Category Archives: Hope

Letter to my insecurity

Ten weeks into the Covid 19 pandemic lock-down here in the UK, I noticed a post by freelance author, therapeutic writing specialist and bodywork consultant Kate Orson. She was running online therapeutic writing workshops to help unlock those inner most thoughts we aren’t even aware of.

Something in the description of the workshop about ‘unlocking’ and delving beyond our awareness, caught my attention so I signed up.

I am glad I did. Kate’s warmth and friendly calm manner put me straight at ease and I got stuck in with the tasks of allowing the pen to flow without stemming it or trying to figure out what was coming.

One of the exercises was to write a letter to our emotions. As the timer started for our 15 minute free flow of the pen, I stared at the blank page before me, feeling rather awkward that nothing was coming. I decided to write the word ‘Dear’ just to make a start of some sort. As I completed the word ‘dear’ it came, like a flood, unstoppable, it came out of seemingly nowhere. Kate was right. And I was astounded.

Here is what I wrote, unedited.

Letter to my emotions

Dear insecurity, you’ve been around a long time, influencing my thoughts, steps, decisions. You have kept me hidden in the background, behind the scenes, never wanting to be out there, recognised, exposed, open. You have fed the shame and like good friends, you two have ganged up against me holding me back, holding me down, your words to me always being “what if” or “just in case”

“What if it all goes wrong”?

“What if you make a fool of yourself and prove others they were right about you all along”?

“What if everything you believe is a mistake and it turns out you were gullible?”

“Just in case you are wrong Michelle, stay low, hide, keep out of the way, just in case others are better than you, know more than you”.

But now, so many years on, I ask you, insecurity.

How have you served me?

Why this approach?

I hear you say “for your protection Michelle”

So, I ask “did it work”? “Did it protect me”? “Protect me from what”?

No, it didn’t protect me, it was a mask, a pacifier to my ego, fear, emotions.

Staying low, staying hidden hasn’t served me. But now I am ready to step out from the shadow where I have hidden and into the light, exposed, perhaps vulnerable but finally open, here, visible, raw.

Because now I ask “what if my books can help transform the lives of others for the better”?

What if my spoken words touch the hearts of the discouraged?

What if my actions bring relief to those in pain?

So I am ready to step out even if I make a fool of myself, even if it goes wrong, because the sting and consequence of never trying is worse than that of trying and getting it wrong, learning and growing.

Getting it wrong can redirect me to the right path so actually it’s a win-win. I just never saw it before. I let you rule or lead but no more.

Farewell insecurity, welcome boldness, faith, hope.

I put the pen down and was astounded at what I wrote.

Where did it come from?

Is that really what has been leading my decisions, feeding my fears? Holding me back from publishing the books I have written, from using my voice to speak, from writing my memoir and sharing hope?

Shouldn’t it have been obvious all this time?

Well, that’s the thing you see with our subconscious. It can lead us into all sorts of behaviours and decisions without us fully aware of the mechanics at work.

Old traumas or experiences can cause subtle wounds that fester and go deep. The damage at work can be deceptive, we are unaware as we carry on doing life and then suddenly we look back and wonder why we made certain decisions, why we were held back by our own limiting beliefs, how we ended where we are now.

Writing that letter to my emotions helped me understand what is at work in my mind and to take charge, to regain control and to be aware of how our mind can work against us not for us. The Bible (Romans 12,2) very wisely instructs us to not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of our mind, that by testing we may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

What does that tell me?

It tells me that I need to stop relying on my mind, on my self, to figure it all out because I am a product of my experiences and environment which have shaped my thinking, judgement, and decisions. Each of us has their own unique experiences which have shaped our thinking, opinions, beliefs and decisions, so how can we know what is true, what is right, what is wise?

By letting go. By going back to source. By asking the one who holds all the answers and by trusting in His wisdom.

This has been the hardest step for me to take. All through my life I have tried to work it out, tried to figure it for myself, when I trusted others I fell flat on my face. When I trusted myself, I ended up in a mess. When I researched, read and cross referenced I ended up confused and stressed with all the different types of explanations, methodologies, science, or other peoples beliefs, anxious about the what if’s, fear seeping in like a slithering reptile, creeping up on it’s prey.

I am not going to lie or dress this up pretty. This journey has been tremendous and I have fought against trusting because life taught me not to trust, life taught me to guard myself, to watch my own back. But it hasn’t served me well, it kept me constantly wrecked from the stress of watching my back and planning for every possibility. Peace could not come. I’ve gone to this person and that counsellor, and this therapist and that solution but truly never finding peace or healing, just an incredible number of possible solutions. Don’t get me wrong, therapists and counsellors have their place and are of immense value but in my case, nothing and no one could bring healing, restoration, peace and a sense of trust. I had to step out of my person, my mind and into the hands of the all knowing, all understanding, all powerful source of life, God.

Three years ago, I visited a church I had not attended before. In the midst of the meeting, a woman stood up and announced that she had been given a prophetic picture from God. It was of a wobbly rope bridge with wooden slats held by rope. A person stood on one end of the bridge afraid to step on it for fear of falling. She said “there is someone here who has a big decision to make. God has given you a vision and you have a task to complete but it feels huge, too big, too scary and you are standing in front of that bridge afraid. But God is saying, “don’t be afraid, all you have to do is take one step on the bridge and I will be with you holding your hand and crossing it together, all you have to do is make the decision, make the choice, I will honour whatever you choose”.

I knew that word was for me. I had arrived that day praying in the car about a vision God had given me to write books that heal the world and to start with my own story. I was asking God if I had heard right, if this was truly what I needed to do and questioned who would ever want to read my story when every one of us has a story of overcoming? I asked him to show me in a way that I would know it was him, unquestionably. And then, I parked the car and entered the church…

When the service finished, this lady came and found me. The room was packed and I was squeezed in somewhere at the back. She leaned over, tapped me on the shoulder and said “excuse me, can I ask, was that word I gave for you?” Astonished, I replied that I believed it was. She went on to say that when she stood up, God had prompted her to turn around and look in my direction. When she saw my face she knew the word she was about to give was for me but she didn’t want to embarrass me by calling me out. I was grateful. I assured her the word was an answer to my prayers of that morning and at that she simply stated she would pray for me and all I had to do was trust and start.

It took three years of starting and stopping, of believing and doubting, of leaning in and walking away, of trusting and then distrusting, of disappointment, rejection, a sense of being alone. But finally, in these weeks of the pandemic, something new has taken place in my heart. A change. A change of heart, a change of mind, an embracing of my faith, a walking back towards, a letting go of distrust, an admitting of not being able to do it alone, a realisation that I am not alone, a letting go of the shame of what you might think of me, a letting go of insecurity and finding my security in God, in Christ the only one who can never walk away, reject, abandon, or let me down.

So with that, I pick up my pen again, and I lean in, fully invested, fully committed, fully in for the journey. I am buckling up my belt for all that is to come and I am getting my faith armour on as I continue co- journeying with the one who placed the vision in my heart all those years ago…

If you would like to try therapeutic writing, you can find Kate on her page here for further workshops. https://www.facebook.com/TheDesireToWrite/

Letter to my mother

I recently wrote this piece on Vocal, a platform for writers from all over the world. I decided to publish it here on my blog because it has a place here, it is part of my story.

To the mother I don’t remember.

Hi mum.

Well, here we are. If ever there was going to be an opportunity to write you a letter, this is it.

I saw this challenge on a writing platform I recently discovered called Vocal. Nothing like that would have existed when you were alive. Back then landline phones were the main form of communication or telegrams for urgent contact with loved ones abroad.

Today, we can communicate with anyone anywhere in the world in a matter of seconds. You would have loved this. You would have used social media or What’s APP and Messenger to connect with your parents and siblings while you traveled around the world with my dad. I know you sent them telegrams though. Your mum -grandma Audrey- showed me some when I was growing up.

She also showed me the one she received while she was in Malaysia with granddad Paul. The one that told her you had taken your life. She had a breakdown straight after.

I know you wrote her letters. She showed me those too. You wrote long, detailed explanations of all that you were seeing, experiencing in different countries in the world. Being the wife of a sea faring captain was fun and you enjoyed sea -salt seasoned adventures. You met some amazing people, rescued parrots, mynah birds and monkeys from markets in Beirut and Morocco. But you couldn’t rescue me.

It feels fitting to write you a letter. You wrote many and they were beautiful. Little did you know that your daughter would be so like you. A writer, an animal lover, a rescuer, a wandering soul.

When I saw this challenge to write about a woman who inspires me, many women came to mind. Women who have been mother figures when you were not there throughout my life. Even the woman who grabbed me and placed me in her husband’s arms when I walked round to her house and said I couldn’t wake up mummy. She was a rock to our family. And she still cries for you even in her very old age. But I didn’t pick her.

I thought of aunt Zoe, your best friend. She was a mother figure for me while I lived on the farm those first years. She would take me to her home to play with her girls and wash me in the bath. Patiently and often with tears streaming down her face, she would scrub the filth from my body. Caked on dirt from the farm. Dirt my grandparents couldn’t see or wash from my body, they could barely take care of themselves.

Aunt Zoe would use rose scented soap, warm water, and soft towels to dry me. She told me that when you were alive, I smelled of flowers. No one knew what you used on me but anywhere I went, I smelled clean and beautiful. She always made a point of drying between my toes so that I couldn’t get a fungal infection. I used to think it was weird. Now I know she was desperate to protect me in the only way she knew, by keeping me clean.

She still grieves for you. And now she grieves the loss of her own daughter too. Too soon, too young, your age when you left. Who would have thought? But I didn’t pick her.

I thought of Elli, the woman who fostered me when you died. At just 5 years old, she added me into her home with her daughters and made me feel like part of her family. I had my comfortable bed, my own set of drawers with neatly folded clean clothes. She cared about me and loved me like a mother, but she wasn’t my mother. She couldn’t connect the bond that was severed when you left me. Nothing could do that. No one could. But she did her very best, for two whole years she tried but in the end all I wanted was to be close to you by living on the farm with my grandparents, the last people who ever saw you alive, the ones who kept your handbag and nightdress in the wardrobe. Living on the farm meant I could hide in the wardrobe and hug your handbag tightly, smelling your scent, feeling you close. So, I didn’t pick Elli.

There have been other women who have inspired me over the years. Women I called when I gave birth so that I could announce the happy news to someone who resembled a mother figure in my life. There have been women who have loved, supported me, cheered me on but I didn’t pick them.

There are friends who are women of valor, an example of what is it to overcome trauma, adversity and live victoriously. I thought of them. Surviving domestic violence, sexual abuse, loss and severe trauma, being an example to their children, setting up charities, making a difference in the hurting world.

But I didn’t pick them.

Why did I pick you? I don’t even remember you, well, the two memories I have of you are not the stuff of inspirational stories. Your detention in the mental hospital and your death. that’s it.

At five years old when you left, I should have more memories, but they were cleaned out with the same brutality strangers cleaned out our home when you died.

I picked you because you inspire me to be the woman I aspire to being. I picked you because you weren’t perfect and you did life raw, hard but real. I picked you because you loved me in the deepest and most profound way there could ever be. I know this because even though I have no good memories of you when I think of you, I sense the bond, severed but still there like two ends of one umbilical cord cut in half the two bodies floating away from each other and yet, somehow, supernaturally connected through a stronger invisible cord.

I don’t remember you, yet people say I am so like you. I write like you, we even have the same handwriting, how can that be? I love animals, nature, people. I laugh with my head thrown back, loud and full heartedly, just like you did apparently. I see the funny side of everything just like you did. Apparently.

According to all those who knew you as a daughter, sister and friend, you were sensitive, compassionate, loved deep and hard, stood up to fight for those with no voice. My arrival was your happiest moment and as I have been told so many times, I was always carried by you lest I fell, lest I scraped a knee, lest I felt sad.

I remember your mum, grandma Audrey telling me that when you all lived in Malaysia or some other exotic part of the world, while she dined and danced and played tennis with diplomats, you were tending to the lepers that no one wanted to touch. You had access to wealth and luxury, but you preferred the poor and destitute.

Your beauty won you many competitions and many rich and famous men asked for your hand in marriage. But you picked my dad. A Greek man from a poor family who sailed the seas to get away from his own pain and then found you, his kindred spirit, his soul mate. You were happiest feeding sheep on his parents’ farm, helping on the ship, bringing joy and rescuing people and animals wherever you travelled.

You loved fully, unconditionally; you were real. And your pain bore deep. My father’s death was the final straw for you. You couldn’t bear it any longer and so two failed attempts later, your struck ‘lucky’ the third time and left me forever wondering why. Why you left. Why I wasn’t worth living for.

I have been so utterly heartbroken that no one could help me. My body has taken all the pain of my soul and doctors could not help me as I screamed in physical and mental anguish. The trauma of your loss was too much, at times I have been tempted to end it all, to follow you but then there has always been a force within me pushing me on, lifting me up. Is it you?

I went through years of anger towards you. If you had stayed alive, I would have been safe, protected from the molesters, the neglect, the further loss when my grandparents died. I would have had someone to rejoice in my pregnancies, someone to call for that family recipe, someone to hold the baby while I took a nap. You would have been my light in the darkness. But maybe you have been all along.

But its all the stuff of dreams because we truly do not know what the future brings. I was angry for what I thought I was missing and yet so many mothers are alive but may as well be dead for the pain and sorrow they cause their children.

There came a time, I saw what I was doing and how you became a scapegoat. If you were still alive, I would be … If you had not died, I would not have endured …

But its all just thoughts, no proof. It is all futile.

They say time is a healer. I am not healed. I have learned to live with your absence. I have forgiven you for leaving me and I have wished you alive more times than it is possible to count. But you are not, at least not in this same life I am living now.

And yet I am inspired by you. I am inspired to live my life fully even if I don’t know what may come. I am inspired to love like you did even though you knew it hurt. I am inspired to care for others selflessly even if they never acknowledge my kindness. I am inspired to do what thrills my heart even if it doesn’t meet with the expectations or approval of others. As a mother, I am inspired to hold on to my children longer, carry them lest they fall, hold them high above the danger, be real and raw and funny and sad and authentic lest they have some false aspirations of a perfect mother that does not exist.

Most of all mum, I am inspired by you to let go of all that I think I should be, to not conform to the standards of the world and instead be unashamedly and unapologetically myself. Because that is the example by which I want to inspire my own children to live. Holding nothing back, fitting in no one’s box but living fully themselves, making mistakes without shame, discovering without judgement, living according to their benchmark and embracing all there is with no regrets.

And for that I am truly grateful and inspired.

I love you

Until we meet again

Your daughter

Can any good come out of the Covid 19 pandemic?

Photo by cottonbro

By nature, I am a positive and very optimistic person. The glass half – full type. But I can’t lie to you. The Covid 19 pandemic has raised my hackles and I have reigned myself in on multiple occasions to prevent a panic attack triggered by the latest apocalypse style news. I live in the UK and have watched as the world, piece by piece is shutting down, entire countries going into lock-down with a police or military presence preventing unnecessary movement. Here, although in lock down we are told to practice social distancing keeping 2 metres apart from others when out on our assigned daily exercise and avoid unnecessary movement. Schools have closed and parents are trying to figure out how to home educate while surviving the health risks, while isolating, while trying to change their businesses into online ones, while dealing with the uncertainty and financial implications. Panic shopping has seen empty shelves worthy of war like scenarios and fights breaking out over toilet paper. Who would have thought?

It’s easy to look at all this and go into shut down mode. I worry most about people with learning difficulties that can’t understand, people with mental illness already battling to manage, at-risk children and spouses in domestic violence or abusive situations being forced to stay in with their perpetrators. Alzheimer’s patients, children and adults with conditions that make them vulnerable, the elderly (have they not been through enough?), those with underlying health conditions and hence more vulnerable. I have friends undergoing chemotherapy, one who just had open heart surgery. Our family lives in Cyprus, currently in lock down. My mother in law was discharged from hospital after a serious illness only days before Covid 19 hit. We can only hope that all will be well and soon we’ll be tasting grandmas’ delicious dolmades and playing with cousins on the beach.

In the meantime, we have to ride it out. As another friend recently reflected, her parents were teenagers during World War 2 and they spent the best parts of their youth working in ammunition factories and farms, surviving but never really living. Their answer to how they coped “We just got on with it.”

That is certainly one way to look at it, but I believe there is another. We may feel like helpless pawns in some big game orchestrated by nature or bio hacking or the 5G invasion messing with our bodies’ natural electrical current. Whatever it is, we can look at it a different way.

Photo by Korhan Erdol

We can use this crisis as a personal opportunity to reflect on how we once lived, naïve, dependant on the state or on world systems to look after us, trusting and faithfully working as cogs in someone else’s wheel. We trust a medical system that in time of crisis can’t cope, can’t help, and due to a lack of resources has to decide who it will allow to live and who must die for the benefit of the younger fitter cogs.

We trust an education system that raises cogs only to find that its perfectly designed formula is putting children at risk of infection and has washed its hands off. It has sent children back home to be cared for, protected and educated by their parents, the people it has convinced us for so long were unable to educate their children. We have been led to believe that only conventional schools, institutionalisation could achieve what no parent could. And yet, it is parents who are now expected to pick up the reigns and ride on regardless even with impossible odds and frustrating limitations.

We trust supermarkets to always provide, that they have systems in place to handle any crisis especially since warnings in the form of previous outbreaks have been around for years. We trust that we will always be fed and watered and sustained, only to find chaos, lack of management, hoarding, fighting and empty shelves.

Reflecting brings awareness, lessons learned and new realisations. Aha moments that lead to new perception, different ways of thinking and creativity unleashed. Usually it begins with looking at ourselves, how we rely on outside sources to feel safe, content, happy. When all is taken away, can we still feel safe, content, happy?

Perhaps we will start to grow our own food in pots or gardens. I saw a video the other day of a woman growing food on a tiled floor and in the crevices of the garden walls. Food scarcity may motivate us to try new recipes using leftovers or less ingredients. A friend sent me a recipe for flat bread with just 4 ingredients. Water, flour, salt and oil. We may become less wasteful, more mindful when eating. The realisation that when all is said and done, the best weapon against illness is our own body, will lead us to take better care of it. Feed it nutritiously, build its immunity, love on it more, hate on it and judge it less.

The coronavirus crisis has forced us to physically socialise less, spend more time at home, more time with our families if we live with others, more creative socialisation online or by phone.

In times past, for many communities, life was isolating with homes miles apart and no phone or internet communication. Visitors from neighbouring villages provided a rare exciting break to the day to day life of those communities. Back then, men worked out in the fields, farms, workshops, mines, sea fishing, or running small shops while women mostly stayed at home working hard to wash by hand, clean with natural cleaners like vinegar. They may have walked miles to fetch clean water (as still happens in communities around the world), feed the animals kept for milk, eggs or food, sew clothes for the family, repair old ones, grind flour, prepare food from scratch since no convenience foods were available. They may have earned extra money sewing for others, making crafts to sell, weaving baskets, making jewellery or make- up from natural resources. They may have foraged for food or natural materials to create items for the home. There wasn’t much time to ‘socialise’.

Children would have possibly and rarely attended some sort of school or outdoor class with one teacher, or even learned at home as their ancestors would have done for hundreds of years before. They would have participated in all chores and jobs helping both parents. And then, there would have been some break, a little time to play and ‘socialise’. This may have been a kick about with a ball with a few local friends, the women would make tea or coffee and have a quick gossip between chores if they happened to live near each other. Men would converse while working or at a gathering in the village. Most socialising over the course of history was a natural part of living, while shopping, doing chores, among family and rarely with lots of people.

Today we think socialising is something that has to be forced, manipulated, facilitated. We bring about hundreds of children together in institutions and time them against the clock to play according to our rules while micromanaged by adults.

Now, we are going back to how it was. Back to using time creatively, productively in our homes, reconnecting with family members, working as a team, taking responsibilities, laughing and playing together and enjoying some safe contact with others. What we may find through this is that our conversations are longer, deeper, more meaningful. That we call people we haven’t seen for years and have those conversations we shelved due to lack of time. That we learn to enjoy our own company, and be comfortable in our own skin.

As home educators, socialisation has been a natural part of life. Of course, we haven’t been shut at home all the time, but we haven’t been mixing with lots of people in a manufactured attempt to socialise either. We have simply been doing life and learning to be content with time alone, or in small intimate gatherings.

Conversely, another benefit from this social distancing or lock-down will be the quietness. Our world had become outrageously noisy. Noise pollution is real. As someone who has battled PTSD for most of my life, noise is painful, confusing, overwhelming. There are many people with sensory issues, autism, Asperger’s, PTSD and other reasons to struggle with noise. Crowded shops and cafes, crowded playgrounds, crowded streets. I’ve given up on so many dates with my husband because I simply could not hear him over the noise of music layered on top of noise from diners. Screaming children make playcentres impossible even for my children who can’t understand why other kids need to scream to have fun. Interesting. Even drying our hands in public toilets is an assault on our hearing with incredibly loud high-pressured air forced through machines. There is scientific proof that the noise level exceeds the legal limit and is harmful to children especially those lower down and thus nearer the output of the hand dryer. Noise noise everywhere. But not anymore, at least not for a time. The world is getting quieter. And we need it. We all need it.

Gratitude and appreciation. We have taken so many luxuries for granted for far too long. History books tell us that nothing is forever, nothing is guaranteed, or secure. We have seen devastating wars, unjustified, making no sense whatsoever, turn stunning tourist hot spots into rubble and millions of people fleeing to safety only to find they are not wanted anywhere. Those that once graced their beaches, enjoyed luxury spas in their hotels, shopped from their markets and enthused in the beauty of their country, now turn their backs on the very people who once served them and made their holiday unforgettable. Now, with their status changed to refugees, they are stranded, unwanted, uncared for with nothing to help them survive harsh winters, dangerous human predators, disease, starvation. Are you safe in your home right now? Be grateful.

Photo by Kelly Lacy from Pexels

We know that in our lifetimes, in this day and age, fires can wipe out entire countries, famine and disease can wipe out entire generations. Floods, tsunamis, viruses, cancer, malnutrition, earthquakes, hurricanes, volcano eruptions. They are all real and dangerous and possible yet if we haven’t been touched by it, we don’t care. Each to their own. But now, when we are all affected, we suddenly have woken up to something that is reality for people in third world countries all the time. Lack of clean water, food, sanitation, toilet paper, medicine. Yet they get on with it. They find ways, solutions.

We see now. We truly see and as such we may no longer take for granted our freedom of movement, social gatherings, material possessions, abundance of food in our shops, concerts, cinemas, theatres, shopping malls, central heating, air conditioning, safe homes, cars, fuel, technology, free healthcare (in the UK).

We may now be more conscious of our temporary state of existing, our mortality, our fragility and how we are all in this together not apart. Distance is no longer relevant. We haven’t avoided this crisis, it has come to find us in every country, every community no matter how much we tried to get on with our lives. We are all part of the bigger picture, each of us relevant and connected. We are suddenly seeing this connection and cultivating empathy, compassion.

The uncertainty is also turning our attention to the higher power, our spirit nature, the rest of the story when this chapter is over. Whatever it is, the universe, God, our inner being, we know there is more, this can’t be it. We are too amazing, intricate, extraordinary for this life to be it. No, there’s so much more. This experience has purpose and we are now considering it, ruminating on it, gleaning wisdom from it, faith growing stronger.

We are finding meaning. What once seemed important, critical, worrying, challenging may have paled into insignificance as bigger and more worrying things have taken their place. Just weeks ago we stressed over meeting deadlines, that promotion, paying for the holiday, what to do with the kids during Spring break, why little Jimmy didn’t get invited to the class birthday party, why little Annie didn’t get picked for the team again. Now, we watch as the world is getting infected with an unknown virus and we are herded and prodded and investigated, quarantined and scared for our lives and those of our loved ones, not least because the healthcare system can’t cope. A scenario worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster, in fact it won’t be long before one is out.

Photo by Anna Shvets

What once felt like a breaking point, showed us that we are stronger and more resilient when bigger threats are on the horizon.  In ‘Man’s search for meaning’ Viktor Frankl documents his experience as a psychiatrist sent to Auschwitz concentration camp. He describes the challenges and how differently prisoners tried to survive. The conspiracies, betrayals for a piece of bread, the fights but also the hope, the faith, the instinct to survive, the compassion, camaraderie and sacrifice. In a place where they had no freedom, no food, no warm clothing, no medicine and were beaten, tortured and degraded constantly, those who focused on positive thinking, on loved ones, on dreams, on their faith, on the future, on those they cared about in that place, had the best chance of survival.

At one point in the book Viktor describes how he felt the presence of his wife. He had no idea if she had died or was still alive (she was in fact dead), but he felt her presence powerfully and would speak with her all the time while labouring away on the railway tracks in the snow. At night he would dream, and his dreams provided an escape from the reality of daytime suffering. In fact, he looked forward to sleep so that he could escape through his dreams. Humour existed even in those dire circumstances. No one could take those things from him. No one can take that from us now.

Recently in the documentary ‘The story of us’ with Morgan Freeman, I watched Albert Woodfox who was convicted to solitary confinement, describe the moment he decided he was free. He spent 23 hours of each day in a 6×9 cell alone for 43 years. He watched men he had become close friends with, go insane in their cells. And yet for him it all changed when he simply made a decision that no one could take away the freedom of his mind. His body may have been imprisoned but his mind and spirit were free. With that knowledge, he passed the hours and years until his release. The remainder of his life is being invested in teaching others, inspiring younger generations to be a force for good. Would he have dedicated these years to such an important purpose had it not been for his experience? I doubt it. Something took place in the confinement, a transformation.

How will you use your time in self-isolation or social distancing or quarantine?

“I realized that, even in prison, my schedule and time were in my control. Unlike my fellow inmates who spent their time playing cards, watching TV and “shucking and jiving” all day, I focused on training my mind. In those two years: I read 197 books. I wrote two books. I learned a new language (Korean). I taught my fellow inmates all about business and start-ups. I studied physics and history. I wrote every single day for two years straight. I incessantly trained and disciplined my mind. My routine became the saving grace that allowed me to relentlessly train my mind.” Andrew Medal (www.entrepreneur.com)

So, in summary these are the key take – away’s for this season we are in. My own reflections, conclusions, tools. Add your own. Edit mine. Go deep. Don’t be afraid.

  • Keep positive and focus on your mindset. Catch negative thoughts before they take root and replace them with positive ones.
  • Reflect and learn the lessons. What do you need to change going forward?
  • Use the opportunity. What new ideas can you develop? What old ones can you pick back up? What new skills can you learn?
  • Slow down. Take longer over tasks you used to rush through and become present, living in the moment, connecting deeper.
  • Practice gratitude and forgiveness. This is the perfect time to develop a gratitude habit. Journal it, write things you are grateful each day and place them in a jar. Consider people in your life that you need to forgive and cleanse your soul. This will benefit your health and boost your immunity too.
  • Dream, visualise, plan for the future. Make a vision board, write it on a piece of paper, visualise it daily in your mind and walk through it as if you were doing it. Amazingly, your brain can’t tell the difference, it believes you are actually doing it and will set in motion the means by which to make it reality.
  • Find meaning even in the smallest things. I once read a book called ‘one thousand gifts’. A journey of gratitude. The author even listed being grateful for the soap suds on her hands as she washed dishes and the rainbow colours reflected in it from the sunlight through the window. The soap suds represented all that she had in her life, children to wash dishes for, food to cook and plates to clean, their farm. The simplest things can speak volumes to our hearts. Don’t miss them.

Its OK to worry and be afraid but don’t stay there. I go through those moments too. We are human. Right now, many hospitals are filled with Covid 19 patients fighting for their lives. I am not being naive or trying to be insensitive. But if anything, the traumatic experiences of my past have taught me to always look for the bigger picture, to look for the good in every situation, to do what is within my ability, to trust for what I cannot understand and to believe that there is more to this life, more to this situation and that I don’t have to have every detail resolved. To see each day for the gift it is and to focus on the now while trusting for the tomorrow.

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

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