Autumn arrives in a blaze of glory. It’s a time of reflection and gratitude, a time to recharge and choose your direction for the rest of the year, and to enjoy the bounty and abundance from Mother Earth.
I love that moment when I step outside and the scent of autumn is in the air, when the leaves are turning, and I can pull out my favourite jumpers, slip on my boots, and find my hats and gloves again. I love my autumn gems and pumpkins, and it’s time for hot chocolate and autumn treasures.
The moon fills the crisp night sky and the stars seem even brighter. I buy a new hat and watch the squirrels eating windfall apples in my garden. Autumn is a grounding time of year, and I feel my autumn stones, smoky quartz, black moonstone, lodolite quartz and the crystals that offer healing, protection and grounding.
It’s a time to celebrate the rich colours: bronze, orange, gold, and brown, and the glorious harvest of fruits and veg. I bury my head in a good book when the weather gets too wet or cold and start baking again!
Light that candle, so many fragrances for autumn: chocolate, caramelised apple, sweet pumpkin, vanilla bean, and berries. Apples and plums, not just for candle scents! Carnelian offers confidence and courage and fits the autumn colour scheme with its burning orange glow. And, lastly, you’ll find me searching the hedgerows, parks, and woodlands for its treasures, bringing home pockets filled with conkers, acorns, leaves, and chestnuts.
Autumn is me! What are your favourite Autumn treasures?
At first, I called this post Rediscoveringmy Authenticity, but that quickly switched to Recoveringmy Authenticity. To learn how to be myself and to be able to live authentically I had to recovermyself. I had to recover what had been lost.
When I was a young child I knew who I was. I delighted in bluebells, fairies, snapping pea pods, dragonflies, curling up with a book, climbing trees, drawing, swinging as high as I could on the garden swing, but very quickly those simple pleasures faded as I concentrated on fitting in, being conformed, and moulded into what other people wanted me to be.
As an already world and trauma weary seventeen-year-old, I once wrote: ‘I’ll open my heart and show you inside, but don’t let me know what you’ve seen. I want to be everything everyone wants me to be, but I’m not sure I know how. I don’t even know how to be me…’ (Sept 1989)
I spent my childhood being groomed into an overly conscientious teen, bombarded with responsibility and emotional pressure, with a built-in inability to rebel. I spent my twenties trying to be perfect in a world where perfection is unattainable. In my thirties I broke down, but that didn’t stop the internalised and external burdens, and in my forties I began to say no, to question blind obedience, and to realise just how important it is to be exactly who I am. To be who I was born to be.
Now, thirty-two years later, I know exactly how to be me.
It takes great courage to be who you are, to stop masking in a society that wants you to behave in their chosen acceptable ways, to reject conditioning – both social and in a faith setting, to step away from that narrow path and live life, to embrace who you intrinsically always were, are, and want to be.
I could lament many things, and some I will, but, as half a century creeps up on me, I’m learning that life is too short to waste. Life really is about bluebells, dragons, good food, curling up with a book, climbing trees, painting, losing myself in the other worlds that I write, and swinging as high as I can on a park swing! It’s also about stars and the moon, acorns and acorn cups, and dreams. It’s about gems and crystals, mindfulness and crystal grids, magic, and dusky roses. It’s about Coldbackie beach and Greenwich Park, animals, and running with wolves. It’s about walking through forests, splashing through oceans, and standing on mountains. It’s about fighting for equality, for mental health, for loving those you love. And it’s about knowing who you are and being exactly that person, with no apologies, no resentment, and never needing anyone’s permission to be you.
I’ve recovered the little girl who believed in magic, who thought dragonflies were really baby dragons, and who wandered through bluebell woods looking for fairies. Irescued the child who didn’t need to be perfect, who didn’t even think about her flaws, and loved who she was. That child no longer needs perfection; she doesn’t want to conform, she wants to rebel, and she can! She can see the world as it is and be sad, but also hopeful. She can walk through mossy forests and see Mother Nature smiling back at her. She can gaze at the stars and know that she can reach them in so many ways. I can be exactly who I want to be, because I know how to be me.
Life is not easy, and even with all the support and love in the world sometimes you need extra help. Counselling can be a great place to start, and this is my journey.
I was a shy child, but the word shy was a misnomer for severe anxiety, panic, trauma, and low self-confidence. By fourteen, I also had an eating disorder and was self-harming. At eighteen, undergoing a breakdown, I finally asked for help, approaching the first female GP I’d had and sharing historic information which my mother hadn’t been able to cope with. My doctor was compassionate and sent me to a psychiatrist. He failed to ask or listen to anything, prescribed the antidepressant, Fluvoxamine, and sent me to a group counselling program.
Group counselling for an eighteen-year-old with huge social anxiety was a bad move. I sat among drug addicts and people with serious mental illnesses and made myself as small as I could. I did not say a word and didn’t return after two sessions. Nine months of antidepressants numbed me through the breakdown. I limped through my twenties, married and raised children, had a bout of post-natal depression, and pushed through with little recognition and without any attempt to ask for help.
I was thirty-three (2004) when I was sexually assaulted and the earlier undealtwithassault resurfaced. During this breakdown my husband, desperate to help, intervened and I saw another psychiatrist, but this one was a family friend and he listened. I took Escitalopram, and was referred to a private sexual health and abuse counsellor. She was amazing and took me back through my childhood and relationships. Through talking we worked through the assaults and I began to see myself differently, and to take back control of my life and who I was. She showed me that I was more than the sum of what had happened to me, that I deserved more, and that I was safe. I began to learn my own worth and how to overcome my demons. She helped me to conquer them by turning the perpetrators into sad pathetic creatures. After six months of counselling I felt much more in control and much happier. I wish I’d been able to find counselling on the NHS but it had taken private counselling and financial aid through my church to help.
Life moved easily with the heaviness lifted for several years then overwhelm and anxiety kicked in again, and in 2010 and 2011 I took six month courses of antidepressants, Cipralex and Citalopram, and in 2014, Amitriptyline, which was to combat anxiety and panic rather than depression, and I was sent on an Anxiety/Depression CBT course by my GP, who told me I’d need to do that before any one-to-one counselling could be offered on the NHS.
It turned out to be a group course, six or eight sessions, watching two hours of slides teaching about depression and anxiety. The two mental health nurses lecturing were lovely, and I can’t fault the information, but for me, someone who’d intensively researched both subjects, it was information I was already fully aware of. I used it as a reminder and tried to put it into action, but without one-to-one mentoring let’s say, I found it difficult. I knew all about anxiety and depression but was unable to put basics into action on my own. It was over ten years since my successful counselling and I now struggled to be able to put ideas and theories into action without dealing again with core issues and triggers.
In 2016, after a lovely day but a brutal year, I found myself at 2am standing on a local bridge wanting to finish everything. I’d been battling suicidal ideation for years and years, along with self-harm, panic, and anxiety. I was prescribed Sertraline, yet another antidepressant, by my GP and put on a counselling waiting list.
I was full of tears, panic, and overwhelm, unable to vocalise or help myself. I paid and saw a private counsellor (through my church) who listened to what I’d been going through over many years. She showed a desire to help and validated the pain and overwhelm that I felt. I’d tried asking my church for financial aid to get counselling, but been turned down, however the attempt on my life changed that, and we got financial aid to see another private counsellor closer to home through church social services.
Seeing a counsellor whilst on antidepressants is always weird for me. It feels difficult to be authentic because medication balances and numbs, so I was worried she wouldn’t see the real me through the deception of meds. I felt I would look too normal, undeserving of counselling, and she wouldn’t see my inner turmoil. However, I felt really comfortable with her, she made me feel understood and validated, and it felt like spending time with a friend. I looked forward to my weekly sessions.
We talked about my trauma, family, the difficulties life threw at us, and I learned ways to ground myself, to cope with my sensory issues, and ways to try and deal with my self-harm. I talked a lot about my family and how deeply my emotions were interwoven with their needs, more so than my own. We looked at anxiety and how to deal with it, we used mindfulness, meditation, ACT – Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and she helped me talk about my fears, concerns, and anxieties. After six months I felt much more secure within myself and we stopped counselling, but have become friends.
This period had been positive and taught me a lot. I used grounding and sensorytools to help cope with anxiety and had an ACT textbook which I could work through. This began a much happier time in my life.
I was offered counselling through the NHS whilst receiving private counselling, but I had to turn it down due to a conflict of interest, it would be unethical to see two therapists at the same time, and I felt I was doing well with my counsellor.
Two years later, and due to a resurfacing of trauma, I was struggling with anxiety, panic attacks, self-harm, and intrusive thoughts again. My doctor prescribed Duloxetine, trying a SNRI antidepressant rather than the usual SRRI, as I wanted to avoid feeling like a zombie. Duloxetine wasn’t for me after I’d spent two days vomiting. I tried Propranolol, a beta-blocker, to deal with anxiety attacks, which worked in the moment. I turned down antidepressants, this time I didn’t want to stop feeling, I didn’t want to be numb anymore, I wanted counselling, something concrete, something to continue to teach me how to deal with my anxiety and issues. I wanted to learn rather than just cope or mask. I was offered another self-referral to my local NHS counselling service.
As I tried to cope with huge anxieties and panic, overwhelm and sensory issues, my daughter who was on the ASD waiting list (She was later diagnosed with ASD) asked whether I thought I might have Autism too. Another visit to my GP and he placed me on the assessment waiting list after agreeing that it was a likely possibility.
Whilst waiting for referrals I began going to a local pottery class for carers and those with mental and emotional health problems. Art therapy offered relief that inspired, calmed me, and spoke to my inner creative. It was a huge release each week, somewhere I could go and not be disturbed, and lose myself in creativity.
Finally, after nine months of numerous panic attacks and anxiety, at the end of 2018, I got six weeks of counselling through the NHS. My counsellor was nice, quiet, calm, relaxed, and friendly, but the weekly sessions held in a hospital room were clinical and one way. I talked and shared, but the counsellor didn’t respond much. It was ambiguous. She asked about me, what I’d done in the week, and how I felt, but didn’t offer much in the way of advice – or counsel. I felt very frustrated that again the answers were things I already knew, but didn’t know how to initiate in my life. I left feeling more frustrated than before counselling.
I got more help from friends online who shared their experiences with me, and I learned that I was catastrophising, and their encouragement pushed me to ask for further help. I knew from my counsellor that I needed to reprogram my brain, to create new neural pathways, but I had no idea how to do it, and she wasn’t forthcoming.
I asked my GP to refer me for CBT, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, because I had no idea how to change my problems with sensory issues, anxiety, intrusive thoughts, and catastrophising. Three months later I saw a Primary Mental Health Care Worker/Assessor who listened intently and agreed that CBT might be a good fit for me. She referred me on.
October, four months later, I had an assessment at Psychological Integrated Therapies Services and saw a Mental Health Provider. He listened but kept correcting me, telling me I wasn’t having realpanic attacks, I was only having anxiety attacks, and downplayed my intrusive thoughts and suicidal ideation saying it was perfectly normal… a part of life for the average person. He told me I had Generalised Anxiety Disorder, something I’d been painfully aware of for about thirty years. I felt embarrassed and small after the assessment, but none of that measured how bad I felt when one week later I got a letter informing me Psychological Therapies couldn’t offer me anything because I did not have a diagnosed mental health illness. It felt like a kick in the teeth from somewhere that I’d felt was my last port of call. I actually phoned the department and they apologised, but told me I’d be fine, and that they had no funding to treat anyone without a mental health diagnosis. I wondered if depression, generalised anxiety disorder, self-harm, etc were just not counted as mental health disorders? I felt invalidated and despairing.
At the tail end of 2019 I wept with my doctor and she agreed to refer me again for counselling after seeing if there were options beyond the NHS six week sessions. I waited. Then in 2020Covid19 hit us and we all went into lockdown. It was October, almost a year after referral, that I got an assessment for New Pathways, a charity run counselling service, via the NHS, and they offered me three options: one-to-one counselling, a support worker, or group therapy. I chose one-to-one counselling and asked for it to include help dealing with sexual assault, anxiety, and methods to cope. Two weeks later I began counselling via Zoom.
I began this new course with trepidation caused mainly by having to use Zoom, but my new counsellor was proactive and friendly, beginning by getting to know me and finding out what my worries were. I was agitated, tearful, nervous, shaky, and scared to be myself, but I was also keen to make the most of whatever I was offered. You don’t wait for years and years and then sit back and expect counselling to work without putting in the effort.
It was emotionally overwhelming to talk about my feelings of trauma, responsibility, feeling neglected and consequently overcompensating with my own family. We discussed my avoidance tactic, something I’d never recognised before, and I realised that when she asked me pointed questions I always deflected. I suddenly started to see myself differently as my counsellor gently coaxed me into talking about myself and not everyone but myself. It was uncomfortable to talk about me, and slowly I opened up. It was a symptom of putting myself last for almost my entire life while I checked that everyone else was okay.
This was emotional and frightening. Pushing myself forward was something I wasn’t used to and talking about what I felt was overwhelming. Instead of talking about how I thought everyone else felt, I talked about how I felt. Then we dug into my past. I’d dealt with these issues way back when I was thirty-three and I thought I’d put them in a box and sealed it up, now at forty-nine these demons had risen again. We worked with art and word association, talked about grounding and techniques for my anxiety toolbox.
We concentrated more on my overcompensating with my children, and how feeling that my needs hadn’t been met as a child meant I felt an urge to fulfil every need and whim to an unhealthy extent. We also talked about how mine and my children’s emotional and mental health needs had been let down by the health service and schools, and how that had framed my anxiety and panic responses. I realised that the trauma and neglect had become an anchor to me, a metaphor I understood and was able to work with. I felt constantly burdened with responsibility to take care of everyone’s emotional state and an inability to let go, care for myself, and do my own thing. My counsellor asked me to go away and make a piece of art representing the anchor, to be as free as I wanted with the idea and see what happened.
Art is my thing and I don’t go into it lightly… It had been a difficult week and I shut myself away with my watercolours. I sketched and used masking fluid (experimenting for the first time) and allowed myself to disappear into the ocean, creating a wash of sea blue, and pooling and flicking blues, indigo, green, pink, and purple across the wet paper. The next day after it dried, I rubbed off the masking fluid and painted the anchor and its chain. I coated it with peridot algae and flicked white bubbles.
Using art is a way to break through barriers and walls, and it showed me much about myself. I’ve been anchored in trauma and anxiety and the weight is heavy, and that weight has held me back. I have a tendency toward the aesthetic and beauty, even if it’s painful to bear, maybe that’s a martyr response? I’ve tried to lift the anchor in the painting to give a sense of movement, which could be a positive step, but the chains are still heavy and oversized for the anchor they carry. I called it Let It Go, and I hope I can.
I emailed the painting to my counsellor and I think she was surprised at the piece, the work that had gone into it, the new technique I’d used when I hate change, and the free flow and movement, and the colours that echoed hope and positivity. I shared it online with my friends and got a mass of interpretations, all of which were insightful and emotional to me. Art is very therapeutic and can translate what you feel so well, allowing you not only a catharsis but a way to try and analyse your feelings.
I concentrated hard on trying to channel what I’d learned in therapy, I couldn’t bear the thought of wasting the very resources I’d waited so long to use. New Pathways relies on charity and government grants. I’d waited a year for my twelve sessions and I was going to do damn near everything I could to appreciate and respect the time and words shared with me by my counsellor, and to transfer what I learned to my life.
My counsellor noticed the change in me as we met each week, and my family have too. My confidence and happiness have grown. My understanding of myself, my trauma, and my life became clearer to me, and my desire to change and embrace it got stronger every week. After a two week break at Christmas I worried I felt reliant on my sessions, but I quickly realised that changes I hadn’t noticed in myself, had actually happened. I knew that I could finally give myself permission to be myself. The blog posts I’ve written in the past show the importance I place on being yourself, being authentically you, but giving myself permission to practise what I preached had never been easy. It will still be a work in progress, but it’s one I’m now actively living.
I have a healthier outlook, more coping strategies and tools, I am overcoming my insecurities and learned behaviours to be able to see my own worth. I am leaving the unconscious behind and moving forward with conscious decisions for the future.
My message is this. Keep on. Don’t give up. Sometimes you won’t be offered what you need, and you’ll plough through help that doesn’t help, but sometimes you’ll find what you need and it can change your life. I have had three amazing counsellors in my life, who have been there when I needed them and they’ve each helped me change my life for the better.
I am under no illusion, I know I will continue to suffer anxiety and many issues, but I am better equipped to deal with it now, and for that I am grateful to my family (who learn with me) and to every professional counsellor who has given me their valuable time and expertise.
Being kind is a choice, and it says much about people
whether they choose to be cruel or to be kind. Choose to be kind.
I was going to post a different blog today – I’ve decided to post only once a month due to writing and family commitments – but today’s subject is too important to miss, especially after the weekend’s events.
Friday brought us Valentine’s Day, an annual celebration of love, compounded by a recoupling in the evening’s episode of Love Island, the TV show offering young singles a chance to find love. Love was in the air, and both love and compassion should be in the air every day, not just Valentine’s. I mention the day and the show because the very next day Caroline Flack would take her own life. Caroline was very much weaved into the tenets of Love Island, being the former host and a romantic herself, and was described as someone who loved being in love.
Her death is complicated and none of us can know the reasoning behind her decision, and the discussion surrounding her loss is made more complex by an impending trial for domestic abuse. None of us are here to debate her wrongs or failings, we all have those, and not one of us is in a position to throw stones. But no one can fail to see the relevance of both tabloid and social media as a likely contributory factor in her loss.
The weeks following her arrest offered an onslaught of media attention and endless stories in the tabloids. I heard a quote that over four hundred stories about her appeared within four weeks or so, not to mention the amount of tweets, opinions, and comment they gave life to. How could any one of us deal with kind of scrutiny and vilification? I certainly couldn’t.
I suffer from severe anxiety, depression, and a host of other issues, and not even a hundredth of what she was laid bare to would have left me okay. One single negative tweet can have me contemplating my place in this world, and I understand that, so I am careful what I say online. So, if someone like me who has attempted suicide, regularly self-harm, and live with constant anxiety can’t deal with that kind of attention, why do we think celebrities, personalities, and even royals are stronger?Celebrities have emotional and mental health conditions, they have lives as complicated as ours, they struggle, and they try to live the best they can. They have faults and flaws just like we do, but when they make a mistake they do it inside the glare of the spectator.
Imagine making your mistakes in the limelight and scrutiny of the public, and being tried and convicted by uninformed armchair judges.
It’s easy to sit anonymously behind a screen and damn everyone we disagree with. We’ve seen it with Brexit, Trump, Johnson, Meghan and Harry, even coronavirus, and much more, but it’s not healthy when debate is uninformed or judgemental. We’ve seen a big move to fact check information online, especially when politics is involved. How often do we check our facts before posting our opinion, or sharing that meme that’s doing the rounds? We should. We must.
And this leads to the bigger issues. Our media is very much controlled by a few select outlets: tabloids and big media personalities, and I’d currently consider government too. When our media is owned by huge corporations including the media mogul Rupert Murdoch we often only hear the things they want us to hear. Personalities, like Piers Morgan, Katie Hopkins etc, also tend to gain traction with loud and widespread controversial voices. These voices have a responsibility to be just and respectful, and not incite hate or bullying.
Journalism does need to report what’s happening, but what happens when those reports become judgemental, mean-spirited, bullying, and downright persecution? Both bullying and sensationalising within the media has become endemic.
We are becoming a nation, a world, enslaved to bad news. We need more good news, we need more love, more kindness, and more good things all round. We need to be careful with what we say, not because we’re walking on ice around people not to offend, but because we are good-hearted genuine people who don’t want to hurt those around us.
Life is hard and we often have no idea what truly goes on in the lives of our friends let alone people outside of our circles. We’re all fighting battles no one can see.
It’s important we are there for each other, and that spreads further than just our own back yard. If we interact globally, our circles widen and our influence grows. We need to reassess our ethics and priorities. Our words can either harm or comfort, it’s up to us which we choose. We can help others reach their potential, help them to succeed, and support those who need it. We can work together, and kindness and compassion are paramount to achieving that.
Kindness is a base response, it’s automatic, it’s a default we should all have.
Gottman, a german researcher who worked with couples at The Gottman Institute, declared that: Contempt is the number one factor that tears couples apart, and Kindness, on the other hand, glues couples together.
Let’s take contempt, hate, dislike, animosity, disrespect, all those things that contribute to bullying, away and replace them with kindness, love, compassion, empathy, validity and everything that will cement a community together in this wild, difficult, uncertain thing called life and become a stronger more supportive society.
Kindness isn’t hard, it’s a natural setting that all children have until prejudices and differences become apparent. Let’s reclaim it in our social media environment and in our personal lives until it becomes our default.
Kindness is more than deeds. It is an attitude, an expression, a look, a touch. It is anything that lifts another person. (C. Neil Strait)
Two years ago we stayed on the northern coast of Scotland and fell in love
with the Highlands, this time we went west, staying just below the Isle of Skye.
The epic western isles, vast mountains, and sweeping lochs will capture your soul.
We decided to drive the whole way, all ten-and-a-half hours, in one day so it was an early start. Bekah and her partner, Dave, followed, and with regular breaks we reached Scotland. We recalled the drive up and were excited to see the mountains again and just after Loch Lomond we weren’t disappointed. TheBridge of Orchy introduces you to the giants and the A82 though Glen Coe will make you stop and stare – do stop, you’ll need photos! We stopped for photos at Buachaille Etive Mor, or the Skyrim mountain as my family call it, a volcano of a peak! Up through Fort William and Ben Nevis and finally we arrived at the Five Sisters mountain range, nestling the road at their feet, and they welcomed us to the Kyle of Lochalsh.
The Lochs, Cluanie and Duich, were smooth and reflective and throughout our stay we passed Eilean Donancastle several times. We visited the castle on our last trip, but it provided the perfect silhouette reflected against the mouth of Loch Alsh on our final night.
One of the reasons we’d chosen to stay on the western coast was that I’ve always wanted to visit Fingal’s Cave on the Isle of Staffa, and travelling across Scotland takes time. We booked a Three Island Tour through Staffa Tours which meant our day began early. We caught a ferry across from Oban to the Isle of Mull, it was crowded and I struggled with the amount of people on deck to see us leave Oban. On the Isle of Mull we joined a double decker coach provided by West Coast Tours and through sheer luck got the front upstairs seats. The coach driver was great providing commentary on the history of Mull, whilst simultaneously navigating a single track road with passing points and tourist cars who don’t realise the size of a coach!
The roads across Scotland in general are worth a mention. Many around the coast are single track and all have regular, signed passing points. The rule is to pull in and let faster vehicles pass, and to pull in where necessary to let oncoming traffic through. It works brilliantly, and is inherently better than the Welsh country roads with few passing points we’re used to at home! Btw, if you see a coach coming towards you, back up or pull in and give plenty of space, you’d be surprised how many people seem to be unable to reverse concisely!
Back to Mull, a quick ferry across to explore the small island of Iona for two hours before we took a short boat trip to the isle of Staffa. As Staffa gets closer you are stunned by the tall basalt rock formations that give the island its name –staffaold Norse for staff, stave, or pillar like the columnar rocks. The boat pulls alongside Fingal’s Cave for a spectacular view, though don’t expect photos without people in them at this point. You might berate the tourists clambering over the rocks in front of the cave, but in a few minutes you’ll be one of them!
You get an hour on Staffa, it’s not enough – I could stay all day – but it’s all you’ll get. We walked across the hexagonal volcanic rocks, well, I hurried – I’m a child at heart, to the cave. Currently you can’t get down into the cave since it was damaged by fierce storms, but you can appreciate the force of the ocean as it crashes over the stone and glistens in the sun. Greens and blues mingle at the shore offset by white seafoam and black rock.
Dan reminded me the island had more to offer and after a ten minute walk we discovered the island’s other wonder. On the cliffs are a plethora of puffins, nesting on the island from May to mid-August. The miracle is that they’re as fascinated by you as you are by them! We sat on the grassy cliff tops watching the birds as they perched, wandered, flew, and watched us back. I couldn’t believe we could sit literally a foot away from them and they barely batted an eyelid. Fingal’s Cave and the puffins were the highlight of my holiday.
The next day we went hunting for more wildlife. Dunvegan castle and gardens sit in a bay on the north-west coast of the Isle of Skye. The castle’s history is Viking/Scottish and it’s a well-looked after example of a lived-in castle. Our main reason for visiting was to go on one of their seal trips, but you can only book a seal tour if you’re inside the castle grounds, so you’ll be paying for castle entry and then just under ten pounds per person for the boat trip.
The seals were adorable. A small boat and guide took the six of us out just in the bay close to the castle to their local seal colony, and the sealswere out basking in the sun and dipping in and out of the sea. The middle of July meant pups were lively and bobbing close to the boat, despite their mothers’ barks to be careful! Our guide gave us lots of seal facts and legend, and told us about the castle’s history. We were lucky with great weather, glittering indigo water, and plenty of selkies, though I wish the trip had been longer.
The Fairy Pools down at Glenbrittle on the Isle of Skye was our next destination. There’s a car park with an attendant, but when we arrived at 5.30ish in the afternoon there was no attendant to be seen, so we left the car. Also, the waterfalls are a huge tourist attraction and the car park could be very busy – there is an overflow car park at the end, but overlooked if you don’t know it’s there. When I said busy, I meant it. There’s a constant stream of people on the hike, you won’t be exploring alone. It’s recommended to go early or late to avoid the crowds and find the best light, and getting those perfect pictures will mean trying to dodge many people, climbing carefully, and missing out on some because people are bathing in the pools. It can be frustrating, but shouldn’t be missed.
Wildlife continued with a trip to the Highland Wildlife Park just south of Inverness. You’ll be entering the edge of the Cairngorms, so if you’re making a day of it maybe travel a bit further and see the mountains too. The wildlifepark has a small but very basic self-drive safari, but the main attractions are walking round the animal enclosures seeing polar bears, snow monkeys, an arctic fox and her cub, red panda, deer, wolves and lots more. We went to see the wolves for Cait. Pups frolicked and played and completely enchanted us.
Thursday saw us go out in the Kyle of Lochalsh on Seaprobe Atlantisfrom the port in Kyleakin, a glass-bottomed boat to see seals and underwatercreatures. Plenty of seals, but not so much underwater. Lots of jellyfish floating about, a couple of pipe fish, and lots of hypnotising bootlace seaweed!
I wanted to find dinosaur footprints at Staffin on Skye, but we had trouble finding access to the beach. We’d timed the tide, but it was difficult to work out how to find them. There was a stream we couldn’t cross and we couldn’t work out which side of the beach the prints were supposed to be, so we gave up. If you do want to find them, there are online articles which will point you in the right direction.
Instead we drove around the top of the island taking in the Old Man of Storr, Mealt waterfall and Kilt Rock. We got fish and chips at Portree and headed back to the south of Skye to Kylerhea and an otter hide. The road over the mountain to Kylerhea was gorgeous, narrow and wild, so pretty. There’s a small car park with an RSPB hide, and a short walk to the otter hide overlooking the bay. You can watch the small car ferry from the bay and spy on sea life and birds. We didn’t see any otters, it’s a long way down to the sea and though there was a small telescope, it was hard to pin point creatures. We did see a seal, gulls, an oyster-catcher, and a heron!
It was late in the day so we missed the last ferry at six, but the Kylerhea scenery was stunning – the green moss, ferns, and trees contrasting with stormy clouds over the slate-blue water.
Our last day saw us take advantage of Plockton and Calum’s Seal Tours, he advertised the tour for free if you didn’t see any seals… Calum Mackenzie was fun and informative and he got paid as there were plenty of seals! If you’re lucky you could also see dolphins and sea eagles.
Then we drove right around Loch Carron and crossed the mountain road to Applecross Bay. One of the highest passes, and reminded me of Snowdonia mountain roads, but single track. That evening, we explored a few of the local Inverinate roads, where we were staying and caught the sunset. Nothing better.
We had a stunning week, fulfilling dreams, and discovering the West coast of Scotland. If you’ve enjoyed this, you can read more about our North coast Scottish adventure two years ago. It’s pretty much a guarantee we’ll be back!
This land is a magical land of rainbows, diamonds on the ocean, moss, towering mountains, tumbling waterfalls, mystic lochs, and enchanted landscapes. Just avoid the early morning and late night midges!
They say you shouldn’t/can’t *project human emotions onto a dog, but if there is ever a dog that is me – it’s Kira! Dogs, animals, can often have psychological issues. Maybe I have an autistic dog? Who knows?
Anyway, although we have similar physical issues with daily meds and needs, and that might have been what drew me to her, I had no idea we’d mirror each other so completely.
It’s strange and revealing watching reactions to her knowing I conjure so many of the same ones. I know I overshare a lot, and if she could be understood I’m pretty sure her constant vocalisation would be the same. She trills, purrs, whines, and chats all the time. She and I need to be heard, to put our thoughts and emotions into words. We need constant reassurance. She needs to feel our love even when we’re so loving she cannot possibly misconstrue our affection. She doesn’t always do as she’s told, or follow demands, because (and yes, I’m guessing) they don’t always seem common sense to her – they often don’t to me, but, like me, she tries to please to an extreme degree. She’s well trained and conditioned, but needs to reach out of it to find herself. She struggles to let go but when she does she’s a free spirit and bounds through the forest with utter joy and thrill!
Kira is scared of people and dogs. Her fear of other dogs, her own species, is so ingrained, so great that it instantly throws her into a panic attack. I understand panic attacks. We’re supposed to be training her with dog exposure, to normalise it, to show her other dogs aren’t a danger, and to a degree we are. But I cannot ignore a full blown panic attack and just leave her in the situation that fills her with terror. And possibly this is our closest moment – needing reassurance. Ignoring the panic lets it continue, growing into a monster she cannot control, but as I hold her, and soothe her, and stroke her, she calms. She does what a child in fear does leaning close, crying, needing that contact, that assurance, and the comfort softness gives. I know, because I’m the same.
My pup obsesses with her toys, loves routine, is triggered by specific small noises, and loves with complete abandon. I think we’re twins!
Kira is at her happiest when she’s with the people she loves, she doesn’t need anyone else. I laugh, because that’s been my ethos for forty-seven years! Her complete acceptance of us when we collected her and her immediate love and affection was a surprise as we’d been told she’d be slow to trust, but she met us and we became hers.
When people visit, her anxiety rises (I don’t do well with visitors either). I’m not sure she’s barking and protesting the visitor to protect us, but more to protect herself. She’ll calm around people who are more familiar, but with amusement it’s noted, that as she sniffs about them quite happily, until she realises they’re making eye contact or even daring to talk to her, she’ll spike, jump back, and bark again. When people she doesn’t know are necessary and they show authority she’ll give in and accept them, but only because she has to. Back again, with the only ones she needs she’s secure, content, and relaxed, brushing against us like a kitten craving attention, purring like a tribble, and loving like she’s been deprived.
She’s had love in her past, beautiful love, but it’s taught her that she only needs those closest to her, and breaking that cycle is something I’ve never been able to do in my own life, let alone hers!
I think we exist in the same bubble. I worry that I overshare, that people will tire of me, that I’ll be too needy, that I’ll do things wrong – say things wrong, that my anxiety and strangely wired brain will push people away, and that despite every single proof otherwise that love will be fleeting, floating away on the wind where I can’t catch it.
I know much of my dog’s behaviour is the same as normal dogs, you’ll recognise it in your own pup, but it’s the detail, the utter symmetry of my life and hers that throws me into wonder. I’ve spent my life fighting my mental health, my debilitating sensory issues, extreme empathy, panic, depression, and anxiety. I’m still battling them, waiting for adult autism assessment, for recognition and acceptance. Like Kira some of my issues won’t ever change, and they can’t, and possibly shouldn’t, be trained out of me, because they are me.
I wasn’t even looking for another dog after losing our beloved Roxylast year, and I have no idea why a passing Tweet from a rescue centre I didn’t even follow caught my eye back in January, a short, one-off tweet about a dog with problems needing a home, and people to love and love her back – but it did. They sometimes say dog owners look like their dogs, it appears Kira and I are much more than that, we’re soul mates, and we were meant to find her. I thank every wheel that was ever set in motion to make this happen, you know who you are.
Finding those you love and who love you back with no barriers
and no boundaries isn’t easy, but it’s what makes life worth living.
*My brain needs to add a caveat for those who will shrug, or mock, or claim I shouldn’t push human emotions onto a mere dog. I truly believe animals can think than more than we can possibly imagine, and seeing as we cannot ever know their thoughts, don’t try to shame me. A dog’s love and empathy is inherently deeper and more totally committed than a human is, and maybe, just maybe they are much purer and greater than we will ever be.
Cara moved slowly down the jetty, enjoying the warm weathered wood beneath her feet. She stretched her fingers by her side, flexing them and releasing pent up anxiety. Air caressed her naked skin and with conviction she pushed her shoulders back, ignoring the twinge of pain, and rotated them in unison, smiling wryly at the cracking sounds her bones made echoing in the humid night air. She drew in a deep sigh then let her breath ride on the breeze that fluttered about her.
The stars twinkled like diamonds studded in blue satin and Cara was exactly where she wanted to be.
Dainty steps took her to the end of the pier and she carefully lowered herself to the broad pontoon, her mouth opening as she smiled at the sway beneath her. Her knees were noisy too as she bent and dropped to the floor, but they would soon be eased.
She sat, her hands flat on the deck beside her, leaning back slightly to gaze up at the sky. The Milky Way stretched across the night and she wondered what it would feel like to float up into the sky.
Cara let her feet dip into the water, toes first, testing the temperature, then her legs up to her calves. She welcomed the flow about her toes as she gently moved her feet.
Water and stars…and my moon, Cara breathed out her words, almost silent thoughts, but a soft whisper took them from her mouth.
She jumped at the hoot of an owl and water splashed about her toes, and she laughed as the bird soared across the lake disappearing into the dark woodland at the shore. Bats also darted, seeking gnats and midges, but Cara felt akin to them and enjoyed their swooping paths.
Cara gazed at the moon. All her life she’d worshipped the deity of the night sky, softly lighting the dark and showing her that even when she wasn’t whole she was still full of depth, and mystery, and power. She smiled at the moon and lifted her hands, cupping them about the orb before her then closing them in a prayer.
Thank you, she whispered.
She shuffled forward on the deck and lowered her body to the water. The little strength in her arms left her and she let herself go, plunging with abandon. She didn’t hear the splash she made, just the bubbles and the oddly comforting gurgle that rumbled in her ears as she slipped down through the water.
For a moment she let the water envelope her, like a cocoon, then she moved her arms downwards and kicked her feet. She broke the surface and swallowed a deep gulp of air, her feet and hands still paddling. It was colder than she’d expected, and it took a moment to adjust her breathing and relax her body, but soon she stopped agitating the water and let it lap at her chin, her hands gently undulating beneath the surface and silver hair spread like a watery spider’s silk.
Her creaking joints quietened, the pressure easing as water supported them and pain lessened as if leaching into the liquid surrounding her. Slowly Cara let her body rise and floated with her head back, half submerged. No sound but the lapping water, and nothing to see but the stars and the moon bathing her in white light.
Still floating, Cara let the moon bless her, its gentle rays soothing away her pain and hurt. Stars shimmered and glitter rained down in spirals like winter snowfall. She smiled, meds kicked in and fatigue faded replaced by lofty intoxication. She was alone in the world, completely and utterly, and when they finally came looking they’d wonder, but they’d never know. Not until she was home.
Cara gazed up at the moon as water closed over her face.
The moon smiled, Selene smiled, waiting for her beloved to return…
Figuring out who you are is the whole point of the human experience – Anna Quinlan
Discovering who you are is a journey and one that I don’t think has a final destination.
I am a contradiction, someone who hates change and yet, embraces it too…
I recently posted a selfie on Instagram captioning it: Sometimes, I’m happy with who I am. Becoming who I’m meant to be. A lovely friend responded that I don’t need to change and become anything else, that I am great as I am.
This set me thinking. Self-acceptance has always been something I struggled with – I’ve always felt out of place, odd, different, and just not for this world. For years I felt lost, cast-aside, and solitary, but as I’ve got older I’ve learned to love myself, to embrace who I am and to continually search for my own truth.
I don’t think this is a journey that has a final destination. We don’t stay the same, we don’t reach perfection, we don’t become someone and remain that person for the rest of our lives. We move on, we change, we learn, we grow, and we become who we’re meant to be at that moment in time.
In Beneath the Distant Star, Jasmine is fighting to become herself. Jasmine lost her older sister, Freya, in the first book in the Surviving Hope series, but now, at fifteen-years-old, she can barely remember her sister and her frustrations grow as her mother doesn’t seem to accept her for who she is. Jasmine feels she’s always battling a ghost and losing.
In this excerpt Meg, who used to be Freya’s best friend, is offering advice to Jasmine:
Meg took a deep breath and touched Jasmine’s shoulder. “I’m myself, and only myself, no one else, just like you’re you and not Freya.” Jasmine nodded. “But, but, Jasmine, you don’t need to fight it, you don’t need to prove you’re not Freya, you just need to be yourself. Your natural self, not the self that needs to show she’s different, not someone who fights a ghost. Just be you.”
Meg smoothed a twig out of Jasmine’s dark hair. “You don’t need to dye your hair black and red, or even chop it off to avoid being Freya. You don’t need to do the opposite of what your mum wants just to be different.”
Jasmine dug the toe of her boot into the earth and shovelled dusty dirt. Meg took Jasmine’s chin in her hand and brought her face up to meet hers. Thomas drew a nervous breath, people didn’t touch Jasmine, she very often over reacted. Jasmine met Meg’s eyes. “How?” she whispered. “How?”
Knowing and becoming who you are isn’t always easy. I used to think once I’d got out of my teens it’d be easy to discover myself… Not strictly so, like I said, finding out who you are is a journey and as your life changes, so do you.
S. C. Lourie quote found online
It’s a long standing thing for us – as human beings – to want to better ourselves, and society is always telling us that if we were this or that we’d be better, or if we boughtwhatever (they’re probably selling) we’d be happy, but life is a rollercoaster, sometimes we’re better, stronger, more confident, and sometimes we’re weaker, less confident, and we struggle. That’s completely normal and exactly as life should be. We rise and fall with our circumstances.
Even when you’re strong, weakness can prevail, those are the times that others need to step in and help you on your journey.
I dislike change. I struggle without a prescriptive routine, and when things change my life melts down. To illustrate that, my favourite body lotion was recently discontinued. I even tweeted to confirm, then I panicked. My favourite toothpaste vanished a year or two ago and I’d been using that brand since I was about twelve. It took me weeks to choose another, just staring at the choice on the supermarket toothpaste shelf wondering if they’d taste okay, feel okay, and just be right for me was hell. Now it’s happening again. I just bought the last seven bottles of body lotion that I could find from several shops in town. I’m not neuro-typical, but that’s okay, that’s my journey.
But when it comes to being who I am, change is appropriate and I embrace it.
I’ve been dyeing my hair since my thirties; when that silver strand appeared and wouldn’t go away, I dyed it. Now, fifteen years later, I’m fed up with colouring my hair. I’m forty-seven and all about embracing myself, so I decided it was time to stop and see what hid beneath the dirty brown. Change is scary. Change can point you out as different, buck the trend, make you stand out. I found a supportive Instagram page: Grombre and I went for it. I stopped dyeing.
I used to look in the mirror as my white roots appeared and I believed I looked ten years older. I actually gazed at my face and it looked greyer and physically older. Turns out you can fool yourself. Now, silver highlights are appearing like glittered stars in my hair and I love it. I look in the mirror as my grey grows and I’m no different to who I was when I coloured my hair. There is no age difference, I look the same!
I can’t wait to discover what lies beneath, quite literally, and after a lifetime of dark hair, I will be able to play with colours, maybe I’ll have blue tips, or lilac hair, or maybe I’ll go dusky pink – whatever I choose it’ll be me for a while. I’ll embrace who I am at that moment in my life.
Brene Brown said: Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.
Accept who you are – right now.
Light up the world by being You. Be the star.
Dance until the stars fall from the sky and fill your hair with sparkle and light – (anon)
Never stop walking, dancing, running through this journey we call life,
discovering who you are today, and who you can be tomorrow…
Jasmine knows her very existence reminds her mother of something her sister will never have—life. Craving love and acceptance, Jasmine struggles to become her own person, and her fragile relationship with her mother shatters.
Beneath the Distant Star is published by BHC Press and is a novel that will enthral you.
“Jasmine can easily be related to and she pulls at your heart strings throughout the entire story.” — LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Feel the presence of love, wrapped up within a hug – Robert M. Hensel
I read this week that the more you hug your children the faster their brains develop. New-born babies shown more affection had stronger brain responses. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Touch and hugs show affection, love, protection, and compassion, everything a child needs. It’s one of the reasons babies are born and placed on their mother’s chest or at their breast – skin-on-skin touch helps bonding and gives comfort.
I also watched a report of a man, Antar Davidson, working with children recently separated from their mother in a migrant detention home in Tucson, who was asked to intervene and explain to three siblings aged 16, 10, and 8 that it was against shelter policy to hug. He was told to tell them to stop hugging. Antar refused and quit his job. These children only had each other left in a terrifying and alien situation and they were asked to relinquish touch between each other. It seems an atrocious and altogether backward move to make.
Then I saw this video of ten abandoned baby ducklings released into a pond. The pond’s resident mother duck, having recently hatched her own family of nine, immediately rushed to their side and ushered the orphans into her own family.
These three reports had a lasting effect on me this week. I’ve been distressed at the news of families being ripped apart at US borders. No matter your thoughts on immigration, removing a child from its parent is categorically wrong and never, ever the answer. Compassion seems to have taken a holiday from the current administration’s hearts.
Removing touch from a relationship can be dangerous. The ability to convey love and emotion within a relationship is paramount to keeping a bond and an emotional connection. One of our basic needs is to feel closeness, to touch each other, and to feel security within love. Animals know this. My dog welcomes us home with physical touch, and my cats rub against us and crave being stroked.
Most of us welcome each other with a hug, or a kiss, or a handshake, depending on your relationship. I’m not a tactile person, and if I don’t know you don’t try to hug me. I have personal space, control, and consent issues and to share a hug with me I have to be emotionally connected to you. My immediate family, and very close friends are the only ones who can break into my physical hug circle. But I crave touch as much as my cats do!
I love holding hands, hugging, and snuggling with my husband, and my children give me the most amazing hugs! The act of a hug offers me security and love. To be denied this would damage me as a human being.
The mother duck immediately knew what the little ducklings needed. Affection and security and she offered both within moments of meeting them. This world is so divisive, judgmental, and bigoted we need acceptance, compassion, and love.
Can we welcome all those in need the same way this duck embraced an expanding brood?
The cold months hold some real treasures –
here’s how and where I found joy this winter…
It doesn’t matter what the weather, I spied a meadow through a gate swathed in fog and it made the most beautiful picture. The Elan Valley was cold and crisp when Bekah and I visited and the walk was stunning. A simple dog walk through local roads and fields conjure up joy especially when you’re wrapped up warm. The girls and I went up to Brechfa Forest to do a photoshoot for Cait’s art, the mist and rain offered a haunting vista through the woods.
Vince and I escaped to London for a weekend, it rained, but The Phantom of The Opera made it memorable along with the sights and sounds of the city. Seeing the Shard disappear up into fog was beautiful. The seagulls perching atop George IV’s head and horse in Trafalgar Square were highly amusing as the statue itself had anti-bird spikes about the plinth, didn’t bother the birds, George’s head will do just fine!
I mentioned being wrapped up warm. Winter is cold, and my Scottish fingerless gloves were invaluable during the cold. My Stargazer pyjamas, I don’t think I’ve ever owned nightwear up ‘til now, but I love these! My grey scarf was a must this season, and I got Dr Martens, Cherry Red Arcadia for Christmas and matched them up with this cute burgundy tulle skirt to feel especially good!
Those fingerless gloves helped keep my fingers typing during my edits, even if Raven wanted attention instead. Writing and reading brings me great joy and tapping away at the keyboard during winter months is one of my favourite things. I redrew my maps and sketched for my new work in progress The Seren Stone.
The other thing I spent a lot of winter doing was painting, some are secret projects, but I treated myself to some gorgeous art this Christmas from Tahina Morrison and J Edward Neill’s Hither The Wind and Amanda Makepeace’s Winter Raven. My children bought Vince and I the best anniversary gift with a print of the constellations on our wedding day. The stars are my thing!
Crystals and stars are my happy place. Peridot gems have been part of my research for The Seren Stone Chronicles, as are both smoky and clear quartz, I’ve been learning much about crystal therapy and using stones within my writing. The bracelet brought me great joy when Vince bought the Trollbead Wishful Sky set. It came along with one of my favourite quotes: I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the dark…
Our pets give us huge joy, Roxy will flip to her back and ask for a belly rub which just melts us, Raven curls up and purrs like a motorbike, and Misty had us all in hysterics when I took my new Docs out their box and she jumped in. When I tried to reclaim the box you can clearly see her warning to just walk away…
Then nature gives us the most spectacular displays. In December we had a Super Blue Blood Moon and as it shone over the River Towy, I stood totally entranced. It snowed, briefly in Carmarthen, but much more the country over, and just crunching in the little snow we had brought me joy! Snowdrops have just begun to nod their stunning heads, and chasing rainbows has always brought glorious moments.
Lastly, there are moments of joy in unexpected places. Discovering baby reindeer in town at Christmas, finding Jack Frost’s handiwork on your car windscreen when you get up, holding a baby dragon in an acorn cup… and the beauty in things that aren’t always beautiful, the rainbows ofcolour in an oil spill on the pavement.