Let’s talk about connection

We’re always online, all the time. Our phones are always on, and it’s not strange to receive a text from your boss at 8 pm on a Sunday night. You know the night where you’re supposed to be relaxing on the sofa in your ugly fluffy pjs with bunny slippers. Instead, you’re still behind your laptop finishing this one more thing so you won’t start your Monday already behind on your work. In the meantime, you feel more and more disconnected from your actual life.

I know, because I’m like that. There is not one day where my laptop is not turned on, where I’m not at least doing something. It’s not always directly for clients, but it’s still working to some extent or another. We’re always supposed to be available for every little thing. ‘The new working’ we call it. But at the same time, while looking at our phone, we miss things. We miss the boy sitting in the cafe staring at your over the edge of his phone. We’re seeing our kid’s first steps through the bright screen of our phone, instead of holding out our hands to catch them. We’re sitting in cafes not to be alone while ‘flex working’, but with our earbuds plugged in, we’re never available. Every form of human interaction is met with frustration and annoyance. Even the waitress who asks us if we like more coffee is brushed aside. Is this connection?

When I’m alone at home on a Saturday night, and I’m texting three different friends, is that connection? I am still alone on the sofa. For introverts being alone is the things that gives them energy, but there’s a difference between being alone and being lonely. Digital connection is amazing to some extent as it makes distances smaller. It’s easier to maintain long-distance friendships, but we’re also always busy being connected to everyone else except the person that is right here in the room with us.

I am not pointing fingers. Far from it. I’m typing this from a corner of my favourite cafe, my back against the wall, face to the window, and my Bose headphones set to noise cancelling mode. I am doing everything I can not to connect with people. Yet, I came here to not be alone, since working from home means being alone all the time. Irony right?

I don’t have the answers, and I don’t even want to pretend that I have them. But I think we do need a different word for the way we’re currently cruising through life. Because our phones might be connected, but we are definitely not.

A word on journaling

I’ve never been the type of girl that commits to keeping a diary. Committing to pouring out my heart on the pages of a secret diary with a padlock in the ‘dear kitty’ kind of style, never really was my thing. And yet, I had a gigantic stack of filled journals filled with stories from my very early youth right until now. They form the running chronicles of my life.

Even though the girly diary style wasn’t my thing, journals have always been a safe place for me. To try things out, to write about my life and to make (life) lists. Flipping through my old journals, you’ll find a collection of bad poetry, depressive thoughts, chronicles of the boys I have had a crush on, confusion, happy photos and parts of stories I was making up.

While there have been gaps, journals always played a huge part in my life and have been the sole constant in a life where everything is always changing. Yes, there have been gaps in the journals, and sometimes they were more a planner than an actual journal, but there was always some form of a paper book as my sidekick.

As I’m wrapping up 2018, I’m finding more and more comfort on those paper pages again. I missed it more than I thought. Sometimes not doing something makes you forget how much you need something. Sometimes you can get caught up in what ‘it’s supposed to look like’ that we forget that it’s a tool to help you with things. A journal is a tool to help you clear your head, get clear on how you feel and work through issues, emotions and feelings. It doesn’t have to look pretty, because you’re not going to show it to someone else. It’s for you to face your feelings. It’s something I forget at times. So yesterday I started a new journal. It’s not pretty, my writing is sloppy, but I already feel more grounded than I did before I started again.

What are you starting again this December?

Climbing saved my mind

Back in September, I started climbing. A coworker asked me to come along with her. I hesitated for a moment. Could I even do this? But decided to say yes and was hooked right away. 

I started climbing twice, sometimes three times a week. Through slow and steady progress I saw I started to improve and I could nail harder routes. 

And then I lost my job.

Naturally, there was more to it than that, but the important thing was I lost my job, got a burnout and suffered a severe emotional disbalance. On the day I lost my job I spent my day sobbing over comfort food, got myself out of the door after dinner and went climbing. I drove to the gym bawling my eyes out, but by the time I went home, I felt a lot better than before. 

How come? 

From my experience climbing forces you to think about nothing else than the problem in front of you. One thought or worry about anything else, and you’re concentration is gone. Your hand will slip, and you will end up on the matt. 

It makes climbing very mindful. There is no room for anything else. The trick with climbing and bouldering is that you’re both using your mind and body at the same time. While you’re climbing, you’re solving little puzzles.

The research

Naturally, I’m not the only one who discovered the benefits of climbing along. Several studies have been done revolving around mindfulness and climbing. All of those pointing out the same things: climbing is an act of mindfulness, leaving no room for other thoughts.

For me, climbing has been instrumental in not losing my mind. Not only had my body get stronger, but my mind also had too. Some of the routes can be scary and can only be done when you believe you can. As soon as your mind goes ‘nope you can’t do this’, you slip, and you’re back on the ground. This happened to me many times.

When it comes to climbing your mind is your strongest muscle. This is true in all sports, but in climbing it becomes most evident to me. That’s the key, I think. That even when you feel weak, and your mind is giving you a run for your money, you can still conquer it when you climb.

There is something magical about reaching the top. Even if your whole day fails and feels wrong, climbing can make you feel like you still accomplished a lot. Reaching the top feels like an achievement like you conquered the world even if that world is only 4 meters high. 

During a few very dark days climbing has been a light to hold on to. It gave me something to look forward to, and it made me feel like I did something. No matter how shit the day was, climbing could make it better. 

This year I want to keep climbing. In the gym, outdoors, in different places and other countries. I want to read about climbers, connect to climbers and be a climber. Because in the end, climbing saved my mind when I thought it was going to stuck in a really dark place. I taught me I’m always stronger than I look, especially when I don’t think I am.

Look in the mirror

Sometimes it’s hard to look into the mirror. Really stare yourself. Look at your reflection and see not only the flaws but also the good things. Sometimes you need someone to hold that mirror up and point those things out to get you started. 

The point is that unless you are willing to really look yourself in the eye and be open to what you see, you will never improve. You will never change one single thing about yourself apart from just getting older. 

Would you be willing to stay where you are? Not change? Be like this until you’re 80? 

Yeah. Me neither.

Don’t be afraid to be you

Don’t be afraid to be you. The tagline of my website and the hardest lesson I’m still learning. Every day I’m still afraid to be me. I don’t know who ‘me’ is sometimes. Where I’m going, or what I want to do, who I want to be. So it’s hard to be something fully and completely when you don’t know who or what that is.

It’s an easy excuse to hide behind and live in suspended animation. I know that. But it’s also a large part of my reality. Who am I? How do I know for sure what I want to do?

Taking a leap of faith is one way to go, I’ve done that on many occasions. I moved to the UK, went back for one thing, and there have been many other situations where I spontaneously followed my gut instinct. Sometimes that felt like the only thing I could do.

And now when I want so desperately to rely on that gut instinct, it has gone on a vacation without me. I will have to work hard to make sure it comes back to me. And the only way to do that is one habit a time.

So this morning, after a long period of nothingness, I pulled out my journal, and I wrote three good things that happened yesterday and three things I’m grateful for. Starting to full-on journal was too big a step yet. But, the journal inspired me to make an index card for the Icard challenge, and I’m writing this blogpost now.

Little tiny baby steps all the way. One thing I know, one thing I’ve always known, is that creativity and writing are the two things that are going to make all the difference.

It’s up to me to face the demons blocking my path with these tools and make sure writing and creativity are the cornerstones on which I build my day.

Today I feel happy

I’m lying on my back on a towel. I can feel the grass beneath my feet, the sun on my face and the wind playing with the loose strands of hair. In this moment I am completely happy.

Lately, happiness is something that doesn’t come around that often for me. Being burnt out for me means that happiness is something that’s really hard to experience, and everything around me feels like a big black hole that’s sucking me in deeper. But today was different.

Today’s yoga session was outside. It’s one of those rare occasions where the Netherlands is warm. And I mean really warm. Bright blue sky and blazing sun. We white Dutch people rejoice and at the same time worry about sunburn. So today, my weekly yin yoga class was in someone’s garden overlooking the fields. Up ahead, horses were running around and playing, and all I could hear was the sound of birds and the rusting in the grass.

This is what happiness looks like.

Chasing a dream

We came to a stop right as we were exiting the roundabout. It was the start of my big UK adventure, and it started with a broken car an hour away from our destination.

The car was packed to the brim with boxes of stuff that I felt I needed to bring. Anything from books, to craft supplies, pens, clothes and even a sewing machine. Fifteen moving boxes in total and let’s not talk about all the loose crap stuffed in between.

If anything, I’m far from a minimalist, and this was made painfully clear as we stood there with our car broken down. Someone came to rescue us, but because of the weight of the car, the cable snapped. It stranded us in the middle of roundabout number two.

In hindsight, some good things happened because the car broke down. My dad had to stay longer and got to see more of the countryside. He got to see me settle into my new life in Wales.

It also prolonged the goodbye making it harder by the day.

But we did some great stuff. We went to see St. Davids Cathedral, the St. Davids Bishop’s Palace next to it and we went to the beach. The beach was special as it turned out to be one of my favourite places in Wales. I even cycled there on my Dutch bike.

This year it was six years ago that I moved to the UK to chase a dream I never got to find. Moving out there was not all it was cracked up to be. I fought for it, though, took a job in the big city, moved out there on my own. But I never found my happy place there.

The only time I did was when I was up in the countryside hiking some mountain.

This year also marks the fourth year of being back in the Netherlands. It’s always a bittersweet reminder. Four years ago, I decided spontaneously to go back home. Just as spontaneous as I did when I decided moved out there in the first place.

Now, all those years later, I would have done things differently for sure. I know more, I acquired more skills, and I know better what makes me happy. But would I have changed moving to the UK? No, I wouldn’t.

At the time, all I wanted to do was get out of the Netherlands and move to another country. Chase those big dreams and making them happen. And I did, I went out there, I chased the dreams and came back home with my tail between my legs.

Yes, the fact that I came back does make me feel like I failed in some way. In others, I was brave enough to recognize a situation that wasn’t working for me anymore.

Failure or not. It was an experience that is all mine, something I’ve done and that no one can take away from me anymore. And I’m better for it.

What I learned from cycling in Wales

Everything around me is silent. The only sound comes from the wind through the cornfield and a few birds. I’m paddling my bike up a hill on a country road in Wales to go to the beach. Oh, and did I mention I’m not wearing a helmet?

The path I take is amazing, and a sense of freedom overwhelms me. The last corner leads me on a steep path down. It rained earlier that day, so the road is slippery. I pick up speed and try to use the back paddle breaks to slow down. My back wheel slips, but I’m still upright and rolling down. I can’t see where the road is going, and I pray no car is coming up. The road is too narrow for both of us, and I have no way to stop as I’m still picking up speed on my way down.

Being born and raised in the Netherlands, I grew up on a bike. Naturally, when I moved to Wales, I had to bring my bike. It turned out my bike wasn’t equipped for the Welsh countryside. No gears and looking like a proper vintage piece of metal, it was the joke of the village. Especially when one morning, I rode it to my waitress job.

In hindsight, the no helmet thing was stupid. Over here in the Netherlands, no one wears helmets, not even the little children learning to cycle. If you do see people wearing helmets, they’re either sports cyclists going way too fast or German tourists. It did teach me a few things, though: I make do with what I have. Since I lived in a small cottage in the middle of nowhere, I had no other way of getting around. I was still saving up for a car, and the beach was too far to walk. So I had to use the bike to get around. But it also taught me that I tend to be spontaneous, bordering on recklessness and that I like it that way. I love the feeling of making up my mind to do something and then to do it. In fairness, that doesn’t always work out, but at least I have no regrets.

Like that day, I cycled to the beach, even though I still ended up mostly walking back home. The roads were too steep to cycle back up, and I had no endurance whatsoever since I was used to the flat roads in The Netherlands. Yet, I regretted nothing. The fresh air, the sense of adventure, and the feeling of freedom gave me wings.

Looking back, I sometimes wonder where that carefree, spontaneous girl went. She’s replaced by a calculated planner who is used to comfort and security. Yet in the midst of this, I can feel the need for adventure rising and bubbling like a volcano eruption. One of these days, it will erupt and result in a trip far out of my comfort zone. So far, in fact, that it will feel like the comfort zone was never even there.