Choose Your Words Wisely

Reading time: 3–4 minutes
Reading accompaniment(s): A thesaurus

I recently took part in a webinar with writer and mental health campaigner Rachel Kelly. Organised by Byte the Book (a great membership platform for writers and those in/interested in publishing, BTW), the session was focussed on maximising wellbeing as a writer. Though, really, you don’t need to be a writer to need to maximise your wellbeing. Especially in this shit show of a year. I think we could all do with a dose of wellbeing maximisation.

The technique that stood out for me the most is pertinent to writers in that it involves the use of words, but equally well is applicable to everyone because it involves simply the use of words (no writing required).

Rachel described her aversion to the concept of a Gratitude Journal. My first reaction was: controversial, especially coming from somebody who is supposedly championing better mental health. She then explained that the word “gratitude” puts her off. That it seems so grand and overwhelming and, dare I say it, American (my connotation). Ugh. Hmm. I agree with her entirely. She prefers to use the term “appreciation”. Instead of listing each morning the things that she is OH SO GRATEFUL FOR (while perched a brightly coloured hand-woven rug, surrounded by moon-drenched crystals, mid-sage cleanse), she lists the things that she appreciates (perhaps in bed, perchance in the shower, maybe, even, on the blummin loo). I mean, I don’t know where she does it, but I do know that she rather cunningly has completely transformed a probably effective but highly irritating practice into something that is probably effective and totally manageable. And something that you don’t feel an utter arsewipe partaking in.

One can appreciate the small things in life quite easily. I, right now, can appreciate lots of things. Like the new navy-blue Sweaty Betty ensemble that I’m currently rocking, which is both stylish and comfortable (and makes me feel, like, OMG #YogaGoals). And the cup of tea my boyfriend has just placed on my desk, with the perfect ratio of Yorkshire to Oatly (he’s well trained). And the fact that we’ve got loads of episodes left to watch of Married at First Sight Australia before we must perform the arduous task of choosing a new series (one, admittedly, that is a little more highbrow). The list could go on. And that makes me feel happy.

If I’d had to declare my gratitude, however, I think I would have felt able only to grapple with the most truly deserving of items. Food. Hot water. THE ROOF OVER MY HEAD. And it just wouldn’t have been as fun or fulfilling.

This alternation of terminology can be used in lots of other places, too. For example, during her talk, Rachel told us how she has replaced the word “exercise” with “movement” in her repertoire for its more loving, less strenuous, associations. I like this a lot. (Anything that allows me to class my tea-break intuitive-slash-improvisational-slash-awkward-yet-comedic dance routines as beneficial—part of a healthy lifestyle, no less—I can get on board with.)

I wonder what the past twelve months would have felt like had we all been “shielding” instead of “locked down”. It’s strange that when the government wanted to keep us apart they coined a new term using the word “social”, and when they wanted to keep us safe they selected one eerily close to that describing being in prison. With a mental health emergency on their hands, perhaps a lexicological advisor could have helped things (but, then again, Matt Hancock might not have had one on WhatsApp). As 2021 unfurls, our freedom glinting intoxicatingly over the horizon, I commit to utilising this method of expression-substitution for words and phrases that perhaps aren’t doing me the best lot of good. The first, “sales and marketing” (scary and suited and competitive) to be replaced with “communication” (gentler, more honest, and something I have greater confidence in). Second, “being lazy” (guilt-ridden and undesirable) will be bumped off for “being kind to myself” (caring and considered). And, lastly, “2020” (the list of synonymous expletives never ending)… Now to be forever known as “a period of quiet reflection”.

Praying in the Bath

Reading time: 3–4 minutes
Reading accompaniment(s): Something wholesome. Like a Hobnob dunked in Yorkshire Tea and unabashedly devoured.

Last night I prayed. To God. In the bath. Which means, statistically, that 50% of my life’s prayers have been conducted from a candlelit tub. The other time was on the sofa, three months ago, in the midst of a coronavirus crisis of confidence. So I am somewhat of a newcomer to this whole devotional dialogue discipline. Though I must say, my prayers have—thus far—been answered wholly. Holy.

My first conversation with her holiness was born from utter desperation. Perhaps this is a common scenario from which one enters into their initial interaction with the guy in the sky. The universe. One’s deepest self. Maybe everyone who is not brought up in a religious environment comes to prayer this way. Maybe we need to feel totally helpless before we reach out in the hope that there is something there. Well, in my case I certainly felt in need of a little divine intervention. So I repeated my request about fifty times, and a few more for good measure once in bed. I woke up the following morning and my pleas had been addressed, my belief in this omnipotent force beginning to solidify.

Whereas my first foray into faithfulness in the universe centred around the wellbeing of someone close to me, the second—last night amidst Radox’s finest and Spotify’s “Relaxing Massage” playlist—was unapologetically for me and me alone. (I won’t say it was my second ever religious enquiry; in primary school I did go kosher in honour of my Jewish heritage. But the experiment barely lasted a week.)

The prayer last night was simple: Please, God, get rid of my chronic bloody headaches, tiredness and sore throats. Oh, and the cold I’ve caught from all this lack of social interaction, which has worsened my symptoms no end, would be a welcome loss too. Seeing as I’ve had blood tests, brain scans and appointments with ENT doctors concluding no abnormalities whatsoever, I figured banishing these symptoms would be child’s play for the answerer above.

But then I got nervous. Perhaps this is too much to ask for, I mused. The suffering of symptoms for years cannot be dealt with through simply one conversation with a mere acquaintance, surely? So I duly amended it: Please, God, give me the energy to combat these bloody annoying symptoms, and the energy to ditch this bloody annoying cold. Thanks. And sorry about all the swearing. This felt like a much fairer deal. I would do my bit if God did hers. And with the reduction in miracles pleaded for (pled for?) there was a lower chance of me being let down with an unanswered prayer. So I repeated the request a few times more, in my head in the bubbles in the bath, and wondered what tomorrow would bring.

Today I woke with enough energy to start my morning with yoga, sit at my desk, and actually do some work. (More than what can be said for the past few days.) Damn it! I thought. God’s only gone and done it again. Answered my bloody prayer. To the letter. If only I’d ask for a full freakin’ recovery. Then I’d be laughing.

And this has got me thinking about prayer and God and self and the like. When I formulate my prayer, adjust it for realistic expectations and declare it to myself in my head, who am I really talking to? Is God within me? (I don’t wish to be blasphemous but this is definitely an avenue to explore.) Do I have such low expectations of the divine that I need to temper my goals? Or am I aware of my own restraints and thus match these with my pleas? Or did the bubble bath get me nicely off to sleep, and I woke feeling slightly better after a good night’s rest? Who knows? Possibly God. Something to think about, anywho. But what I can say is that I sure as hell (sorry, again, G) am going to experiment with more prayers in the future. See if this model sticks. And the bath, I recommend from experience, is as good a place as any for such research.

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