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Body Positivity Walk 2019

Sarah and the accidental rest day

So, today I was going to take the train across the river and only have to walk about 7-8 km, however through a misunderstanding I got picked up by my hosts at the train station. Either they didn’t understand that my intention was to walk (it’s kind of hard to explain without additional context why I’d choose to walk with Voldie in the rain when they can drive me in a few minutes – actually even with context it’s a bit hard to grasp for some), or they just thought I was being overly polite when I said that I would walk from the station, because there they were. And then it quite frankly seemed rather rude and unnecessary to decline. So I skipped another 7 km and gave mister blister some more time to calm the eff down. And they let me use their washing machine, so I once again have clean clothes. I’m not exactly complaining…

However, I do fully intend to walk the last 100 km or so over the next 5 days. This is not the preamble to me taking public transport the rest of the way, I assure you. I am admittedly getting rather sick of walking and being on the move every day, and I’m not looking forward to the rain that’s predicted for the remaining time (I have been very fortunate with the weather so far though), but I am very motivated to see it through. “I wanted to walk to Berlin but then I sort of walked to Stendal and couldn’t be bothered anymore” doesn’t really have the same ring to it.. 😉

But through the kindness of strangers I am dry, clean and relatively well rested for one more day. Which is not a bad thing…

I’ve actually wanted to say something about the kindness of strangers and about human contact for a while, but I’ve been too tired to do writing outside of daily updates.

I have of course alluded to my loneliness and how nice it has been to stay with certain people and be welcomed into their homes, but I have more to say on this subject.

I thought it was going to be easy to be mostly alone. Actually, at first I thought I maybe wasn’t going to be mostly alone – because as you may remember I started this whole project encouraging others to come and walk with me. And while I hadn’t expected that to be a daily occurrence I was sort of hoping it would last more than the very first day.

Regardless, as an introvert and HSP who enjoys quiet and her own company, I thought even if people don’t come along I’ll be fine. And I am, kinda. I mean I’m definitely talking to myself more than before, and to bugs and cows and trees and such (still totally normal, right?). And it’s coming up on 4 o’clock in my current flat now with just me and my tinnitus and not another sound of voices, cars, church bells or even birds (maybe because of the rain?) and it does feel ever so slightly weird.

In my normal life, back home – that seems to have taken place in a time and galaxy far, far away by now – I spend quite a lot of time at home, and don’t go out and do things very often. And that’s just fine and dandy, because I need and like a lot of alone time/downtime. But I do always have 3 cats around, and of course J is usually not far off (upstairs, in front of his computer.. ), so I still get my basic social needs met quite easily.

Because we are all social animals – even us introverts. I’m definitely not longing for a party, but a proper face to face chat with a good friend (and a hug) would be nice. Even when I stay in cities, and am not wandering through the woods alone, my interactions are usually limited to buying food or checking in and out of places I’m staying.

I noticed many years ago already how meaningful and important just small interactions with other human beings who are kind and friendly can be. I was super stressed at the airport for one reason or other, but every person I met, at the check-in, at security, at the kiosk etc., were just nice, and smiled and helped me. And by the time I was ready to board my flight I felt completely fine again, even happy.

Because of this I also realised what kind of impact me and my mood potentially have on others, and what kind of impact I’d like to have. I started making more of an effort to always be friendly and smile to anyone I was dealing with, be it in shops or at my work. In fact I once had an evaluation at work where my boss said it was so great to work with me because no matter what was going on I was always friendly and cheerful. Believe me, that’s really NOT the case. However, I do strive to be positive and friendly in professional interactions and in interactions with strangers (family and friends too of course, but they do get to see behind the mask for better or for worse), because I know how important it can be. That doesn’t mean you can never have a bad day. But I recommend as much as possible to not take it out on others (novel idea, I know).

So, now that I’m quite done patting myself on the back for my positive influence on others, let’s talk about others positive influence on me.

I’ve talked already about my lovely stays in Quakenbrück, at the farm in the tiny house, and in Celle, where I was welcomed into the homes of strangers and made wonderful connections and had interesting conversations about life, dreams and passions. But even small interactions like a chat with a man walking his dog who thought it was really cool that I was walking to Berlin, or this older cycling couple I met in the woods that complimented me on my German (yes, really!.. ), have a big impact on my mood and my sanity during a long day of solitary walking.

So, I notice over and over again how important connection and kindness is. Exactly how this will play a role in my future I am not sure, but I must share more of myself with others and open myself to connecting with them.

And, as they say – you never know what someone else is going through, so be kind – always.

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Body Positivity Walk 2019

BoPoWalk day 11: Quakenbrück to Vechta

(Yesterday’s post, as WordPress didn’t publish when scheduled)

Distance: 27,5 km

Time: 5h20m

Speed: 5,1 kmph (yeah, that’s right!)

Soundtrack: Superman by Deluxe

So I already knew yesterday that I wasn’t going to give up – because I didn’t start this whole project just to give up the first time things got really hard. What I *didn’t* know was how much better I was going to do/feel today. The miracle of human contact, indeed. I must give some credit to my couchsurfing hosts for the lovely evening and conversation we had, and of course to Emmy the dog!

Other factors that probably contributed were my motivation to make it to Vechta before it started raining (I almost made it in time, the rain was early – but so was I), and to get to a place I didn’t have to leave again the very next morning.

But I really did move at an astounding pace for being me, so I think there was some magic involved somewhere. Or that I’m secretly superwoman. Maybe it was exactly that I had felt the low, the struggle, the dread yesterday and had come out the other side determined to fight again that spurred me on.

I also had a day of walking on an asphalt bike path along the road almost the whole way, but I was actually fine with it because I just wanted to get on with the walking and it meant I didn’t have to think about where I needed to go very often, and my feet didn’t get wet.

I did see some beautiful buildings on my way out of Quakenbrück though, which according to my hosts are a tourist draw and I can understand why.

And tomorrow there is absolutely nothing that I have to do. I don’t have to pack, I don’t have to set an alarm, I don’t have to mount Voldie (as I’ve lovingly/hatingly named my pack) on my back. I may go out and have a look around and get some postcards, if there’s anything to see in Vechta. Then again I may also stay in bed all day and watch Netflix on my phone or read LotR. What luxury!

Friday I have to walk 36,5 km, and Saturday 34. But that’s future Sarah’s problem. And if I can do that and not fall down, I am pretty sure I’m going to make it to Berlin.

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Body Positivity Walk 2019

BoPoWalk day 3: Lelystad to Kampen Zuid

Predicted distance: 35 km
Actual distance: 35,5 km
Time: 7h 20m
Speed: 4,9 kmph
Soundtrack: Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Green Day (and Harry Potter on audio book…)

Today was almost 36 km of mostly this:

But with more tractors.

However, I am not broken.

My feet are made of pain and it’s starting to spread to my legs and thighs now too, but I made it through the dreaded dreary day.

Truthfully, this is harder than I thought it was going to be. Yes, I expected sore feet and getting tired, but I like walking, usually. I wasn’t really prepared for the constant throbbing pain in my feet and I wasn’t really prepared for the fact that anything above 10 km would just be toughing it out. And of course the endless highways… I do still hope and think that it will get easier, and that I’ll get more used to it and start to enjoy it more. I just hope my body lets me get to that point.

On the plus side, I am also stronger than I thought. Mentally, more so than physically. I reached a train station after about 20 km, still having 16 to go, and being in quite a bit of pain already as well as just plain fed up. It would have been so easy to get on that train. They leave twice an hour and would have me home in less than 30 minutes. But I chose to continue on. Of course if I had gotten on the train I would have had to fess up to it, so maybe it’s pride or vanity that I’m mistaking for strength, but I’m going to keep believing it’s the latter. And that’s always a good thing to have more of. As long as it doesn’t come at the expense of emotion or vulnerability (and I think I have those in spades..).

Tomorrow is 30 km in predicted 14 mm of rain, so if today didn’t break me, there’s always that. 😉

Better have some of this Chinese/Indian take-out to fortify myself:

chinese food.jpeg

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Body Positivity Walk 2019

BoPoWalk day 2: Almere to Lelystad

Predicted distance: 21 km
Actual distance: 21,5 km
Time: 4h 26m
Speed: 4,8 kmph
Soundtrack: Pocketful of Sunshine by Natasha Bedingfield

So after the 36,5 km yesterday, 21,5 should be a piece of piss, right? Well it was, and it wasn’t. I did allow myself the luxury of sleeping in and getting a later start, as I had a shorter distance today and could start walking from home. However my legs (and feet!) were of course not fully recovered from yesterday and did start aching about 8 km in.

Walking through the serene and quiet nature of the Oostvaardersplassen for the first 2/3 or so did help though. And having a cap and sunglasses with me was helpful too. I walked along the water for as long as possible, so the slightly longer route was a choice I made this time. I only saw the wild horses from a distance, but saw a lot of birds and crickets and frogs (and flies….), and was having a pretty good time of it despite sore feet.

wildhorses.jpeg

oostvaarders swans.jpegBut then… I got out onto a seemingly never ending road and that fucker almost did me in. It felt like it was literally sucking the life out of me. These two pictures were taken 45 minutes apart.

And yes there were a few trees, but the overwhelming feeling was just that of asphalt stretching out into oblivion, with the odd car whizzing past so fast it was clear they wanted to get this dull road over with as fast as possible too. I managed to get through it by creating a song about how dull the road was (tightly based on Singin’ in the Rain), and eventually picking up my walking pace a little.

fedupface.jpeg
Dis my fed up face

Just goes to show how important the mental component is, I guess. Which will be a huge problem tomorrow.

Tomorrow I’m facing another 35 km, and by the looks of it it goes almost entirely along highways. Actually it goes on the highway, because it turns out Google maps is pretty crap for walking instructions (I checked and there are bike paths next to it…). I thought at least they’d take me where there’s bike paths, but it’s 0 for 2 so far.

I know it’s not helpful to psych myself down beforehand, particularly not because – as just mentioned –  the mental component is so important. But, I am having trouble seeing how I’ll get through this one and I do need a coping strategy. It consists of two parts:

  1. I think I will do the route in reverse. Which seems kind of wrong, but it’ll be the exact same stretch, and as I’m going home to sleep anyway it doesn’t really matter. It just gives me a shorter train ride at the end of the day when I’m tired and sweaty, and a longer one in the morning.
  2. Audio books. J has helpfully reminded me that headphones exist (I even had them in my pack today and didn’t remember.. Duh!), and I have an Audible subscription. I think the distraction will help hugely with the mental component on a day like tomorrow. Just hope my feet don’t hurt too much.

The whole Google maps thing is becoming a bit of an issue though. I do need to prioritise the shortest distance from point a to point B as it’s already a very long hike, so I’ll accept some stretches along highways. But if I have to walk all the way to Berlin along highways I may kill myself. And if Google maps guides me onto roads that have no sidewalk or bike path, cars may kill myself. I’m a little concerned. But I also don’t have a huge amount of time to redo all my planning….

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Mental health and BoPo articles

Fake it till you make it – yes or no?

Lately I’ve been seeing pushback on social media regarding the (in)famous expression “fake it till you make it”, and it got me thinking about the different ways in which we fake it, and which of them are useful.

I’m sure we’ve all heard this term in some context or other, and I think the pushback is related to the toxic success-culture that social media helps breed, and the idea that if you are not part of it, you are failing. 

Finding a balance

It’s hard to hit the right balance, whether as a private person sharing large and small life moments with friends and family, or as a business owner or influencer trying to reach your target audience. 

If you’re posting only heavily edited pictures (like using beauty and slimming filters for selfies), champagne and caviar, and quotes about loving yourself and life you will not only risk alienating people by being over-the-top, but you can also make others feel like they are failing at life because they do not live up to this polished image you are projecting onto the world. And it will make it much harder for you to ask for help when you need it, when the carefully constructed public image starts to crack.

On the other hand it’s understandable that you don’t want to share every detail of your marital or financial problems with the world at large, and that can also be something that puts people off from interacting with you or following you. Nobody wants to fill their life with negativity. 

My advice is to be real. Be true to yourself. If you are speaking your truth you will automatically be genuine. And don’t take yourself too seriously. Did the cake you attempted to make come out looking like unicorn poo? Did you take the worst selfie in the history of mankind? Did you attempt a cool dance move and fall flat on your face? That’s OK, we’ve all been there. And sharing those moments of your life with people gives them a glimpse of the real person behind the online persona. It makes it easier for people to engage with you, and it makes it easier for you to admit when things are not perfect. 

It’s great to have goals and aspirations, to be ambitious and go out there in the world and get stuff done. But it’s also totally OK to admit that right now things are not going as you had hoped, or that you’re struggling.

Being realistic

There’s also obviously a limit to fake it till you make it. You cannot fake being rich (buying things you cannot afford, projecting a social status and class that’s not in line with reality, etc.) and expect to become rich – in fact it’ll probably have the opposite effect. Faking your appearance is not only horrible for your self worth, it also only really works until people see you in real life, without makeup on, in your sweat pants, and so on. 

Faking it is a psychological tool that can help boost your confidence both inwards and outwards, but it requires work, adaptability and insight into yourself. It is not a magic trick.  It’s a process of self-development and learning.

Learning, and not doing it alone

As this article states, faking it really only works if you are still open to learn from your mistakes and from the process. 

Be ambitious, say that you are going to climb Mount Everest or design the perfect AI, but if you don’t succeed, acknowledge it and use it as a learning opportunity rather than brushing it off, getting angry or pretending you did it anyway. 

Or say you jumped into a crowdfunding venture, giving it your all, believing in it and the power of your message and that you were in fact going to walk from Amsterdam to Berlin, only to discover that crowdfunding is really hard. You could choose to see yourself and your project as failure, or you could recognise that crowdfunding for a cause, by yourself, without much of an online presence, in a sea of other good projects and causes is actually quite difficult. You can choose to be proud of how far you have come, you can choose to adapt your plans to something more feasible, and you can learn for next time. Be better prepared, get help, do more research. And remember Edison. 

Also, there is nothing wrong with recognising your limitations. If you hate public speaking but want to be a politician, recognise that it’s going to be harder work for you than for someone who is naturally outgoing and well-spoken, so you have realistic expectations going into it. I went into this day with the wish to get a ton of stuff done. But I am not a fast writer and it’s currently approaching 6 PM. And that’s OK. In the immortal words of Ron Swanson: never half-ass two things, whole-ass one thing.

It is also really important to have people in your life to whom you don’t fake it. A friend, parent, partner, penpal, what have you, with whom you can share your fears, concerns, and dreams and just be you. Faking it can help you get started, help you drive your career or project further, but it cannot be all you are. Underneath all of it we are all fallible and vulnerable people, and that is a beautiful thing. Not something to be afraid of. 

Impostor syndrome

I have impostor syndrome in pretty much everything I do. So a certain level of faking it is simply necessary for me in order to get through the day, and not curl up in a ball on the floor (a slight exaggeration, but you get the point). Even now, writing this article, I experience imposter syndrome. What do I have to say about this, why should anyone listen to me? When are they going to realise that I have no idea what I’m talking about? But partly exactly because I have this experience, I do know what I’m talking about. And every time I overcome that feeling, and I give someone advice or embark upon a project and I realise that I can do it, and that people appreciate my help and advice, it becomes a little easier. That voice in my head becomes a little quieter. So, I keep going, even though it terrifies me sometimes. 

The upside of impostor syndrome is that I get to be amazed and surprised every time someone tells me I am doing good work. 

Positive self-talk and confidence

There is some truth to the saying that what we give energy to grows (the whole “the wolf you feed” concept). It’s not the be-all-end-all, and having negative thoughts is not why you are depressed, why you have cancer or why you are poor. Positive thinking does not cure (mental) illness. 

However, there is definitely an advantage to using positive thought as a tool to achieve a genuinely more positive outlook. It’s OK to fake confidence when you’re nervous, to get stuff done. 

And to take a personal example: I have struggled with body image most of my life, and it has taken a lot of me saying that I love myself and I love my body before I genuinely started to feel like it was real, true and lasting. It honestly helped to repeat this over and over to myself, and also to others. Of course, just saying the words is usually not enough. You have to try and feel it. Maybe love is too much to begin with. Maybe you can try to feel like you accept your body, or there are certain things about your body that you can appreciate, and try to build on that. Megan Jayne Crabbe’s tips for belly love in her book Body Positive Power are great for this (in fact the whole book is great for anyone who struggles with body image). Try starting with gentleness, kindness and understanding. Touch your belly in a gentle way, appreciate that it is part of your body and that it is necessary, remove judgement from the thought process. If you can manage that even for a few seconds, it is something you can build on.

Another great tool for getting into a positive frame of mind is energy tapping.

Positive energy tapping

As an energist, I use a certain idea of faking it till you make it in my work. With modern energy tapping we acknowledge the negative emotions, we accept that they are there, and they are valid, but we do not feed them. Instead, by focusing on what positive energies we can use to evolve the negative feeling, we feed the other wolf, so to speak. Again, this is not a magic trick. It requires knowing yourself, being open, using your imagination and connecting your energy body to your mind and physical self. But by connecting to the power of positive energy, by feeling it in the body, by breathing it in, we can in a very real and helpful way fake it till we make it.