Blessed: how a Melbourne girl finally acknowledges her birthday

I’m writing this post from the comfort of my couch, the latest episode of The Vampire Diaries on in the background, and my fur baby curled up by my side. It’s Sunday afternoon, and I’m pretty tired; it’s been a massive weekend. And the next few weeks aren’t going to be any quieter – Christmas parties, birthdays, weddings, dinners with friends… and tomorrow, another birthday for me.

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I’ve been pretty determined to ignore this birthday. It’s one of those big, ugly ones. Thirty. Blehh. It’s not so much the age that disturbs me – I neither look nor act my age (although I really hate that feeling I’ve been getting more and more frequently that the best years of my life are flying by and I’m not making the most of them…). It’s not the fact that I don’t have a big, fancy career title. Or that I’m childless. All things considered, I’m actually pretty happy with my choices and path in life. But that nasty depression/anxiety/disordered eating cocktail, some bumpy family ties, and my eternal predisposition to  instinctively go through life unnoticed has meant that I really didn’t want any acknowledgement or fanfare this year. No parties, no cakes, no gifts.

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I reluctantly agreed to a small lunch on the Saturday with just my family and in-laws to mark the occasion, on the proviso that there’d be no cake or singing or any of that crap. Seeing as we’d be out for lunch and had no big celebratory plans for the night, I decided to book a hotel room in the city for husband and I – getting lost in a busy city always relaxes me.

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A few weeks after that was all organised, I hesitantly, at my patient husband’s suggestion, texted my my four best friends to see if they’d maybe want to have dinner with me on Friday night – I felt like SUCH a twat asking them to mark my birthday with a dinner, because I really don’t feel worthy of celebration. But the girls were all excited, so I started to get a little excited, too..

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Just before last weekend, I started getting a little anxious about it all. With more going on than I’d care to admit, I knew it was time to take the advice I always tried so hard to ignore, and just slow down and take a breath. I applied for a day of annual leave from work so I could mark this birthday on my own, privately, in a way that I could only do alone and that would make sense only to me. So, on Thursday morning, I got up and enjoyed a cup of tea and a little bit of muesli. Then, I made my way to a tram stop and caught a tram to my favourite part of Melbourne (Fitzroy and Collingwood), where I did something very uncharacteristic of me; I indulged in some of my favourite things, slowly and deliberately. I ordered myself a pastry for morning tea, without a panic attack, even though I hadn’t worked out at 5.45am that morning. I sat and enjoyed it with a pot of tea while I spent some time on my favourite hobby – writing.

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After that, I did something even more out of character – I got a manicure and pedicure. It took me the best part of the pamper session to actually relax and enjoy it. I didn’t force myself to eat because it was “lunch time;” I walked around, slowly and aimlessly, and waited until I was actually hungry. I wrote a little more over lunch. I decided to get some new tattoos. Then, I eventually made my way to another cafe for another pot of tea. I ordered a chocolate chip cookie, too, because it was exactly what I felt like. I couldn’t tell you the last time I had a pastry and a cookie on the same day, let alone on a day when I hadn’t worked out for at least at hour…

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That last stop was the one I needed most that day. I sat down with a hot pot of tea, that chocolate chip cookie, and a notebook that’s been sitting on my little desk at home for the last few months, with the words “THE RECOVERY DIARIES” scrawled up its spine. It’s the little notebook I write notes in that might help me along my path to be happier and healthier. Notes from books like “The Happiness Handbook” by Dr Timothy Sharp, snippets of information and quotes from Brene Brown, points from Nia Shanks’ latest e-book, notes from the Girlspo+ workbook, and other random bits and pieces. Anyway, on Thursday afternoon with my tea and cookie, I started to think about where I’m at and where I want to be, and I started writing; my birthday gift to myself (other than the new shoes, hotel night, tattoos and matcha cronut) was actually investing the time to give myself a bit more direction for the weeks and months leading up to my next birthday.

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I’m a great planner, but my low confidence and self-esteem means that I’m not always great at following through (certainly not always, but undeniably more and more often, I’m inclined to just give up when I think I’m not good enough to actually achieve something). I’m an efficient organiser, but I struggle to focus (instead of having the confidence to develop one or two main passions, I tend to try everything in the hopes that maybe I’ll be good enough at one of them). Everything’s hunky dory in theory, but in practice, anxiety often gets the best of me and I never get the chance to put my step by step plans into place. So Thursday afternoon was the time I’d finally set aside to start working on a realistic game plan.

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I realised a few other things things year in the lead up to the birthday:
— I’m only human. There is only so much I can do. And that’s ok.
— My mother is also only human. We are really, truly, undeniably polar opposites, and that’s ok, too. Circumstances and situations over many years that are more complicated than any standard therapist’s pay grade dictate that our relationship will never be less than complicated, and that is ok.
— I’ll always feel like I need to be strong around my dad, who I absolutely love to bits. I will always feel like it’s my job to assure him that I’m ok, even when I’m not. And I know I’m not fooling him, but he also respects me enough to allow me the dignity to carry on working things out myself without interruption.
— I cannot wear every single hat every single day. I need to learn when to let shit go. Just because I was a black belt martial artist and a dancer and a pianist and a personal trainer and a blogger and tried to be a runner and took up yoga and wanted to learn to cook from 15 different cook books at one point or another in my life, does not mean I still need to do everything. My passions and goals are allowed to evolve and change.
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— It’s ok to say no to people I just don’t connect with, events I don’t feel comfortable attending, things I don’t want to do.
— I also need to make more of an effort to find my tribe and attend events that I really do want to be at, even through anxiety. Because why should anyone else make an effort with me if I don’t put any effort in myself?
— I’ve got a long way to go before I have this disordered eating business under control. But even one step forward and two steps back is a type of progress.
— Marrying my best friend was the best thing I could have possibly done. Whether we make it to our fiftieth wedding anniversary or end up divorced in a few years, I wouldn’t change what we’ve had for anything. He’s had my back from day one (God only knows why), and we’ve experienced the highest highs and lowest lows together. We’ve both had lofty dreams which we’d never have achieved without each others’ support. He can handle me at my worst, and can bring out my best.
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— I might not have a massive group of friends anymore, but the ones I do have are some of the strongest, most beautiful women in the world. They’re girls with balls, with goals, with dreams, with more to talk about than a spray tan appointments and the new heels they’re breaking in. These are women that have been there for me and have allowed me the honour of being there for them. A soul mate isn’t necessarily a spouse – while my husband is my best friend and one of my soul mates, the small group of women I have the privilege to call my friends are my soul mates, too 🙂
— At the end of the day, when my time is up, no one else is gonna give a shit about what I did. No one is going to congratulate me for either working non stop or taking lots of time off to travel the world. No one is going to high 5 me for either having three children or deciding to stay childless and pursue my own dreams. So I need to stop giving a shit about what everyone thinks now, because none of them are going to be there at the end of it all.
– Does it make you happy? Do it more. Does it make you sad? Stop doing it. Simple.

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So, I’m gonna call it a night now guys, counting my blessings for this amazing weekend and one of the best birthdays I’ve actually had in a while, despite all of my protesting… And throughout the week, I’m going to have some suggestions on places to visit in your own Melbourne backyard, places to enjoy a meal at with your friends, and some ways to treat yourself if you’re feeling a bit flat and in need of a pre-holiday season perk up – because you shouldn’t wait until your birthday to make yourself a priority 🙂 xo

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Motivation Monday! Read this: My Fight / Your Fight by Ronda Rousey

My Fight / Your Fight
by Ronda Rousey

Motivation Monday! Because I’ve been sick for almost two weeks and God knows I need some motivation to start my week with!! Last week, while reading My Fight / Your Fight, I posted this image on Instagram; it was surprisingly difficult, and at the same time, therapeutic. I’m no world class MMA fighter, but I won’t be accused of jumping on the bandwagon, because I am a black belt in taekwondo. I wasn’t the best of the best, but I never gave anything less than my best. My years in the sport were the most formative years of my life. Competing in martial arts isn’t something that can be easily understood unless you’ve actually done it yourself – it is so, so different to other sports. Taekwondo was also the first thing I’d ever tried in my life where:
a) I wasn’t compared to my sisters
b) nothing was expected of me, so I wasn’t under any pressure
c) I was part of a group of people who really cared and made me feel like I belonged
d) I didn’t feel like an utter and complete failure

It was a big, big part of my life, and leaving the sport tore a massive hole through me – both literally (with hip surgery to repair torn cartilage) and figuratively (when you’ve spent a decade trying to build some semblance of self confidence, and that one bad egg tears you apart with a few nasty words said to get a laugh at your expense, it truly does rip your soul). One day I hope to be able to write honestly about my taekwondo life – what brought me to it, what kept me going, what my experiences truly were, both mentally and physically,  but I’m not ready for that now. Let me say instead that if a role model like Ronda Rousey had been around for me 10 years ago, if someone had written a book this raw and real when I was still training and competing, things may have turned out differently for me. Not just in the sport, but in my entire life.

As a creature with so little self-confidence a few mean words from a pre-schooler would probably reduce me to tears, I was utterly and completely captivated by this book, written by one hell of a woman, who managed to fight every limitation and assumption against her with the strong belief she had in herself. The hard times in her life only served to toughen her, living proof of the good old “whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” cliche. And it’s not just about the sport; it’s about life.

If you don’t know who Ronda Rousey is, you’ve obviously been cozily tucked away under your rock for quite some time now . The Olympic judo medalist and reigning UFC bantamweight champion has taken the world by storm, parlaying her success in the MMA into an acting career and now, her book My Fight / Your Fight. I was pretty keen to get my paws on it, given the serious lack of genuine female martial artists with something to say, and I was not disappointed – I flew through the book! So what’s it about?

Marked by her signature charm, barbed wit, and undeniable power, Rousey’s account of the toughest fights of her life—in and outside the Octagon—reveals the painful loss of her father when she was eight years old, the intensity of her judo training, her battles with love, her meteoric rise to fame, the secret behind her undefeated UFC record, and what it takes to become the toughest woman on Earth. Rousey shares hard-won lessons on how to be the best at what you do, including how to find fulfillment in the sacrifices, how to turn limitations into opportunities, and how to be the best on your worst day.

What that translates to is a book full of mini chapters, each headed with a little bit of advice as applicable to the real world as in competitive fighting. Some of my favourites, some of the things I wish I’d heard from a fellow female martial artist when I was younger, included:

– Never underestimate an opponent.

– Do not accept less than what you’re capable of.

– Turn limitations into opportunities: use setbacks to develop in another area you wouldn’t otherwise addressed.

– Find fulfillment in the sacrifices: most people focus on the wrong thing; they focus on the result, not the process. The process is the sacrifice; it is all the hard parts – learn to enjoy them, or at least embrace them.

– You have to be the best on your worst days: you have to win so clearly that they have no choice but to declare you the winner.

– No one has the right to beat you: you both start from zero. Where you take it from there is up to you.

– Don’t rely on others to make your decisions.

– Everything is as easy as making a decision and then acting on it.

– This is my situation, but this isn’t my life: terrible situations don’t last forever.

– Nothing will ever be perfect: make the present moment the perfect moment.

– The only power people have over you is the power you give them: once you start caring about people’s opinions of you, you give up control.

 

Honestly, I loved this book. It’s raw and open and honest. It’s not polished up to be glamorous, not even in the “oh look how hard things were and how amazing I am now!” kind of way you usually read. And don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s only worth a read if you’re a female martial artist. This book is for everyone who’s ever had to put in a fight for something that really meant something to them. It’s for everyone who’s ever lost someone important. For everyone who’s been in a shitty relationship. For everyone who’s been told they couldn’t, shouldn’t, or that their ideas are ridiculous. It’s for the guys and girls who’ve been torn down and fought to get back up. For the people who want something better for themselves, even if they don’t know what that is yet or how to get it. It’s for every single person out there who doesn’t realise that the big chance they need to change their lives isn’t going to be magically bestowed upon them – that the chance is already ready to be taken if they can just be brave enough. Because you shouldn’t ever let anyone force you to take a step back.  Get a copy, as soon as you possibly can, and re-examine the excuses you’re making for yourself not to live the life you really want.

Read this: Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In by Louis Zamperini

Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In
by Louis Zamperini

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When Angelina Jolie signed up to produce and direct Unbroken, the screen version of Laura Hillenbrand’s written tome of Louis Zamperini’s life and survival through the most horrific conditions during World War II, people were understandably excited. This was a man who lived an incredible life, with a story of survival and forgiveness that defies all logic and belief, and a story that needed to be told. Louis himself had a lot to do with both the book and the movie, and in fact co-penned Devil At My Heels about his experiences personally. Another book that wasn’t given as much attention was Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In, completed only days before his death last year.

This book isn’t another memoir. It’s not about surviving the war. It’s Louis sharing the lessons he learnt in life that enabled him to endure his lot, to make the most of the bad situations, to inspire so many others. I won’t go too much into in, because this is truly one of those books that everyone should read, but some of the lessons Louis shared that hit home with me most were:

– It’s not how you win; it’s how you lose.

– Preparation determines your survival  – break down the big picture into small, manageable steps. Survival depends on education, preparation and anticipation.

– Never let anyone destroy your dignity.

– Hate is a personal decision – if you cling to the axe you’re grinding, you’ll only hurt yourself.

– You can’t run away from yourself or your problems.

– You need a cloud to have a silver lining; a smooth sea never made a good sailor.

– You only have one life; you should never be too busy to save it.

 

I’ve written down these and other lessons that really resonated with me in one of my journals, in the hopes that I’ll always be able to read back over them and take a little with me from this incredible man. Truly, do your soul a favour and track down a copy of this book –you can buy one here, or perhaps check out your local library.