There are times, like this morning, when I wake up thinking, “Is this it? Really? This is the life I’ve got? This is what I wake up for?”
This morning I followed that feeling with reading about people online, and ferociously judging my insides by their outsides. The actors, musicians, writers, comedians and entrepreneurs, whose heavily airbrushed bodies, words and lives seem so perfect, so interesting and brilliant.
And I, by comparison, am currently having a really hard time sleep-training my son. Oh, and I write, but I don’t know if I’m any good because there’s no PR agency airbrushing me to awesomeness – humph.
And then I really started seeing the bleakness of my life…
I ended up in a spiral of restless discontentedness where the only solution seems to be crawling back into bed, pulling the covers over my head, and staying there for the day.
On other days I might furiously try to achieve everything I think will make me worthwhile in a single day. Leading to further misery when it’s not possible.
Down and down and down.
When I started actively seeking a better life about ten years ago, it was partly as a result of a spectacularly bad patch of this kind of thinking. It had become so ingrained it was burnt into my subconscious and prevented me from ever starting anything because I’d already failed in my mind.
The great lie I can still believe is that I need to think about this stuff. That somehow if I think about it for long enough I’m going to fix it. Or if I act on it in a flurry of desperation I can stop the inevitable from happening.
I often jokingly liken it to sitting on a chair with a paper bag over my head, miserably thinking about how awful it is to have a paper bag over my head, and forgetting that I have arms. Or running around in a dark, claustrophobic world, wondering why I’m crashing into everything.
I am the bruised, armless lady with a paper bag over her head…
I’ve found that what I really need to do in these times is pause, breathe, and take stock of the reality of my day. Ultimately, what I need to work on is trusting that I’m not important enough to the universe to be the worst, the most horrible, or the emptiest. A strangely freeing reality.
It helps me be more gentle with myself on the bad days, when my son hasn’t slept for the 10th (or is that the 100th?) night in a row. It helps me to chuckle at the melodramatically terrible future I catastrophise about.
My other reality, one I fought for years, is that a healthy diet and lifestyle are essential for the chemical balance of my brain and body. Too much sugar, caffeine and chemically enhanced foods might help in the short-term, but they’re damming to my mental and physical health in the long-term. Again, I look at people who can lead lifestyles that seem so free of restriction and think
but the question that might be better to ask is,
“Why not me?”
These days I am someone who, by necessity, lives life in moderation. Although I have, on occasion, been known to bastardise the lyrics of ‘Something Stupid’ to sing,
“And then I go and spoil it all, by eating lots of muffins cos I loooove them…”
I can’t eat too much, sleep too much, exercise too much, work too much or party too much (and I can’t do any of those too little either). It can rub me the wrong way sometimes, as I always had a soft spot for the wild life, the heady life, the fully lived life. I can feel hemmed in and unsatisfied in a life without excess. And yet, I’ve learned I need to live simply in order to live contentedly. And I’m incredibly lucky to have that option.
I try to placate my inner rebel by finding raucous laughter. And rioting with words on a blank page. I occasionally find an empty space to scream at all the gods we’ve managed to come up with. On especially bad days I put on my running shoes and try to outrun my mind, or crawl into television for a few hours of blankness.
In essence, I allow myself to be human, when what I want is nauseatingly airbrushed perfection.
So today, when the fizzing of frustration has filled my torso and the clench of my jaw hurts my head, I’m writing and writing (it soothes the riot). And I’ll go for a long run or swim (it clears my mind and internal claustrophobia). And I’ll meditate with near-constant guidance from someone else (it steadies my thoughts and feelings). And I’ll phone someone who also knows a mind that ultimately seeks only destruction (it draws me back into the fold of a loving humanity). And I’ll force myself to have an early night, no matter who’s on ITAS (so I have a chance of living easier tomorrow).
Any short-term loss in this lifestyle harbours many long-term gains. A life that’s gentle and simple. Whole and mostly joyful. And a discovery of peace by treading gently on the ground I seek.
And, above all, I continually remind myself that it’s just for today. That tomorrow is new and fresh. That it doesn’t mean I’m lost, or finished, or failed. That it’s just today. Just today.
Posh muffins today, and not just because I thought, “Mmmmmmm, muffins…” when I wrote the line about singing my greed. I’ve been making Nigella Lawson’s chocolate gingerbread cake since the day I bought her ‘Feast’ book – it’s a winner every time. I had wanted to adapt the recipe into muffins for a while – and my modifications to a marshmallow fluff recipe from The Bright Eyed Baker gave me just the excuse I needed. I’m also looking for ways to focus on others rather than myself and when my husband told me that some of his work colleagues had mentioned they hadn’t yet been fed by my blog, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to be thoughtful – and if I had to try one, just to make sure it was of good enough quality to share with you and them? Well. That’s just a bonus of altruism…
Chocolate Gingerbread Muffins (adapted from Nigella Lawson’s ‘Feast’)
- 85g unsalted butter
- 65g dark muscovado sugar
- 1 tbl sp caster sugar
- 100g golden syrup
- 100g black treacle or molasses
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 3/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1 tbl sp warm water
- 1 egg
- 125ml milk
- 150g plain flour
- 20g cocoa
Pre heat oven to 180˚C
Grease a 24 cup mini muffin tin, or use mini muffin paper cases
In a saucepan, melt the butter along with the sugars, golden syrup, treacle, cloves, cinnamon and ground ginger
In a cup dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in the water
Take the saucepan off the heat and beat in the egg, milk and bicarb
Stir in the flour and cocoa and beat with a wooden spoon to mix
Pour to the rim of the cups of the muffin tin and bake for about 15 minutes, or until risen and firm
Remove to a wire rack and let cool in the tin
Lemon Marshmallow Fluff (adapted from www.brighteyedbaker.com)
- 3 egg whites
- 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1/3 cup water
- 150g granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup golden syrup
- Finely grated rind from 2 lemons
- Juice from 1/2 lemon
Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the cream of tartar on top
Beat, increasing the speed to medium-high, until the eggs start to get light, airy, and frothy
With the mixer running, slowly pour in 2 tablespoons of the granulated sugar
Continue to beat until firm (but not stiff) peaks form. Set aside
Fit a small saucepan with a candy thermometer, or have a reliable digital thermometer ready nearby
Combine water, sugar, and golden syrup in the saucepan and stir together
Bring to a boil over medium heat and then, using a heat-safe spatula, stir very frequently as you cook the syrup mixture to 115˚C / 240°F, maintaining a consistent boil
Once at 115˚C / 240°F remove from the heat immediately
Start the mixer on a slower speed and slowly pour the syrup in as it mixes, until all of the syrup has been added
Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl if needed, then increase speed to medium-high and beat for another 4 minutes
The mixture should have expanded and you should now have a butterscotch coloured creme that’s able to hold some shape
Add the lemon zest and juice, wipe down the bowl and beater, and beat for about 30 more seconds, until the lemon has all been incorporated
Any extra keeps in the fridge for up to a month
For the Finished Muffin
Using a small, sharp knife, split the cooled muffin tops from their bottoms
Spoon a heaped teaspoon of the marshmallow fluff onto the bottom part of the muffin
Gently rest the top of the muffin on top of the fluff
Eat in dainty bites, or follow my family and fit a whole mini muffin in your mouth in one go!