselves from their own stuck places and harness their potential. When I coach people, I feel wonderful because I am serving in the way that feels natural. When I coach people, I have a sense of purpose. Seeing faces light up when an ‘aha’ moment arrives is priceless, witnessing their breakthroughs exciting, and watching them walk into their dreams and destinies is gold.

Little by little, the old skin is shedding. The skin of people-pleasing, distrusting myself, not knowing who I am, this need for approval, this need for admiration, and doing what is expected of me.

I am growing into my new skin and it fits better. It’s shiny, strong and protective. Fear of failure is no longer paralysing; it drives me forward because I now embrace it instead of avoiding it. I know that in every ‘failure’ there is much to learn, lots of wisdom to glean and shame has no place in this journey of self-discovery and self-actualisation. Comparing myself to others has no place in my life anymore as I get to know and value myself. I am learning to be comfortable in my skin and pay the price of this new awakening.

The price may be losing friends who ‘loved’ me as long as I fitted into their paradigm or lived my life in a way they approved of. Certainly, my friends list has shrunk dramatically in recent times. But when we change, our world changes too. We notice things differently, we see that what we once held on to as precious, no longer matters. Labels, opinions, other people’s ideals.

I am seeing a shift in my confidence, self-esteem, my view of life, spirituality, parenting and marriage. There are times of great challenge in this shift, conflict even, but that’s the reality of breaking out. It’s painful. Raw. But watch a reptile shed its skin or break out of its shell and you see the pain is similar. It can be excruciating, but soon their colour becomes brighter, they look fresh, new, bigger, stronger, and ready for the next phase of their lives.

When a caterpillar is encased in its chrysalis, does it know it will emerge again? Does it think the chrysalis is its place of death? Has it come to the end of its life? Certainly, if we didn’t know what would happen, we might think that too. Watching a butterfly struggle to emerge can also be frustrating. Some have tried to help the butterfly by breaking the chrysalis for it, but this largely results in the butterfly’s death. The butterfly must not be helped physically to break out; it must go through the struggle, the pain and the possibility of failure. Then, when it emerges, it is stronger because of that struggle and ready to fly. The fat, unremarkable caterpillar that was shrouded within the chrysalis emerges beautiful, remarkable even, and able to fly.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

These are new times for me, new steps I am taking, new paths I am following. I am filled with excitement, joy and anticipation at what I will discover. But I believe my caterpillar years are over and I am now in my own chrysalis; learning, growing and preparing to emerge.

New year, new path?

Image by Brayden Law from Pexels

Writing a blog hasn’t come easy to me. Despite the ads on social media telling you it’s the perfect business to get into from the comfort of your own home – it isn’t.

In reality, it has been something of a journey and I’m not even four months in.

Despite my best hopes and my most positive thoughts, I have left a catalogue of attempted and aborted posts in my wake, my train of thought is constantly challenged by new ideas and WordPress seems intent on deleting my posts for reasons I have not yet fathomed. However, all of this pales into insignificance compared to the hammer blow I took to my confidence recently when a Facebook notification informed me that someone had reviewed my blog as ‘not recommended’.

Deflated, I resolved to end it all; blogging was clearly not for me and it was time to press the delete button and get a ‘real job’.

I immediately unpublished the blog that had caused such offence in case this was just one of many criticisms to come. My blogging efforts might have been meager, but they had come from a genuine place and I was hurt by this reaction to them. But then I recalled Brenee Brown’s recent documentary on Netflix (yes, I know, Netflix again, but it’s all I watch on TV, what can I say?) In the documentary, Brenee described the onslaught of spiteful comments and hate mail she had received after her Ted x talk went viral some years ago. Interestingly, the talk was on shame and vulnerability. Comments included vulgar expletives about her weight, face and dress sense. Some even went so far as to suggest she kill herself.

Truly, what kind of world are we living in? What did Brenee do that was so wrong? Nothing. And so she had a good cry and got on with being the brilliant researcher, advocate, writer and speaker she is, inspiring us all along the way. All power to her.

Then I remembered a book I had recently read, ‘Born Under a Million Shadows’ by Andrea Busfield, a respected journalist and author. She wrote this novel after living in Afghanistan for three years. It was a brilliant book that reflected not only the atrocities she witnessed, but also the deep and beautiful friendships she formed with Afghans, something we rarely get to glimpse as we soldier on through novel after novel with much the same start, middle and end. Yawn.

Because I like to encourage others, when I have something good to say I usually post a review. I did that for this author only to become distracted by another review that was not only negative and critical, but rude! Donning my battle armour, I went to war and told this reviewer in as nice a way as I could, how wrong she was. I am sure she is grateful for my response and will thank me for correcting her faulty perspective, not. I don’t know any book that has given me such a respect and love for a country that has been so trashed by the world’s media and scaremongering politicians, and yet Andrea weaved in culture, tradition, beauty, heartache and conflict in a way that resonated with me having been born and raised in a country torn apart by war.

And that’s when it hit me.

My “not recommended” review was merely an irritation compared to these other reviews, and as harmless as an annoying house fly when looked at next to Brenee’s mauling. And yet it unsettled me enough to take me back to that dark place where I constantly question myself, raising the doubts, insecurities and fears that have always plagued me.

After a strong cup of PG tips, accompanied by something super sugary from the fridge and followed by a large glass of Malbec, I took time to pause and reflect. My ego and I had a heart to heart. Well, more of a fist fight really. Being Greek, a heart to heart is a bit of a non-entity in my culture, but having learned to practice stillness I was better at it than before, although I’d argue that the Malbec helped considerably.

There was no great epiphany, but I did realise one thing; I am still, at times, functioning out of a place of hurt, shame, FEAR, insecurity or frustration and definitely from a place of trauma survival. I struggle with criticism because I learned to be a people pleaser and unlearning that is tough. I don’t trust my own judgement or intuition and so I look to others for approval about what I’m doing. This in itself has led me into many problematic situations in the past.

When I initially started writing this blog, I wanted to fit in with other bloggers – to write short posts on popular subjects such as travel. I also hoped it might become something I could monetise in the future. So yes, popular topics, a softly-softly approach, regular posts about nothing of substance just likable, shallow.

Photo by Anny Patterson from Pexels

Because I was serious, I had researched the art of blogging and even did a course, but when it came to delivery, it didn’t work. So, I reflected on that and I thought again about that first act of WordPress ‘sabotage’. Perhaps losing one of my posts was actually a way to cause me to stumble; to stem the flow of wrong creativity and make me look at everything afresh, frustrated but afresh.

Then, when the second post was deleted and WordPress insisted that they could not find any proof of its existence (even though it had been published, emailed and people had read it), I became stuck. But stuck is not always bad; stuck makes you think after you’ve thrown your dummy out. It makes you consider, reflect, evaluate and then decide a way forward. Do I sulk and delete the lot, as I have done so many times before, or do I persevere? And if I persevere, how do I move forward? What is the lesson I need to learn from this experience? What is it telling me? And then voila! Bingo! Bull’s eye! Hole in one! (OK, I’ll stop.)

I hadn’t been myself. I hadn’t been genuine, congruent. I had been trying to write like other bloggers who make lots of money from their blogs. My motive was all wrong. My compass was out of place. I was trying to be someone I am not. And even though my posts were written with genuine care, I picked topics that were easy, not triggering, not stressful and not too revealing so they wouldn’t leave me vulnerable.

That’s when I wrote about my writing journey and the teacher that inspired me. After that, I wrote about my mother. Both were deep, genuine, authentic ‘me’ pieces. And yet, that’s what had attracted the negative review that left me cowering. When I was fake no one batted an eyelid, but when I became me, it caused a wave, a tremor of a backlash. Why? Did I trigger something in others that they had long buried away? Was I too deep, dull, boring or wordy?

Whatever it is, I know I have to be myself. I can’t pretend to be anyone else.

After years of being who and what others needed me to be, I am daring to be bold and courageous, to put myself out there and overcome the fear of vulnerability, shame and exposure.

I realise that I am not ready to monetise or make a business out of blogging. The purpose of the blog is to help me process, gain clarity, sharpen my perspective and discover who I am and where I am going. It might be a lonely journey or one with few companions, but I know those that do choose to hold my hand, encourage or support me, are genuine individuals who have walked their own stony paths and identify someway with mine.

At 45 years of age, I am learning about and healing from complex trauma. I also have dreams, visions, goals, ambitions. I want to make a difference, leave a legacy. I want to parent consciously, live purposefully. There are new horizons for me out there, but walking comes before running.

Photo by Adrien Olichon from Pexels

“Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor—the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant ‘To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.’ Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences—good and bad. Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as ‘ordinary courage.’” Brenee Brown.

Photo by Lukas Hartmann from Pexels

Losing my mother, the start of trauma.

January 2020.

I published the piece below around the 19th or 20th of November 2019. It was automatically sent out to the blog subscribers some of whom contacted me to comment, some posted their feedback on the site itself. Then, one day just like that, the post disappeared and in its place was an older draft unfinished version. What happened is as much your guess as mine and to make matters worse it was the second time in less than 4 months that this happened. WordPress tried to salvage it but like the time before, had absolutely no record of its existence. Strange but true.

Frustrated and demoralised, I decided to just let it be and leave it at that. The weeks that followed since then have marked a continuation of the journey that began back in August 2019, a critical piece of the puzzle that is my life. What started then and continues today, is the uncovering of the effect trauma had on my mind, brain, and body.

I realised that the blog has been part of this uncovering, as I process when I write and putting things out there publicly has helped me allow myself to be vulnerable as well as to receive feedback from others who identify with what I write, who have been or still are travelling their own trauma journey.

I decided to republish the post about my mother so for those who receive this twice, I apologise. Bear with me as I navigate the undesirable yet necessary tech world before me.

The 18th of November was the anniversary of my mother’s suicide.

I had no recollection of the date until I stumbled across an old notepad in which I’d written the date of her passing and the date of my father’s birthday (19th of November).

Some months before, my mother had lost her husband – my father – to a freak sea accident. Clearly, for her, the pain was intolerable. I was five years old when she died, and this was her third and final attempt to end her life.

Finding this date scribbled in the old notepad served to remind me of the season I’m in right now.

A few months ago, I started to become aware of feelings I had suppressed over the years but could no longer hide from. I say ‘suppressed’, but maybe it’s more accurate to describe these feelings as a force that was recognised but disconnected from me. It might be that I was in denial.

There were signs, of course, such as being overprotective of my kids. The truth is, I have lived in constant fear of anything happening to them; that they might be taken from me or they would somehow lose me, their mother. This was a very real fear and it triggered a serious bout of depression in me a few years ago. Living in a continuous, gruelling state of hyper vigilance, I would think of every possibility, at every moment, that could bring them to harm, and it was exhausting. Even sleep meant taking my eye off the ball; leaving them unprotected. So, I slept fitfully, semi-aware of every turn they made in bed because there was every possibility (in my mind) they may suffocate while sleeping.

Photo by Keenan Constance from Pexels

Clearly, something had to give and ultimately my body protested – leaving me screaming in agony from an old condition called fibromyalgia. This is a condition that can start after serious trauma and my symptoms started after my mother’s death, only it took 17 years to get the diagnosis and I still suffer the effects today, aged 45.

Other ‘milder’ impacts of my mother’s loss include being affected to the point of grief by any movies with orphans in it – Heidi, Annie, Storks, Ballerina – all of which means watching family movies with my kids can be a traumatic experience because I relive the loss and all its carnage as I battle silently with reawakening trauma.

As a child, it was not uncommon for me to get lost in daydreams, pretending my mother would suddenly turn up at school and knock on my classroom door. I also remember the hours I spent hidden in my grandparents’ wardrobe clutching my mother’s handbag and inhaling her smell that remained long after she had gone. I would wear her clothes and shoes and role play being her for hours. My grandparents didn’t protest. They were going through their own ravaging grief of losing their son months before and now their daughter in law.

But on the flip side, this trauma made me a very devoted, hands-on mother who has always been present for her children, helping them to make memories, allowing them to be themselves and offering hugs and kisses at every opportunity. The trauma has also seen my husband and I consciously craft our lives in such a way so as not to have any regrets later on. We will not be absent during our children’s growing years and we will be fully available to protect them and to fight their corner while equipping them with the agency to be themselves. This promise has led to us throwing out the rule book. In short, we will not allow others to tell us how to raise our kids. From sleeping techniques to potty training and schooling, we have done it our way and given them the freedom to grow at their own pace, in their own time, without anyone holding a yard stick against them. In some circles it is called unschooling, free range learning, gentle parenting, self-directed education. Whatever.

Of course, I make tons of mistakes, all the time. I’m absent minded, overloaded, fighting a chronic illness, forgetful, fatigued. I space out and dissociate frequently through my day and momentarily disengage or disconnect while still being aware of my surroundings. It’s almost a superpower, as if I’m there, but not there; detached.

I’ve taken the children for weekends with family members who live hours away only to find we’ve gone on the wrong weekend and we’ve had to drive all the way back again. I’ve taken them to birthday parties at the wrong venue or on the wrong day. I’ve shouted at them and then dropped to my knees apologising. I’ve raged at my husband, vile, frightening, out of control anger. And I’ve been so absorbed in surviving that I’ve not always noticed things. My forgetfulness due to PTSD and fibromyalgia means I don’t remember my children’s first words or accidents or illnesses they’ve suffered. If the memory isn’t written down, it’s gone. As a result, I constantly take pictures to capture as many moments as possible so that if my brain deletes it, I have evidence. The fear of losing the memory triggers anxiety attacks and on and on we go in a vicious unending cycle.

Currently, I’m studying for a counselling qualification at evening class. I’ve waited and waited for the right time, for when I am healed, for when there is more time, money, energy. In the end I realised that I don’t need to be in a perfect situation in order to live, to pursue dreams and to make a difference to others. So, I went for it and enrolled. It has been transformative.

During lessons, we take part in exercises designed to equip us with the skills to counsel others. These exercises have been paramount to my own journey of healing. I never planned it, I never even considered the fact that the course would inadvertently help me, but there you have it. God (or whatever higher power you believe in) knows what we need and when we need it. For me, it’s now. My time has come.

Each week I drive home from the class reflecting on the nugget of a revelation I have gained that evening. Every session brings something new – or rather, old – popping up, like toast waiting to be buttered while warm. And it’s while these memories are warm that I want to address the issues they represent. The realisation that I am still profoundly affected by the loss of my mother is one such prevalent issue.

During one class, I talked about the panic attacks I suffer whenever I’m faced with a child in distress. I spoke of the times I have abandoned my shopping in the middle of supermarkets because I could hear a child crying in a pram or having a meltdown or a tantrum. It’s the sound of distress that causes my panic attacks. Heart palpitations, cold sweats, strangling anxiety and a need to escape all surge through my body within seconds and I simply have to get out. Interestingly, I never named this reaction – a panic attack -because it didn’t fit the movie-like panic attacks I am aware of, hyperventilating and breathing in a paper bag. I don’t get that. I get every nerve in my body fully alert, every muscle, adrenaline, energy, pow. It was my fellow students who put a name to it and led me to an epiphany of what takes place.

Paradoxically, I had never made the connection that this behaviour might be connected to the loss of my mother. I never saw it from that perspective; that I feel what I perceive the child is experiencing, chiefly a need for comfort in their distress and a cuddle. When one of my fellow student counsellors pointed out the connection, the lightbulb came on. I realised that when the distressed child is being comforted by its mother, I don’t have a panic attack. I cope just fine. But when a child is distressed, kicking in their pram, crying to be let out or for attention and the mother ignores the child or shouts at it, I am completely overwhelmed, and I run for my life.

These moments of creeping connection all came to a head when I met a visiting Christian preacher working with a healing ministry a few months ago. She came from the USA, she was free, and many people were testifying to her prophetic insight and healing abilities. Never one to turn down a possibility for healing, I arranged to meet her. We had half an hour, that was all she could afford as her day was packed with others like me, eager for answers, insight, hope.

The preacher knew nothing about me, only my name. We sat down together, and she asked me to give her five minutes to pray. She then unfurled a roll of knowledge about me and my situation and I was so astounded I could hardly breathe. She said God had shown her two particular ages in my life where there was serious trauma and for which I still needed healing. Age 3-4 and age 15-16. As time was of the essence, we focused on me aged 3 to 4 and the loss of my parents. I immediately knew the trauma experienced at both those ages but as I said, we focused on age 3-4.

It was in the months between 3-4 that my father was killed (or disappeared after the accident), and my mother dived into depression. Over those months she made two suicide attempts, one landing her in the Aglantzia mental asylum, outside of Nicosia, Cyprus. An uncle would take me to visit and hold my hand while she stood on the other side of a chicken wire fence. He would say to her “Annette, look at her, look at your child, is she not worth living for?” She would reply that she wasn’t a good enough mother for me, she didn’t deserve me, and I didn’t deserve a mother like her. Despite the fact her third attempt at suicide was when I turned 5, the months between the age 3-4 were probably the most traumatic as I lost my father and was then brutally separated from my mother, often within inches from her yet unable to be held, comforted, reassured. The last memory of her – the only memory of her – is of me finding her dead after her third attempt.

 Linda (the healing minister), asked me a question that would reveal the true depth of this open, festering wound in my soul. She took two pillows and placed them in front of me. Pointing at each one she said.

“This is your mum, and this is your dad”. What would you like to say to them?

Ignoring ‘my dad’ I looked at the ‘mum’ colourful striped brushed cotton cushion and without even taking a second to consider or even process the question I blurted

“Why did you do it? Was I not worth living for?”

And with that I broke down. It was time.

It was time to recognise the pain I still felt – the rejection, the sense of abandonment and what it has meant throughout the decades of my life – and it was time to let that pain go. That question allowed me to fully see patterns in my behaviour that were borne from a place of insecurity, fear, abandonment and hurt.

Since then, I have welcomed every opportunity to allow the healing process to take place. And it is taking place. In the past, I would shut the process down, prioritising my duty to my marriage, my kids, the debts and all of life’s demands and expectations of me. Now I am openly allowing my healing to happen.

I mocked myself when I told my husband that here I was, 45 years old and aching for my mother. He looked at me with calm, serious eyes and said, “What does age have to do with it? Loss is loss.” He is right. There is no shame.

We need to open our hearts and receive that which will clean out the wound, disinfect it, pour medicine into it and allow it to heal, leaving a clean scar. The scar will then be a constant reminder of what was, but without the pus, the stink of death or the rotting flesh. All what will remain will be the result of the process, grace, love, acceptance, presence and healing.

This is the way to arrive at peace, a reclaiming of our identity and a certainty in who we are and our worth. Lessons are learned and our hearts are shaped softer, healthier and ready to extend the lessons to others who like me, like you, like us, have been wounded and are in need of healing and restoration.

Photo by luizclas from Pexels

So, with that, I mark this anniversary as a turning point; a new chapter. I am walking into new territory, carving a new path in my story; expanding my heart, allowing me to feel, to heal, to understand, to remember and celebrate what was, without collapsing under the weight of ‘what could have been’, clearing the way of what is to come.

I choose to forgive my mother and to love her knowing she had her reasons and she loved me. I choose to respect her journey and her battle without judgement or bitterness. I choose to forgive myself for feeling not good enough to live for and as a consequence, not good enough as a mother to my own children. I choose to make my choices and allow myself the grace to make mistakes. I choose to live free from the fear that controlled me. I choose to love unconditionally no matter what. We all have a choice. I choose to turn those wounds into lessons that bring forth wisdom.

I step forward in my quest for more answers and deeper understanding, my vessel is love, courage, vulnerability and gratitude. My torch is hope.

The Kindness Diaries – Inspiring kindness, giving hope, sharing love, oceans apart.

Courtesy of http://www.leonlogothetis.com

” The world is filled with travelers. Some travel by force, some by choice. But for some of us, it is a calling. At the heart of this brotherhood is the desire to connect, find community and a place to belong. And every single connection made, makes the world a little better because as Mark Twain put it “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindness. Charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in on a little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime” “

Leon Logothetis – the Kindness Diaries
https://leonlogothetis.com/

Television is really not my thing. Give me books, books, books and yes please, even more books! Every now and then however, when I need to take a break from reading, writing or studying, I flick through channels and Netflix categories looking for something worthy of my time.

I don’t mean this in a proud, derogatory way, please do not misunderstand. What I am trying to say is that I channel my focus and time into whatever feels productive, not wanting to miss a moment, not wanting to waste an opportunity. So if I am going to watch something, it needs to be good, impactful, powerful. It needs to leave me with something to ponder, reflect on and from which I can grow.

https://leonlogothetis.com/

The Kindness Diaries is such a program. I watched series 1 a few months ago. I was so impressed by it that I set everything aside to watch almost the entire series back to back. As Leon set off on his trusted canary yellow motorbike (with side car) from Hollywood, L.A, I journeyed with him. Together, we crossed through the United States of America, Europe, India, Cambodia, Vietnam, Canada and back to Hollywood.

https://leonlogothetis.com/

Relying entirely on the kindness of strangers to feed him, put petrol in Kindness One, and give him a bed or sofa for the night, Leon was gifted an inside view to the lives of the strangers who offered kindness. Each one with their story to tell. Their own journey of hope and reason for offering kindness to a stranger. I laughed. I cried. I paused episodes and contemplated in silence. Each episode – each story left a mark on my heart and filled it with fresh motivation, inspiration and hope.

But there is something more. Leon does not only receive kindness. He also gives it. Every now and then, when he meets someone who has profoundly touched his heart, who has given out of their lack, Leon gives them a gift. It may be a home to get them off the streets, funding a charity, a dream holiday, and much more.

https://leonlogothetis.com/

In series 2, Leon embarks on another journey, this time with a canary yellow VW beetle with no modifications, heating or power steering. Kindness 2 takes him through Canada, Alaska, America, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Peru, eventually ending in Argentina.

https://leonlogothetis.com/

Listening to their stories, Leon connects. Sometimes, like in the case of Rena who rescues stray dogs in Colombia, the story is a bit too close to home. Moved to tears, Leon shares with Rena that his own dog Winston was the one who taught him about love. Winnie loved him unconditionally and marked Leon’s life profoundly.

Winnie with Leon. https://leonlogothetis.com/

Rena shares the story of her and her siblings’ abandonment by their mother and how they were treated like dogs by their father. It caused her to commit her life to rescuing and re homing stray dogs. Rena and Leon shared a common thread, a deep connection, visible in their interaction, Rena, an elderly lady who hugs him like a wise, loving grandmother and prays a blessing in his life. Leon in turn, shares with her the real reason for his travels. To find kind, selfless strangers who are in need of his help. And help he does, by funding the rescue and rehabilitation of 100 stray dogs for Rena. Her joy is magnetic.

Rena who rescues the stray dogs of her region in Colombia. https://leonlogothetis.com/

“We are all travelers in one sense or another but what matters between life and death is our journey. But while we are here, there is an opportunity for us to connect in ways great and small, to experience the richness of cultures not our own, and thereby, enriching our own journeys as we travel this road on this ultimate adventure we call life”

Leon Logothetis.
https://leonlogothetis.com/

Each episode in series 2 is connected to a particular theme, each is a gift. We see the gift of faith, community, purpose, home, food, shelter, hope, Winnie love, connection, knowledge, travel, friendship and of course kindness.

” As humans we don’t control the circumstances of our birth, but our lives can be changed by the decisions we make. Some people spend their lives taking while others spend their lives giving. And while each can leave their mark on history, ask yourself for your own life and for the legacy you will leave behind what story are you trying to tell?”

Leon Logothetis

We also learn of atrocities and meet people who are battling insane red tape regulations to reunite with families across oceans. This series is not a travel documentary. It is so much more.

When Leon asks two paramedics why they are travelling around the world, their reply is simple yet heartrending. “So that we don’t have any regrets’. They explain that because of their job they experienced conversations with the dying. On many occasions they were told their regret was not seeing more of the world and not having a family.

https://leonlogothetis.com/

A deported Mexican father, is staying on the border in a shack, planning his third swimming attempt to cross to the USA and be reunited with his wife and child. Each time, he is caught by the coast guard and sent back. Many drown, he has survived twice and is not stopping until he arrives or dies. Sobering.

When Leon travels through postcard perfect images, breathtaking views and surreal adventures, we are faced with stark reminders of the darkness within us when kindness or love is absent. He visits a plantation outside Lima, a stunning property fit for a holiday brochure. Yet underneath, in the basement, its dark narrow terrifying maze of catacombs tells of a slave trade 400 years ago and the shocking truth of how they lived here. Above ground, beauty, joy, fresh air. Below, desperation, stench, death.

But then he enters Urumbamba and surprises an old friend named Duska. Duska, a missionary who has devoted her life to caring for the orphans of her community, met Leon when he volunteered at the orphanage in his late teens. Duska was one of the first people in Leon’s life who showed him what kindness is. Before leaving, he pays for the orphanage and school to be extended.

” The construction of a person is similar to the construction of a building. Each begins with a clean slate on a foundation built by others and sometimes the external facade can hide an ugly truth or fail to show true worth. Eventually, people and buildings are left on their own to brace the elements of the world, but how well each holds up to those forces is always determined by the care taken when the foundation was laid. “

Leon Logothetis

In Costa Rica he meets Father Sergio who runs Espirito de Santo, a mission to feed his community’s poor and destitute of all ages. Leon gives him a gift to help feed even more children before he remarks. “My gift made one day easier for the children in need, but I guess every day we are given is a gift and a chance for rebirth, redemption or reinvention”.

https://leonlogothetis.com/

There is much more to this series than I can do it justice in this blog. I would recommend you watch it for yourself, with your friends, with your children. Inspire the younger generation to look for opportunities to make a difference. If they dream of travelling, they can travel in a way that is not only kind to our planet, but kind to its inhabitants too. They can live out their adventures by making a difference to the world around them, by giving their own gift of hope.

” So, as my story comes to an end, another story, your story may be just beginning. And on this journey, I’ve been inspired by other people’s kindness, day in, day out. It’s changed me. Because truly the greatest gift that we have to give another human being, is ourselves. You are the final gift. Because how you show up in the world, it matters. It matters profoundly. We all have the power to change the world. Because to change the world, all you need to do, is change one life. And the most beautiful, the most profound way to change one life simply, is to be kind. So my challenge is simple. the final gift of the kindness diaries is for you to go out into the world and give of yourself, be kind, share love and have as much fun along the way as you can”

Leon Logothetis

Planting hope

Me at Yeri primary school maybe around 1983-84

I haven’t always celebrated my birthday. While there have been occasional candlelit meals with my husband or outings with my children, many birthdays have come and gone with only a passing acknowledgment thanks to matters more pressing to deal with – such as loss, pain, debt, survival.

Today is an exception.

As I begin the 45th year of my life, I feel ready to celebrate. It’s a special date after all – 19.9.19. So, this year marks a new chapter for me. This is the year I step into my writing career, which I hope will be the catalyst for so much more.

Already I am working on a children’s book and a memoir, but it seems fitting to celebrate all that is to come with the ‘formal’ launch of my blog.

When I began the blog, not so long ago, I thought it would be a travel blog, detailing all the places I love in Cyprus and Wales – the countries of my birth and my second home. But as the weeks passed and the words flowed from my keyboard, I noticed a trend in my writing. I wasn’t writing about my travels, but rather my journey. I was travelling through my life stories, remembering the places that had left their mark, breathing new life into past moments that had inspired, motivated and left me with a desire to make a difference.

Having decided to embrace this new path, I am now finding ‘my voice’ as a writer. This remains a work in progress involving a daily battle with the shouts of doubt and disbelief. But at least I am on my way. I celebrate that. This the end of contemplating, desiring, wishing, dreaming and 35 years of procrastination.

For many years I have written, on and off, caught in a cycle of starting and giving up, daring to submit a piece and dealing with rejection, but this year I shall not be deterred because this journey is not only about the writing, but about me and my calling.

The destination of this blog is self-discovery through stories that capture my attention and captivate my heart. Through this journey, I am fulfilling a calling to write stories that make a difference, bring transformation, awareness and change. I am walking towards a bigger vision.

Many years ago, when I was 10 or 11 years old, I was lucky enough to come across someone who planted hope in my heart – the hope that I could be more than the village gossip allowed me to be, that I had a gift, an ability and that I could dare to dream. Over the years, that hope has nourished me through many periods of doubt, rejection, criticism and ridicule. And the person who gifted me that hope was Mrs Nitsa.

Mrs Nitsa was my primary school language teacher when I lived in the village of Yeri, on the outskirts of Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus.

Mrs Nitsa ( Nitsa Anastasiou) with our class at Yeri Primary School, Cyprus.

At the time, Nicosia was still finding its way following the disastrous Greek coup that triggered the Turkish invasion of the north of the island leaving the capital divided. In 1984, half of the city was wrecked, naked and groaning from the pain of death while the other half was fast developing into a modern, cosmopolitan city. Half an hour away, my village had expanded overnight with the influx of refugees from the north and our little primary school perched on a hill was subsequently a mish mash of kids trying to understand the world, claiming our bits of territory and establishing hierarchies like every other school in the world, but with the added aftermath of war bringing a deeper layer of confusion to events.

Mrs Nitsa came from the city. Slim, tall, eloquent, even in 30C+ her make up remained intact and her blonde hair backcombed into a perfect bouffant style that was fashionable in the 80s. With a long thin stick, she would tap words written on the blackboard for us to repeat and I would marvel at her ability to walk on such high heels. I can remember the scent of her skin moisturiser when she walked by, blended with foundation and perfume. It took me to memories I could not see, but recognised. It was the scent of my mother. By then six years had passed since her death and I grasped every opportunity to feel her presence.

Back in that school in 1984, I didn’t know then that I was dyslexic or that I had AD or PTSD or hypervigilance or any of those labels we like to attach in order to understand. I knew I could read and that I loved stories, but everything else was a blur and day in, day out I would gaze absentmindedly out of the window oblivious to the lessons. Except for language class.

Mrs Nitsa knew. She saw what others missed – a child hurting from the loss of her parents, lost in a world of structure, judgement, conformity, ridicule, religious rituals and gossip. A child whose coping mechanism was to write stories. So, write I did. Mrs Nitsa would give me a word or a subject and leave me to it, letting me lose myself in my imagination and the pages I created. Today, I am still writing like that, but I’m learning to edit, to cut and crop instead of letting the rant flow because I want to share this journey.

When the final term came and it was time for us students to move on to high school, Mrs Nitsa knelt in front of me, coming to my level, casting off the towering presence that had so intimidated much of the class. She took hold of my hands and looked me in the eyes. Hers – sparkly blue, fierce and soft at the same time – were that day wet and red. She trembled as she spoke.

“Michelle, I have no idea where you will go. You have been through much, God only knows. I don’t know if I will see you again, but I want to tell you something and ask you a favour. I want you to know that you have a gift for writing. I want you to write, keep journals and no matter what is happening through your life, write it all. Then one day you will write your memoir, your story and I want to read it. OK?”

I nodded, not understanding, embarrassed by the attention, yet not wanting to let go of her hands and watching heartbroken as she walked back to her desk.

And that was it.

The years passed with all their seasons, and I didn’t keep my promise to write a journal, not until seven or eight years ago. Each time I visited Cyprus, I asked about Mrs Nitsa. I heard she had lost her husband and was living in Nicosia. Then three years ago, I met her again. I found her number and when I called she recognised my voice. I could see her tears in the quickness of her breath over the telephone line. “Are you writing?” were the first words she said to me.

After the call, we met for a coffee, she gave me copies of her own published books and she made me renew my promise to write. She also asked to be the one to edit the Greek language version of my memoir.

Mrs Nitsa and I at our meeting in 2016

So, here I am; another three years have passed and I am working on that memoir, hoping one day to hand over the gift I promised 35 years ago.

And that’s why today, as I ‘officially’ launch my blog, I celebrate this woman who planted hope in my heart and soul, who saw a way to connect with me, who recognised something good in me when no one else did and who spoke words of life into the broken 10-year-old child that stood before her.

Perhaps I can use this blog to plant hope in the hearts of my own readers one day and, in turn, maybe those readers will go on to plant hope in the hearts of others. Every life needs a purpose and what greater purpose can we live for than to walk with the hurt, inspire the desolate, believe in the forgotten, bring joy to the sad and plant hope in the hopeless.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels