When life gives you lemons…

First published on Going Local Going Green and Medium.

When life gives you lemons, don’t worry. Even if you can’t begin to imagine what lemonade looks like, never mind what it might taste like, don't worry. If you lose your lemons, it's okay - they are still out there somewhere, and in all likelihood, they’ll turn back up on your doorstep when you least expect them.
In 2015 I lost my lemons, so to speak. And when I say lemons, I really mean 'my shit'. The past 12 months have been full of ups and downs and roundabouts - a bit like Milton Keynes. It all began with Going Local Going Green.

On reflection

Going Local Going Green is this research project I’ve been working on looking at health, food, nature, economy, land use and food in the city of Bristol - not, as you may have thought, my lemons. As part of our Action Learning methodology we’ve had to meet once every four weeks or so to reflect on the past month and plan for the month ahead. This process is intense. It involves speaking for 20 - 30 minutes in a stream of consciousness about both the things we have achieved and would like to achieve, and also how we are feeling. In all of my 31 years of life I have never been in a situation like this before. To sit with 3 other people and to be given an opportunity to express how I feel about my life. The process began with speaking about work related to the research project, and it ended with a mini life crises. Being allowed an open and supportive space to express myself felt incredibly difficult at first. Although I like to think of myself as emotionally intelligent (or something along those lines) it turns out, when we started this back in April 2015, I was not. I was going through the motions but there was something blocking me, and this became more and more evident as the monthly sessions passed by. Some months I turned up hidden behind a stone cold wall - refusing to get any deeper than a list of actions and events for the past month, avoiding questions about emotions. One month I turned up and pretty much refused to speak because I felt so angry and sad. One member of the group who is much more learned in the ways of Action Learning said that this moment was when they thought they were either going to lose me, or break me. It turns out, I was ready to break. And break I did.

Feeling my way

I had a bout of depression for around 6 weeks, with days full of inconsolable tears and a sense of hopelessness I haven’t felt since I was a teenager curled up on the bathroom floor. I felt as though I couldn’t see the way out of how I was feeling and started to worry that this is how I would feel forever. I started seeing a counsellor who practices gestalt psychotherapy - connecting me with my body and my feelings in a way I hadn’t been aware of before. Who knew you could just feel emotions? I’m such an analytical soul (I blame academia) with an ingrained internal process of; emotions turn up - analyse critically - put in box - file in psyche - never think about again. I didn’t realise that with emotion comes acceptance and responsibility. There is a sense of intention and self care - and most importantly an understanding of yourself and of other people. Who would have thought? Certainly not me 12 months ago.

Pressure points

With this fresh look at my mental health, came a slow look at my physical health. I’ve been having migraines about once a month since my return from Mexico in March. I started seeing another therapist - an acupuncturist, to see if I could alleviate some of this pain. His work has also been around my emotional health, helping to ‘open up some of my channels’ which may have been seriously blocked since I was a wee bairn. Or at least since I was a teenager struggling to handle my emotions (the beginning of the box situation as above). Acupuncture has been a revelation to me. I don’t understand it. I know it works, because I can feel it. Different meridian points have made me feel different things. And the migraines are beginning to alleviate, which is incredible as they’ve been haunting me each month for the best part of a year now. How? I don't know. Sometimes you just need to trust that something works.

Menstrual times

Closely associated with both of the above is my new found menstrual literacy. When I started blocking my own communication in Action Learning, and making a note of when my migraines came, I realised it’s all related to my menstrual cycle. So, as one of my Going Local Going Green pals suggested, I started looking into what this could mean in terms of my menstrual cycle and the changes that my body goes through each month. It would be fair to say this is sort of a positive pandora’s box for me. Everything has been flying out, but it hasn’t all been bad. It’s been one of the most profound experiences of my life. We live in these bodies yet we know so little about them. It turns out we’re cyclical beings in a cyclical world that is pretending to be linear (and wants us to pretend to be linear too). It’s complicated and completely simple at exactly the same time.

So, now I’ve turned into one of those people who talks about lemons. There is a lot more to this, as you can imagine. I can feel my life changing every day. I’m trying to do the things that make me feel good more and to confront the things that don’t make me feel very good. I’m learning about what intention means. I feel like I’m a bit late to the mental health and wellbeing party, but I’m glad I’m getting there in my own time. I’m doing things like this; saying out loud the way that I’m feeling. It’s amazing and terrifying. There are still hard days and there always will be, but now I can allow myself to be honest with when I’m having these days and do the things I need to do to be kind to myself - whether it’s stretching my bones out or challenging my mind. I still find all this openness a minefield and I’m extremely thankful for my friends and family helping me to navigate through this. And I apologise in advance if I verbally vomit about any of this stuff, because I think it’s all brilliant and scary and I need all of your help to make sense of it all - and I hope I can help you in return.

Right now, my lemons are doing alright. I hope yours are too.