Does being in your forties suck?

A few years ago, when I turned forty, I was hi-fiving myself and walking with the sass and swagger of Beyoncé. I didn’t give a ‘you know what’ and felt a renewed sense of confidence and fearlessness. ‘Life begins at forty,’ they told me. ‘It’s all about the ‘naughty forties!’  they said. Firstly, it’s not that naughty.  Secondly, life definitely changes in your forties – it may well be flipping awesome at times, but it can also give you some almighty kicks in the teeth. It’s a transformative time and you do feel more self-assured, however, I also think it’s one of the most challenging decades to go through. I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade, but sometimes being in your forties sucks.

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Staring my forties straight in the face!

It’s a time when many people face consuming and conflicting responsibilities. They may still have young kids to care and pay for as well as elderly/ sick parents to support. Many people will experience the loss of a parent and may have difficult family decisions to make.  Financial responsibilities may rocket as most people will still have mortgages and high levels of expenditure. There may be job insecurity, health issues, divorce, the list is literally endless. With all of these challenges, comes a multitude of conflicting emotions; anxiety, grief, despair, stress and guilt. It’s a flipping minefield of a decade and will test us in every possible way.

Many of the people around me have lost their loved ones or are going through marriage breakdowns, both of which are major life-changing events, and yet when I discuss this with my friends, we all just shrug with a morbid stoicism and understanding that this is simply the stage of life we are at. It’s part and parcel of being in our forties.

It’s also interesting to note that there is research suggesting that happiness through adulthood is in fact U-shaped. Irrespective of external stress factors, the ‘happiness curve’ means life satisfaction begins to fall as we age, hitting a slump in our forties, and then picks up again  in our fifties. It is essentially saying there is a natural slump in our forties, irrespective of  any major life events or stresses, simply due to the passing of time. Marvellous! As if we need any more reason to think our forties are going to suck.

However (and here’s my silver lining), despite the many curve balls that we will face in this decade, be it in our personal relationships, family, work, finances or just the natural midlife slump, there will be growth and resilience. It’s a period of intense emotion and transformation, and all of these challenges help us evolve into more profound, compassionate and resilient beings.

So in conclusion, being in your forties doesn’t suck per se. But you are more likely to face a range of challenges in this decade that will definitely suck. The key is to realise there is also joy and gratitude to be found, and that through these midlife trials, you will grow and strengthen. In fact, you might even surprise yourself.

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When did Giving Birth become a Competition?

When you have a baby it’s a rite of passage to share every single, horrific detail of the birth with at least some of your close friends. We have a morbid fascination with the pain, the drama, the suffering, the stitches….as women, we love to talk about it. But it’s not just friends that ask for the details..sometimes random people; friends of friends, neighbours or school mums will ask about the labour. Now, it’s no bad thing to share birth stories, it can be therapeutic for the new mum and can help other women prepare for childbirth (not to mention terrify them), but since when did giving birth become a competition?

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Trying to smile through the exhaustion… moments after giving birth to Flump.

Some women take great pride in stating how excruciatingly painful their labour was. The more extreme the pain and suffering, the greater the honour. Unless you have endured some kind of physical horror or ordeal, you cannot wear this badge of honour. I was told twice by random people that I hadn’t been through a “proper labour” because I’d had an epidural.  One of the commentators was a man which particularly enraged me, given that he’d never have to experience pushing out a baby from his nether regions. The cheek of it. The other was a friend of a friend who had apparently been in labour for days and refused to take any pain relief. Eye roll. Congratulations on being such a martyr. Whilst you were screeching and rolling around in pain, I had a relatively calm and civilised labour thank you very much. Courtesy of my friend, the epidural.

There is also a new trend emerging when it comes to birth stories, with many women declaring that they had a wonderfully tranquil  natural water birth at home. Idyllic photos emerge on social media of women beaming their way through labour in the most zen-like way. It’s all peace and serenity. Whilst I’m happy for those women who don’t experience the pain and complications of childbirth, I worry about the message that is being conveyed. It almost implies that unless you have had the idyllic natural birth you are somehow less of a woman, that parenting may come less naturally to you. It all feels a bit smug and superior.

There is something about child birth that makes some women very competitive. Perhaps it’s just a sign of things to come with people competing at every stage of parenting; the first word, the first step, the first maths equation! Ultimately, every mother has a birth story to tell and none is more or less valid. Labour rarely goes according to plan and we need to have more empathy and less judgement towards each other.  Labour doesn’t define us, it’s the way that we raise our children once they are here that has far more importance and will help define our legacy.

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Book Club

I used to think book clubs were for middle aged anoraks, who were socially awkward, a little dull and had little else to talk about. A group of random people over-intellectualising everything and competing over who could make the most profound statement. Yawn. However, I’ve come to realise this couldn’t be further from the truth. Book clubs are all the rage, with multiple celebrity endorsements and social influencers reviving this longstanding tradition. In fact, book clubs are positively thriving.

Two years ago I decided to join a book club. I have always loved reading but after years of studying and practicing law, I found my love of reading dwindling. Let’s just say, analysing a thick  statute book cover to cover can sort of suck the joy out of reading. Once your motivation goes, so does the habit, and then you’re stuffed. Life takes over and instead of reading for pleasure you end up watching Netflix and checking Facebook. Anyway, joining my book club has been a revelation and I love it.

Book club meetup!
Book club meetup!

Firstly my passion for reading has been revived. We meet up once a month at a member’s house to discuss a book chosen by them. Every month we rotate which means each member gets to choose a book and host a meeting. I’ve read books that I wouldn’t ordinarily choose. Genres out of my comfort zone, and more often than not, I’ve been mesmerised (apart from one particular book about an alien that sucked me dry and shall remain nameless). Book clubs expand your horizons and motivate you to try new things.

And we don’t just sit around and eat cake. Admittedly snacks do enhance the book club experience, I’m not going to lie, but a proper book club focuses on discussion and exchanging ideas. We have a commander-in-chief, who set up the book club and steers us in the right direction when we lose focus and get distracted by pastries/cake/muffins (we’re only human, after all). We even Skype call authors and have full and frank discussions with them about their literary creations. It’s a wonderful way to gain new insights.

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Catching up on my book club reading….

The book club is also a social forum for bringing people together with a shared interest and developing new friendships. It’s an addition to my social calendar that I look forward to and enjoy. We’ve not only created a network that is fun and stimulating but one that supports. We all know that life is full of unpredictable challenges and between us we have faced divorce, illness and bereavement, and the book club has been there to offer comfort and strength.

Ultimately a book club is what you make of it (rule number 1: finish the  book) and will vary in style, structure and demographics. But once you find one that is right for you, it will enrich your life and quite possibly reinvigorate a lost passion. Plus……did I mention the snacks?

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School Disco

Flump has been invited to a school disco at the local boys’ school. Yes, that’s right, a disco WITH BOYS (insert screaming face emoji). I’m still trying to digest this disturbing turn of events and can honestly say I am mortified. She has just turned nine, attends a single sex school and most of her parties involve arts and crafts (knitting, pottery and the like), eating pizza or going to the cinema. Long may that continue, I say, as none of us in this household are ready for the school disco phase of life. I didn’t anticipate it starting until later on, at least not until senior school, but it seems I am out of date. Discos are all rage. Apparently.

What's wrong with a cupcake party?
What’s wrong with a cupcake party?

The controversial disco in question is for children aged between 8 -13. Apart from the fact that there will be teenage boys there (shudder), the event is being held in the evening, making it feel even more like a proper disco. At least if it was a “daytimer” I could pretend to myself that it was just like any other party, but the “disco” label is causing me anxiety.

I’m not sure I want to introduce this social ritual and all its complexities to my daughter so early on in life. I have no doubt that it will be perfectly innocent, with most boys skidding across the room and doing arm farts on one side of the hall, whilst the girls bust some moves excitedly amongst themselves on the other side. I’m sure it will be fun, but the thought of my daughter being in a scenario which is typically meant for teenagers, awkwardly navigating the social dynamics between the sexes, is making me tense.

Check me out with my Tina Turner hairstyle :)
Check me out with my Tina Turner hairstyle.

I remember going to my one and only school disco at the age of 11. I’m not quite sure how my overprotective, traditional Asian parents allowed me to go, but what I do recall is wearing my very best  black and white tutu dress, having a Tina Turner hairstyle and awkwardly dancing with a boy called Richard Atwood. It was embarrassing and  my first ever “slow dance” (not really as we stood about a metre apart, but we thought it was at the time). I remember feeling very conscious of how I looked and danced. I felt very grown up.

And I think that’s my issue. I don’t want my daughter, at the tender age of 9, to feel that she needs to imitate adult behaviour. Nor do I want her to be overly self-conscious about the way that she looks, or have a mindset based on appealing to the opposite sex. We already live in an over sexualised culture, where children are exposed to images and ideas that place great pressure on them to conform.  I know the time will come when my daughter will inevitably be interested in boys and attending discos, but for now, I’d rather preserve her childhood and let her enjoy the freedom of not giving a damn. So it’s a NO from me. The princess shall not be going to the ball or school disco……..yet.

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Unrequited Sibling Love

Ludoo has started following his sister around like an overexcited, bouncing puppy. He hangs on to her every word, begs her to play with him and copies everything she does…much to her irritation. Luddo is five and Flump is nine. She clearly has better things to do than to hang out with her needy baby brother. He, on the other hand, can think of nothing more fantastic. We have a classic case of unrequited sibling love in our household.

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Flump with her unwanted sidekick

Take scenario one – It’s Saturday morning and Ludoo starts shouting at the top of his voice, “My sister, where are you? I love you! Where are you?” My heart melts, silence ensues, followed by the sound of Flump slamming her bedroom door. Poor Ludoo.

Let us consider scenario two – A conversation in the car takes place as follows: Ludoo says, “I love you my big sister, I love you.” Flump ignores him. Ludoo repeats, “I really love you.” Flump remains silent and unmoved. I ask Flump, “Isn’t that nice? Did you hear your brother?” and Flump replies, “Yes, I heard him.”  I then ask her optimistically, “Is there anything you want to say back to him?” Flump reluctantly slurs, “Thanks.” Ludoo remains undeterred and continues to exclaim, “I just love you, I really do.” End of conversation.

Of course I can’t help but feel sorry for my poor little boy, but strangely enough he doesn’t seem discouraged by the repeated rejection. Occasionally Flump will give him a shred of attention, particularly if it entails giving instruction, which Ludoo will eagerly comply with.

The sibling dynamic is an interesting one. It constantly evolves and has many dimensions. I don’t for one second think Flump will continuously reject her brother’s affections. I’m sure, at some point in her life, she will start to appreciate him. And I’m also sure, Ludoo will, one day, lose interest in his sister. Either way, the sibling relationship is never static.

The Khan siblings many moons ago (which one am I?)
The Khan siblings many moons ago (which one am I?)

In fact, sibling relationships are normally the longest-lasting family ties that we have. They are with us for longer than anyone else throughout our lives and will see us through marriage, divorce, aging and death/bereavement. A positive and strong sibling relationship will help cushion us against the blows of life, and that’s why it’s so important for me, as a parent, to nurture that in my own children.

Of course sibling relationships aren’t always easy in adult life. The close history that siblings share can also create tension, and often differences will arise over family related matters. Or sometimes siblings will just drift apart because we don’t invest in these relationships in the same way that we do other relationships. We tend to take siblings for granted.

Ultimately I have no control over how Flump and Ludoo will interact later on in life. All that I can do is set the foundations for their relationship now by reiterating the importance of family and respect. I try to set up activities which they can enjoy together and which foster teamwork. I try to set an example by remaining close to my own siblings and maintaining regular contact. I hope, with time, Flump will become more receptive to her brother’s affections and realise just how lucky she is to have such an adoring younger sibling. He may annoy the heck out of her now, but in years to come, he could well be her anchor should life ever become stormy.

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The Tween Years

When you gaze at your offspring and lovingly ask them about their day, only to be met by an eye roll followed by a grumpy silence or a monosyllabic “Fine,” you know that you are in the next phase of parenting. Or perhaps you try to hold your beloved’s hand down the street and they quickly remove themselves from your grasp. Sob. The worst is when you offer some perfectly useful advice and they act like you are some sort of thicko who knows nothing. Sigh. These are all signs that your child could be in the midst or on the cusp of the tween years. That murky period between being a little child and a teenager. It’s not always plain sailing and can come as quite a shock to the poor, unsuspecting parent.

Tweens, preteens, tweenies (or whatever you want to call them) range between the ages of nine and twelve. They are inbeTWEEN being a child and an adolescent and are no longer the cutesy, cuddly, wide-eyed little dumplings they once were. Nope. Far from it. Cue the moody, gobby, defiant little person who thinks they know it all. They still have their moments of cuteness, but generally these are replaced by irritability and backchat. It’s a beautiful time. No one ever said.

My very own tween..
My very own tween..

Flump is in the throes of tweendom. She talks to me like I’m the child and repeatedly tells me to “Calm down,” or “Stop it, Mummy,” with an air of exaggerated superiority. Sometimes I find it mildly amusing, a lot of the time I don’t.  She will argue with me over every single possible thing in an articulate and bold way. The next minute she will have the mother of all meltdowns, as a stark reminder to me that she is still only a child. It’s all a bit of a conundrum. Tweens act like they are reasonable, rational little people one moment, and like deranged toddlers the next.

So how should we parent these odd, prickly, preteen creatures? Here are my tips:

  • Have minimal interaction with them
  • Ignore them for a few years
  • Threaten to embarrass them publicly
  • Shout them down.

Okay, perhaps these aren’t realistic options. A more sensible approach would be to:

  • Acknowledge this is a period of emotional and physical change for your child (talk to them about these changes)
  • Listen to their views and respect their choices (they may not want to play piano/violin/ do gym/football anymore. Privately lament the thousands of pounds spent on them)
  • Give them more independence (don’t micromanage their time or homework, for example)
  • Don’t baby them (note to self; do not cling to them like a needy leech)
  • Don’t argue with them (good luck with this one!)
  • Continue to give them kisses and cuddles if  they want them (unlikely to be in public)
  • Continue to give love and support
  • Creep into their bedroom at night to gaze at them adoringly as they sleep (so as not to incur their wrath).

If the above tips don’t help then you’re on your own, buddy. But you can comfort yourself with the knowledge that it is a transitional stage and a natural part of your child’s development. A bit like metamorphosis, when the hungry caterpillar transforms into a beautiful, radiant butterfly. Except that it’s not. It’s more the converse; when your beautiful, rosy cheeked cherub transforms into a grumpy, cantankerous teenager. That being said, I hear it gets better once they’re eighteen.

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Watching TV in bed

There are broadly two types of people in this world; those that think there is nothing more satisfying than watching TV in bed, and those that vociferously object to it as the ultimate passion and sleep killer. Telly conflict between couples is extremely common. Forget Brexit, austerity and NHS shortages, the debate over whether to have a television in the bedroom is one of the most controversial and prevalent issues of our time. It’s very difficult to resolve, and one party will always end up feeling hacked off. So which camp do you fall into?

Personally I LOVE watching TV from the comfort of my bed. It’s snug and warm and  I can’t think of anything dreamier. It’s like being wrapped up in a giant marshmallow; everything is soft and cosy. It’s pure self-indulgence and the ultimate way to relax. I remember when I first had baby Flump, I was so shattered by the end of each day that I just wanted to lie in bed and watch mindless telly for a while before tending to the next feed. It was a way for me to be entertained and exhausted simultaneously. I loved it. At that point the Old Git had no choice but to tolerate it as he didn’t want to trigger any new-mum hysteria. These days, however, he’s not so compliant.

This bedroom is calling out for a TV!
This bedroom is calling out for a TV!

The Old Git thinks having a TV in the bedroom is a cardinal sin . He hates it. Fortunately for him, when we moved house, the bedroom telly got the chop and has never been replaced, much to my dismay. He has a completely different vision of bedtime to me (yes, even after 12 years of marriage). He envisages a blacked out, silent room with no wind down period before bed. He just hops right in and goes to sleep. Whereas I like to have a ritual, a bit of reading, pillow talk or TV. I’ve read all of the research about screen time being bad for you before bed and keeping you alert (truth be told, I’d never let my kids have a TV in their rooms for that reason) but I’m a fully grown woman and can do what I please! Except that I can’t. Because of a certain Old Git.

Forced to camp out in the living room..
Forced to camp out and watch TV in the living room 🙁

There’s no end resolution in sight (headphones and eye masks have gone down like a lead balloon with the Old Git). I’ve just had to suck it up for the last few years and resort to watching the TV downstairs (how uncivilised). But I think the Old Git’s good fortune is about to change. I’ve been eyeing up a TV screen and know exactly where I’ll put it. It’s his turn to suck it up. That’s how marriage works after all. You just take it in turns to be ticked off. It’s the fairest way.

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Empty Nest

A few of my friends have older children who are getting ready to leave home and start university. They all appear to be very calm and collected about it and are preparing themselves and their children for the transition. Many have been teaching their kids how to cook, how to do their washing and maintain their finances. It all seems very civilised. Cue and contrast my own vision of what will happen when my kids leave home. There will be a lot of dramatic sobbing (from me), lots of gesticulating and lots of emotion. I picture myself grabbing hold of Flump by one leg, being dragged across the room as she tries to shake me off and make a swift departure. It will NOT be pretty and it WILL be dramatic. Nothing fills me with more dread than having an empty nest and seeing my friends prepare for it is giving me palpitations.

Letting go isn't easy:(
Letting go of our children isn’t easy

Some of my friends are in fact insisting that their beloved cherubs “live out” and do not reside too close to home so that they can develop their independence and have the “full university experience.” Say what???  I know that all sounds very sensible and pragmatic, but for me, I can’t think of anything more traumatic. Sob.

Letting go of the little babies that we once rocked and cradled is not an easy process. We invest so much of our emotions and time into them and watch them grow up with such alarming speed. I still think of Flump as the round, cuddly baby who would bounce around and giggle in her rocker chair, and of Ludoo as the pukey little bundle who would cling to me and howl continuously. Fond memories indeed. And now, here I am, contemplating their departure from home.

Ultimately we just want the best for our children, and that will often mean swallowing a chill pill. It’s a natural parental instinct to protect but a more damaging one to control. Our kids have to find their own way in the world and it’s our job to prepare and enable them to do that. After all, my own parents did the same for me, and look how well I turned out??? (No comments please).

Our children have their own paths to follow
Our children have their own paths to follow

Our children will eventually and excitedly head off into their new worlds, and we will be left, to some degree, with an empty nest. Hence it’s important for us to keep ourselves fulfilled by developing our own interests, activities and projects away from the kids. It may help to ease the transition. Heck it may even be an opportunity for us to reconnect with our other halves and rekindle what we may not have previously had time for. It’s never too late for a bit of romance. Or better still, how about a world cruise?

Although I have some way to go before my own offspring leave home, I find myself trying to mentally prepare for it. I may be excitable but I’m not deluded. It will happen and I will have to deal with it. It keeps me focussed on really making the most of the time that I have with them now and on creating positive childhood memories. Whilst the early days of family life are, without a doubt, precious, who is to say the years ahead won’t bring with them a new quality of life and connection with our kids? I really hope that we will be able to laugh with them and enjoy them in a new way; as friends, as confidants and as trusted companions.

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Booking a Holiday

I may just be the only person I know that hates booking a holiday. To be precise, I love going on holiday but the process of researching and booking one is, quite frankly, horrific. I have spent many a fruitless night on my computer searching for that elusive holiday and many an afternoon speaking to various travel agents, only to end up feeling completely and utterly defeated.

Hotel, apartment or villa? All inclusive, half board or bed and breakfast? City or beach escape? Somebody shoot me now. The most frustrating aspect of all of this is that just when you think you have found a super duper deal, you go away and think about it for twenty four hours only to find out that the price has increased when you return to the website. At which point both fury and desperation kick in.

Dreaming of that summer holiday..
Dreaming of that summer holiday..

The growth of online travel bookings means that you can find some great deals, but often the process is seriously painful. A lot of the time, the price on display isn’t actually the final price, which normally depends on variables such as flight time, departing airport, insurance and baggage allowance. These can totally transform the price. You have your hopes raised and then dashed. It’s like a flipping emotional roller coaster.

And even if you go down the more conventional route of speaking to travel agents on the phone, this doesn’t always end well. I remember once speaking to two different agents to see who could give me the best deal for a holiday to the Maldives. After saying thanks but no thanks to one of them (very politely, might I add), he then sent me what can only be described as a break up email, saying that he felt “very, very disappointed…and cheated.” I felt like some kind of love rat and couldn’t bring myself to ever call that agency again. A roller coaster, I tell you.

Beach life..
Beach life..

The biggest obstacle for me is TripAdvisor. I love it and I hate it. I find myself checking every single hotel on it, only to work myself into a complete state when I find some single, random comment about rats or stray dogs roaming around the resort. Shudder.

Of course, I could relinquish control of the holiday booking process and allow the Old Git to sort it.  However I think that would be far too harrowing for the both of us as I’d be thinking about all the worst case scenarios and he, quite frankly, doesn’t need the drama.

You’d think after years of going through the same wretched process, I’d find it a little easier and learn from my mistakes. But no. Not I. Each and every year I go through the same blood, sweat and tears to find my dream family holiday. One thing I have learnt, however, is that once it is all booked NEVER ever read reviews of the hotel from that point onwards as it’s inevitable that you WILL find a complete shocker, and NEVER ever look at prices as you WILL find it cheaper. Trust me, it’s sod’s law. Sometimes, ignorance really is bliss.

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Where is my Mojo and How can I get it Back?

If you frequently wake up wanting to slap somebody in the face for no apparent reason or find yourself eating your way through three packets of Doritos (giant size), then you know things are BAD. You may feel frumpy, unmotivated or just generally stressed out. Life can do that to you. In fact, sometimes life can feel categorically crap. You may find yourself wondering, where the hell is my mojo and how can I flipping get it back?

Any kind of setback or crisis can leave a person feeling depleted. A breakup, bereavement, job loss or financial struggle can all take their toll. Sometimes it might be something far less obvious like a general lack of direction or midlife crisis (so cliché –yawn). Every person will experience some kind of knockback in their lives and sometimes it can shatter, if not decimate one’s self confidence and sense of being.

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Feeling grey and dreary?

The worse thing about losing your mojo is that you suddenly become acutely aware of how wonderful and successful everybody else is. I mean, how is it that your mate has got ANOTHER promotion at work? And how is it that your other friend is going on her fifth exotic beach holiday of the year? Really? Granted, this may sound a tad bitter, but actually it’s not that you begrudge your friends or want them to do badly in their lives; it’s simply a reflection of how you perceive yourself and a reminder that you need to restore your confidence and zest for life.

For me, getting active is an excellent way of reclaiming one’s mojo. There’s nothing quite like a bit of shimmying and shaking at Zumba to lift one’s spirits. I may not be Beyonce, but for one hour I can relive my clubbing days, albeit on a Monday morning after school drop off.

As well as keeping fit, taking up a new hobby can also ignite a bit of enthusiasm in one’s life. Photography, a musical instrument, sport or something more sedentary like painting or reading perhaps? (I draw the line at gardening though as its screams of middle age and THAT is too confronting for me).

It’s also important to lighten the load if you are feeling stressed. Whilst it’s great to be busy and active, it’s also necessary to give yourself time and space to be still and calm. Go away for a spa weekend and rest. On the rare occasion that I’ve done it, I have felt like a flipping celebrity. The sheer indulgence and civility of it all is beyond exciting!

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Nothing like a spa day to lift one’s spirits!

And make lists. Set yourself some small goals, tick them off and then feel a sense of achievement. You don’t have to run a multinational organisation to feel productive.

Finally, one’s mojo is ultimately a state of mind.  We have to accept that we can’t change what has already happened in our lives. But what we can do is focus on all the things that we do have and be grateful for them. Gratitude is such an uplifting and healing emotion.

So if your mojo has gone walkabouts, and life feels decidedly dreary, do not fret. Even after a prolonged period of missing mojo, it’s perfectly possible to find it again and reclaim it. Seek help, speak to friends, try new things and persevere. Once you find it you will feel alive again.

 

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Musings of a Harassed Mum