An Only Child – Another perspective

By | Being Present, Motherhood, sisterhood | No Comments

Our daughter is now at an age where she notices a lot more. Recently I had the most heart-breaking and heart-healing conversation with her. Although we’ve touched on this topic before this time was different…… She asked me through tears rolling down her face, sobbing on the floor in a little ball  “why am I on my own, with no brother or sister ? I’m the odd one out mummy.” I felt her sadness and confusion. Gulp! I gathered her up on my lap and took her through our reality! Read More

Pause for… // performance and perspective

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We often sit there watching TV, be it live sport, films, documentaries and more. In this modern day, we don’t even need to sit through the commercial breaks. We instead record and fast forward and we always know that if we need to step out the room, check on the kids, make a drink, we can always press pause! The joys of modern technology that gives us all that luxury for a moment in time. The same is true for radio and music thanks to Spotify and other well-known streaming services.

Pause or, the caesura is how we speak to each other, the rhythm of flow of conversation, the breath, you inhale and exhale, the break in poetry to experience its flow, the space in music to hear it flow. Pause is synonymous with rhythm and flow//don’t you know!

The pause button has been there since the 1960’s, before Netflix, Sky, Fox and Spotify. It had its own special button on our Walkmans, MP3 players and VHS recorders to keep the system operating whilst there was an intermittent stop. Now the pause is often is graced alongside the play button on our DVD’s, Washing Machines, iPods (if you still own one) and devices.

Its history in allowing us to pause performance in sport, documentaries, comedies, sitcoms and more has given us all the capacity to do more. Sport has seen the value in pausing games to analyse. Large screens were used to review, draw lines and circles, as people gathered to talk about the pause. It continues to permeate sport in various ways, some more successful than others and that success has a lot to do with the flow of the game so the right decisions are made and space is created for a momentary review.

Kevin Cashman, Global Leader in CEO & Executive Development at Korn Ferry was often asked by leaders “how can we step up to achieve more, to go to the next level?” He response surprised them all! He asked them to pause. This was met with all their reasons to do more, rather than pause more. He goes on to share that Andy Murray’s win over Djokovic after a 76 year wait for a male Grand Slam singles champion in the US Open final was down to him practising the pause, not just his serve — stepping back for perspective, awareness and transformative clarity to emerge. ¹

“If leaders today do not step back to gain perspective and to transcend the immediacies of life, we will continue to crash economically, personally, and collectively”. Kevin Cashman

Pause is part of life, we do it every day. The momentary gap between your inhale and exhale, which thankfully isn’t under your complete control, although its quality is often shifted closer to hyperventilation! Books by Nobel prize winners give power to the pause. Go and read The Brain and Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman’, or Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman to find out more.

When you carry on sprinting and panting through life you miss moments. Moments that you will never capture again, you can’t replay them like the TV. Moments you may regret when you lose your job, get sick, retire, move teams, more companies, lose good people. This relentless pace is unsustainable and I believe is one of the biggest causes of poor mental health we see, hear and experience today…

Before I had children, I identified with my work, my career at 100mph. My mantra then was “life is for living, cram it in”. When my daughter came along I then knew there was more to the constant treadmill that I lived in at the workplace, especially one with a value of ’speed’ and another one that’s talent programme was called ‘pace’! I began to see the natural ebb and flow of slowing down and what that created for me creatively, mentally, physically and emotionally. I returned to work some 10 months later and the frantic pace felt unnatural to me … because it was! 12-months on from returning I was diagnosed with cancer and that dished up a STOP button. On returning to work after treatment I knew the pace was something I could no longer sustain or wanted to even try and when everyone around you is sprinting you constantly feel left behind. It took some time to accept I was one of the few unconventional employee that valued reflection, perspective, time to open up my awareness to situations, tasks and people. A tortoise in a race full of many hares!

I have experimented with other ways of working that has given more natural rhythm and flow to the team and I. The change was palpable in a very short time period — the team’s higher energy was evident and our productivity soared. Respect for each other and our best times for creativity, decision making, deep work and more were considered. Lunch to recharge and refuel rather than refill and restart was honoured.

It’s time to give power to the pause, the natural ebb and flow, for if you continue sprinting and panting they will be no race alone.

“Don’t brag about your lightning pace, for Slow and Steady won the race!” The Tortoise and the Hare


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The Swallowed Scream

By | Cancer, Humans of Wellbeing, Wellbeing, workplace | No Comments

Presence over pride

There is this stirring inside me that I’ve experienced for a few years now, it may have been there longer, just numbed or drowned out by the constant noise in my head and the distractions of the world we now live in.

I can’t even begin to describe what it is, yet I can tell you how it feels. It is an ache in my heart, a lump in my throat and a quickening of pace to get on with things. Yet, that quickening was also a longing for the person I lost along the way: for every time I said ’no’ inside, I said ‘yes’ out loud, in the moments I curled up, when I could have stayed open, for those times I went into hiding, when I could have shared the truth and all the times I ran away when I had the chance to stand still.

I’ve swallowed that lump too many times. You know that feeling you get at the back of your throat, the one ignored for politeness or personal pride. Except I got it wrong, rather than the lump, I should have swallowed my pride!

I’ve come from a strong line of women who’ve managed their difficult emotions, by concealing them. The overly used expressions I’ve grown up with “stop crying”, “don’t be a baby” and ones from the workplace over the years “you’re just too emotional”, “you need to toughen up to work here”, “can’t have you going off with stress”. These all had a significant influence on how I dealt with my emotions and continued to swallow and box them away.

Over the last few years I’ve had Acupuncture, Counselling, CBT, and Psychotherapy and it’s opened up places within me that have been locked tight for many years. I used CBT very successfully and yet the act of using a process also helped me distance myself from my emotional truth with remission. I continue to practice meditation and I’ve explored different techniques. I found myself in silence last August for 10-days wondering why the chaos inside ensued amidst the calm outside. Meditation showed me the truth inside and remains my cornerstone.

Then a day came, one I will remember for the rest of my life for truly practicing kindness to myself, within a coaching conversation. I was asked a powerful question that allowed me to honour the person I was during a terrifying time in my life. I had been sharing how my anxiety had been hustling me recently and how I had experienced panic attacks which had both surprised me and floored me after approx. 12 months without any. We explored why they and anxiety could be happening and we went deep into the discovery, rather than my own ability that kept me safe in the shallows. This is what I love and deeply appreciate about Danielle, my coach, I feel safe to go places within me, knowing that space is held safely.

Danielle had asked me a seemingly simple yet powerful question that I hadn’t even asked myself. Even as I write this now, I can feel the lump rising and the stalling as the words slip onto the keyboard “How did you feel when you were told you had cancer Ria?” I finally felt I acknowledged my whole feelings for the first time ever!

Soon after my diagnosis, I took to blogging as my therapy. The blogs were full of hope and were met with kind and well-intended comments that encouraged my inclination to silence the distressing feelings and share more about the other ones that were also present and positive — hope, mindfulness, and faith, with a more appealing picture to accompany it. At the time I recall a campaign #nomakeupselfie for cancer that also encouraged my desire to share my ‘I can beat this’ mantra I had in my head daily… it’s ultimately what got me through those the terrifying and awakening 3-weeks. The other distressing feelings were swallowed and squashed.

Those distressing feelings were deep deep shame, grief and painful loneliness which have all lingered at phases and stages since. As I sat there sharing those feelings with Danielle I felt my heart ache. It was and is time to honour those feelings and show one of the most important people in my life, my 5-year old daughter, that you can be brave and afraid at the same time. Feel it, not conceal it, as many of us learned during Frozen! It was time to swallow pride, not my own poison.

The day I was told that I had uterine cancer, changed me forever. I felt like I had been transported to another dimension, my own matrix and the loneliness ensued. I had no mother to turn to for the type of unconditional love only your mother can provide. I wanted to cry into her arms and hear her say “you will be okay”, but cancer had taken her many years previously.

I watched my daughter who was two years old at the time sleep that night. She had only just gone into a little cot bed and as I sat in the dark stroking her curly mass of blonde hair I wondered if I would ever share the moments my own mother had missed and more pressingly on my mind, would I still be here next month, next year. I so desperately wanted to cry in her room that night, but I didn’t know if the tears would end and the noise would wake her. I kept quiet and swallowed the tears inside.

When friends called to offer their support and say I would beat it, I really wanted to scream ”but what if I don’t. I’m so fucking petrified”. Instead, I showed my hopeful side. I preferred that part of me — it gave me strength. I swallowed the rest.

When I went for my MRI and CT scans I wanted to really slump by my dad’s knee and beg him not to let them take me. As the nurse walked me to the room, I turned to watch him walk in the other direction and the little girl in me wanted to scream “daddy please help me”. I was choked on my fear. I sat on that MRI machine and visualized those laser beams killing whatever cancer cells I had in me for the longest 30 minutes of my life. Thank goodness for my new practice, meditation and the words of Thich Nhat Hanh.

When I went in for life changing and saving surgery to remove cancer from my body I was wheeled down to the surgery room and all I wanted was a familiar hand to hold mine. I remember sobbing so hard because I knew what they were going to do would prevent any more chances to bring another baby into this world along with my own womanhood. I was deeply grateful for the gift I had with our own daughter and yet full of shame of what surgery meant for us all. I swallowed.

When I came around in recovery I was told I would enter menopause immediately. At that point of waking, I knew part of me had not returned. It was too painful to bear the reality of the situation. Anger took its place and started to grasp at me. I swallowed.

Months went by and I was told on many occasions how lucky I was. Lucky for not needing chemo, or radiotherapy, lucky to be here, lucky to catch it so soon. Told how women have hysterectomies every day and its common surgery. Reminded on many occasions that I cannot have children and my daughter will be an ‘only child’ and how challenging that must be. The guilt and shame piled on. I swallowed.

Those comments although meant well, were crushing. I didn’t feel lucky. I felt like something was out to get me. My scars were minor compared to the mental scars building inside me. I was crushed on the inside and the anger at times become too much to bear. I felt like I was burning inside, whilst wearing a smile on the outside.

For many months I went into hiding as much as possible from friends and family. My hiding came in many guises, from withdrawal, staying home, staying silent and also being a right little madam when that got boring. All of these versions of me was down to the shame, loneliness and grief I carried inside. I went through stages of wanting to physically run away and I found ways to make that happen in truth. When I realised I couldn’t run from it I started to punish my body by training hard, and withdrawing different food groups from my diet… anything that could give me control. That didn’t work either and the slippery slope continued until I started writing a suicide letter in my head on one too many occasions, putting the blame on people and places. I was petrified I would have such thoughts and more shame pilled up.

At that point, I couldn’t do it alone anymore and the Psychotherapy ramped up. I found myself in the woods, sat in my car trembling as I spoke to Jane a Mental Health Clinician. No one would hear me scream in the woods, but the scream was so big it was trapped within me. I will be eternally grateful to Jane and Munya, my Psychotherapists for their huge professional support at that time and to my husband, Gareth who has absolutely seen me at my worse and heard me say such heartbreaking words.

I feel grateful to have found a healthier lifestyle that continues to support me, because, despite all of those challenging emotions, I managed to hold down a job, functioned and at times flourished.

The return to work was a shock, post-surgery, the pace of work was like a constant sprint. The cultural norms of head down, back to back appointments/meetings, lunch on the run was prevalent then and still is now. After taking 7-months out earlier this year, to set up my own business, Well+, I’ve realised just how dangerous some of these ‘ways of working’ are to energy, creativity, flow, performance, relationships, and health.

We (Health and Wellbeing professionals) can all talk about what to do and why to do it… blah, blah, blah. The hard graft is showing up and practicing it. Leading the charge and going stealth with health by getting closer to the truth of what’s happening — sharing the good and challenging the bad, sad or mad practices.

This blog is wholeheartedly shared to acknowledge my own emotional story with a cancer diagnosis and remission, in addition to the change needed more than ever. More and more people are returning to work after illness, disease or loss and more needs to be done to support Leaders, Managers, HR Departments on how to support people back into all types of workplaces. I willingly will lead this charge! There is a mission in my remission after all!

Emotion is honest, raw and truthful — both the warm, fuzzy and dark and damp type. It needs motion, not stockpiling. What I know for sure and now finally accept is this is all ME — the light and dark. Without those lows, I wouldn’t recognize the highs. Without the pain, I wouldn’t recognize the joys. I am a human of wellbeing deep inside. We all are. It’s our natural state of being that we all deserve in work and life.

More than just the mind

By | Wellbeing | No Comments

A wholehearted ode for unity


In this world we live in today, our heads are often leading the way

Is there no wonder they spin and break when our whole approach is to segregate

Matters of the mind can be dealt with here and bodily parts form an orderly queue there.

With a fiery head and a deflated heart, why do we keep on talking about the parts

Let’s share an exchange, go on a discovery, our mind and body is our ultimate destiny

Buckle up tight, wait for the emotion, its all part of your grandest ocean

The rise and fall of the body breath dictates our journey on this quest

Now use your eyes, your ears, your sense of smell, remember, stay here, just for now

Watch and wait, observe the flow, integration is the way to go

The well within you is the well within me,

It is the sum of our eternity.