Wednesday 26 July 2017

Overcoming Anxiety On Wheels

I think everyone suffers from some level of anxiety. Everyone except maybe the Dalai Lama and my husband. While I gather self-help books and try to meditate and 'talk' to my knotted stomach, my beloved husband seems to have been born content. Marrying him was a stroke of genius on my part.

But I'm not writing to congratulate myself on my life choices. However good life is, for me the anxiety is never too many days away from rearing its head. It's like having a heavy magnet in your stomach which attracts all life's uncertainties and holds them there, sometimes so tightly it's hard to breathe.

My experience as a learner driver has really brought it into the spotlight. Had I remained in London I might never have learned. But if you live in Mallorca you really need a car.  A town which is a 12 minute drive away can be as much as an hour and half by a bus. That's not very efficient at all when you're working as a journalist. For my first job reporting for SeeMallorca, I was relying on my husband driving me to do my job. What would Beyonce have said? Independent woman I was not.  

Today I had to interview a remarkable pediatrician called Jorge Muñoz for abcMallorca magazine. His blog for el mundo about working with  children in Chad had moved me to tears. It was to be my first time driving for the job.

The journey began a few hours before I'd even got in the car. That's the problem with anxiety. It is caused by living in the future. The mind keeps asking: what if...  Even when I thought I'd shut my mind up, the apprehension manifested in my body. I felt like I was going to throw up.

According to googlemaps it was an easy-peasy journey. A short stint on the motorway, two roundabouts and voila. Just 15 minutes. To be safe, I left very early.

Half an hour later I was lost.

"Oh my god, I've got my Dad's genes!" I cried, as I went around the roundabout for perhaps the fourth or fifth time. My father is famous in our family for getting lost.

My journey time was getting longer. 8 minutes... 12 minutes... the woman on the Googlemaps kept insisting on some exit that clearly wasn't signposted.

At some point I ended up on a quiet country road heading the wrong way. I was running late now and I couldn't afford to head on for 1km before I could change direction. I decided to risk it and turn around in the narrow little road. Three point turn? More like 33 point turn. Austin Powers came to mind. 

But I did it. I drove in traffic, joined busy roads, got my gear stick stuck on roundabouts, stopped for pedestrians, avoided double parked vans... and at some point, I gave up being anxious. I stopped being scared. I just drove.

Thanks to leaving half an hour early, I only arrived ten minutes late! As I suspected, Dr Muñoz, radiated kindness. I parked my journey to one side as I fully focused on his life. 

Afterwards, after momentarily thinking I'd lost the car in the car park, I found it, one car away from the photographer. I got back in and I drove home in 15 minutes.

I don't feel a sense of failure at having got lost. I feel triumphant that I survived every kind of road and traffic sign my absurd journey presented me with. 

I know I've written it before but I'll keep writing it, as long as it's true: The only way to get rid of the fear is to go out and do it!

I'm going to strive to overcome my anxiety by pulling myself into the present whenever the future tries to destabilise me.

As Echkart Tolle says in The Power of Now:


On another note entirely: For some light relief and to be whisked away to sunny Mallorca, try out my new novel The Hen Party

Tuesday 18 July 2017

Life Change: Mondays in Mallorca

Two years ago I didn't know anything about Mallorca. It was just that Spanish island which was colder than Tenerife.  I've no memory of it but my parents took me on holiday to the island when I was 18 months old and it snowed! I've got a picture of me looking like a Sherpa.

As for the notorious beach resort, Magaluf, which every Brit seems to have heard of, I genuinely thought it was in Greece.

It was quite something then, to see myself in the Majorca Daily Bulletin. A whole page, no less, talking about my writing journey. 

I mean, I knew it was going to be in there, I'd had an interview with writer and photographer, Vicki Mcleod, but still... from not knowing anything about Mallorca to being in the local paper introducing my new book set on the same island, well, it felt like quite a leap! You can read the article, Growing up a Writer, on Mallorca Matters. 

Another funny thing is that before we decided to move to Mallorca I'd googled bloggers on the island. I'd come across Vicki's blog and had written to her, hungry for insight.

'I hope you're well. This is a random email from a London-based (half Spanish, half Welsh!)  blogger and author, thinking of moving to Mallorca! Do you get many of these emails?!'

She had replied that she got at least one mail like that a week. It made me laugh when I found it in my inbox. I also felt pleased, and proud, that it hadn't just ended up being another wishful thinking query; that we had actually thrown caution to the wind and moved.

As I often do, in my quest for balance and happiness, I've started a new routine. I think it might just be my best yet. Although the papers talk of 'packed beaches and gridlock', I've discovered that at 8.30 in the morning my local beach is virtually empty.  There are just some happy looking older people who walk up and down in the shallow water, gossiping together.

I walk down to the beach, with pillow marks still on my face, put my snorkel mask on and submerge myself in the cool water. I swim with the fish for half an hour. I don't try to carve out lengths, I just swim wherever I fancy. I also do what one of my characters does in The Hen Party - if I see rubbish, I'll dive for it. After that, I'll scribble in a notebook while I dry up, and then I head home to work.

The other day I landed on someone's Instagram profile and his description said: There's nothing wrong with Monday, it's your life that sucks. It definitely feels like half the world spends a lot of time dreading the coming week, which seems pretty sad!

Not everyone has been so lucky in where they were born and what choices they have as I have been. But then there are other times, when you can't even imagine that your life could be different. If you aren't happy, you could start by formulating what it is you think might make you happy.  Though I only got to know Mallorca very recently, I know this outdoor lifestyle was the one I had my heart set on since I was a little girl. 

Perhaps life change can only happen when you take a moment to visualise it. A little change to your morning routine might make a world of difference.   

Thursday 13 July 2017

Face the Fear: Chronicles of a Learner Driver

Three weeks ago I was a nervous wreck. Far from liberating me, it seemed that driving had ruined my life. I was having waking nightmares about crashing the car. Avoiding driving was making me feel like a failure.

I had passed on my third try, after I'd dominated my so-called mad goat personality for the duration of the exam.

On my first day, I hit an Audi.

Yes, on the way back home from a successful 12 minute drive with my husband, I overshot a yield, nosing too far into a road. A car zoomed passed and I was so shocked by what felt was a near miss I didn't hear the beep of horns behind me. Because the entry was uphill, I started rolling backwards. BANG.

I burst into tears, climbed into the backseat and begged my husband to drive us home.Thankfully, there was no serious damage done and the owner of the car never called.

It shook me though and my fear levels grew to an unbearable level, so that I had this shadow hanging over me when I woke up. Every time I stalled the car, I begged my husband to take over. Luckily for me, he refused.

I knew I couldn't go on like this so I bought the book Feel the Fear and I tried to follow my friend's advice of going out every day alone, 28 days in a row. Apparently if you do something every day for 28 days, it brings it into your comfort zone. But I didn't go alone, I always drove with my husband.

"Just sit in the car," my friend said. "Get comfortable just sitting in the car."

One day, I did just that. As soon as I entered the car, I felt so tense. The atmosphere felt thick with negativity. Now my husband is a carefree kind of guy, but put him in the car and he's unrecognisable. If  he doesn't like how someone is driving, he will let them know. "I'm Latin," he tells me, "We do everything with passion!"

Well I don't care what his nationality is, all I know is that when I was feeling nervous and he reached over to hoot my horn while I was driving, I wanted to run him over right there and then! 

Car rage may be something passed down through family, because his father was exactly the same. A lovely, gentle man until he was in the driving seat. It probably has something to do with learning to drive in the Colombian capital of Bogota.

Anyway, so I went and I sat in the driver seat and I breathed in and out. I even talked to the car. I made friends with it. I realised the car was my friend, not my enemy. He's called Pierre actually. Don't ask me why. I started to take him around the block on my own. We live in a very hilly area so it wasn't the easiest block.

Gradually I drove a little further. I got the hang of the clutch. I stopped stalling so much. Going to the supermarket was a huge milestone because it involved parking. Pierre is not a small car; he's a 7 seater Grand Picasso.

Fast forward to today. Today  I drove my friends to the airport.  More importantly I drove back from the airport alone. When I missed my exit and ended up heading for Palma, I didn't panic. 

I reminded myself I'd done this before in class. There were cyclists and buses and motorbikes and I kept calm. I didn't stall once. I made it home. I turned off the car and I grinned from ear to ear.

My books says:

The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out and do it.

It's so true. I'll keep going out until my hands stop clutching that steering wheel for dear life and my shoulders relax.

Face the fear. I recommend it. It'll feel so much better afterwards.

Wednesday 12 July 2017

Fiestas of Mallorca: San Fermin Island Style

There I was in the patio of a rural finca, dressed all in white except the red handkerchief at my neck, packed in among hundreds of others dressed the same. From somewhere water was spraying wildly, soaking us through.

An overweight man appeared on the upstairs balcony, squeezed into a thick velvet matador costume. He had big yellow teeth and thick black glasses. He donned his cap at us and demonstrated a few fearless poses. 

An old hippy with grey sideburns bellowed into a loudspeaker beside him, each declaration eliciting cheers and applause.

The fiestas of San Fermin had arrived in Mallorca! It was going to be a great fiesta, a crazy fiesta and more importantly a fiesta without death! Una fiesta sin muerte! Because an increasing majority are coming to the conclusion that there's no need to torture animals to have a good time... 

Everyone screamed as the grotesque matador lit the firework - the chupinazo - to mark the beginning of the party. The throbbing, noisy crowds parted as the bulls arrived. The PLASTIC bulls. With big PLASTIC horns.

They charged. RIGHT INTO ME. I died instantaneously. And then died again a few minutes later. It was so packed, it was hard to move out of the way. Each time I couldn't help screaming as if I really was about to be mowed down. 

(The photo below was taken a few hours later when the bulls were having a last minute run around in the virtually empty back garden!)

A brass band struck up and we followed their happy rhythm across the adjoining patios. At one point they handed out sheets of lyrics and we belted our hearts out beneath some old arches. Water fights broke out, and no one minded getting wet, because it was boiling hot. In fact every time I dried, I looked for someone with a brightly coloured plastic gun and held my hands up, imploring them to shoot me.

It was packed and messy and hilarious and absurd and it made me think... With all these crazy fiestas, how can I resist setting another novel in Spain?

N.B The Fiesta takes place every July at the music venue Sa Possessio.

Thursday 6 July 2017

Everything is Happening Perfectly - apparently!

After successfully publishing The Hen Party and seeing sales trickling in each day, I'm eager to get on with producing my fifth novel. After all, I'm an author entrepreneur now and I need to increase my stock!

I've been working on my next novel off and on for 8 months. I should have finished by now. Instead, I keep stopping and frowning and rereading and asking myself: Hang on... is this going in the right direction?

I know a couple of the characters very well by now, but I keep asking myself: are they doing enough? Is enough happening to them? I want more action. I love books that you can't put down, that you need to know what happens next. It's not enough to have well-rounded characters; there needs to be a good story too.

I've written well over the amount of words needed for a book, but they are distributed between several beginnings. 90,000 words and still not even a finished first draft. It's frustrating and very familiar. I went through this with The Hen Party. In fact I wrote a very similar post three years ago!

When this happens I get annoyed with myself. I think about all the super prolific authors out there writing multiple books a year. What's wrong with me? I think, why am I so slow?

And then I remember an affirmation in the Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway book, by Susan Jeffers.  I was reading it to cope with my fear of driving, which thankfully I'm starting to overcome, but the advice in there applies to life in general. The author concludes her book with her favourite affirmation, which is:  Everything is happening perfectly! 

She writes: "The biggest pitfall as you make your way through life is impatience. Remember that being impatient is simply a way of punishing yourself. It creates stress, dissatisfaction and fear. Whenever your Chatterbox is making you feel impatient, ask it, "What's the rush? It's all happening perfectly. Don't worry.  When I am ready to move forward I will. In the meantime, I am taking it all in and I am learning."

Sitting at my computer, fighting the afternoon drowsiness, wondering if any of those 90,000 word are going to go towards my next novel,  I tell myself Everything is happening perfectly.

To me, this means, it's okay to be stuck now because I won't always be stuck. It means I was supposed to have written all that I've written so far, even if it doesn't go into the next book. It's just part of the plan.

Everything is happening perfectly. You can't say it without feeling slightly more cheerful, slightly more optimistic about the future.  

I've just got to trust this is all part of a bigger plan.