Archives For Misc

A Life Well Lived

April 18, 2021

I’ve been thinking about writing something on death for some time now. Our shared global pandemic has made us all confront our own mortality and deal with the loss of people we know and people we don’t know. 

HRH the Duke of Edinburgh and Her Majesty The Queen

The death of the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Phillip, has given us an opportunity to reflect on what a full life in the public glare could look like.  I guess it is about bringing to life those things that matter to us, regardless of public opinion. In his case it was about looking after the natural world and conservation, becoming one of the founding members of the World Wildlife fund (now WWF) in 1961. Through the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme, he will continue to transform the lives of young people from all backgrounds across the world. What might it be for you and me?

Susan Sarandon and Kate Winslet in Blackbird

I’ve recently watched two moving films which also centred a life well lived. In the first, Blackbird, Susan Sarandon plays a mother dying from a terminal illness. As death comes closer, she gathers her husband, best friend, children, their partners and her grandchildren together for a final weekend.  It makes me wonder who in my life I would want to be with me if I knew it was my final weekend of life. I choose to leave that hanging, knowing that if that did happen, I would intuitively know what to do. What’s interesting in the film is that all the projections, assumptions and unfinished arguments gets addressed. It’s like there is no place to run to. We’re so good at putting off arguments or sidestepping issues but what if there is no next time for those conversations?  

Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall in The Judge

The other film is The Judge with Robert Downey Jr and Robert Duvall. Here we have a father and son who both love the law and are great at it. The father chooses public service as a judge and the son chooses to become rich by defending wealthy criminals. When the matriarch in the family dies the son returns home for her funeral.  In some ways the father and son are strangers to each other, having not seen each other for more than a decade. In other ways the matriarch was the glue that passed information about one to the other  so that they knew of each other’s lives.  

The whole process of trying to grieve, reconnecting to who they were when they last saw each other, and finding who they are now, is very awkward and uncomfortable. Everyone in the film has experienced hurt and disappointment, as only family can do. Gradually the son realises that his father is terminally ill, and this may be affecting his judgement and memory. Can this proud father allow the prodigal son to look out for and look after him? Does this angry son care enough to put his big city career on hold and be there for his weakened father? We watch them tousle with each other emotionally before reconnecting to their bond.  Eventually, just before he dies, the father says how proud he is of his son. 

I’m not sure what to take from any of these stories. Perhaps it is about being true to ourselves and what matters to us.  It is also about having those difficult conversations before time runs out. My parents have both passed away. As a counsellor I knew the importance of trying to have those meaningful conversations with parents. I tried to have those conversations with both of them and was probably more successful with my mum.  My dad was experiencing some memory loss near the end of his life so looking back was confusing for him. 

We don’t know what the future holds and how much time we have left. Just thinking of that is difficult but yet it makes me so grateful for life and health. It’s such a gift and a blessing. How can I show up in my life and in my relationships? It’s something we all need to engage with. Let me know if any of this resonates with you. Stay well. 

One Year On

March 23, 2021

Reflections on a year in lockdown

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This year’s International Women’s Day theme is ‘choose to challenge’ and as I sit here thinking of this there are so many challenges that come to mind. Women everywhere have had to challenge systems and expectations in order to live their lives. 

I’m thinking of:

  • Malala Yousafzai who challenged the traditional view of girls’ education in Pakistan. 
  • Brene Brown who is prepared to have those difficult conversations around shame and race.
  • Baroness Doreen Lawrence who fought for justice after the murder of her son Stephen – challenging the persistence of institutional racism. 
  • US Vice President Kamala Harris for daringly running for President. 
  • The Duchess of Sussex, Megan Markle, who in trying to stay sane and make a positive difference, is seen as challenging the Monarchy. 
  • Serena Williams, Michelle Obama, Beyonce Knowles, Naomi Campbell and Charlene White for forging their own path.
  • The many sisters, daughters, wives and mothers facing daily challenges.
Photo by Ibadah Mimpi via Pexels and Canva

Choosing to challenge is not an easy decision, there is often a cost. I know for myself and from my work as a counsellor that the pain of not challenging needs to be almost unbearable, so that challenging is seen as the best option. Few people challenge without cause. More often people adjust to suffering until they become unwell.

In my book, Black Members of Parliament in the House of Commons, 22 Stories of Passion Achievement and Success, you will encounter a group of women who are comfortable challenging systems and providing alternative perspectives. That is the nature of politics. They are motivated by their beliefs, values and political persuasion. 

One way to challenge a system or role is to be the first woman to do that thing.  You will read that Diane Abbott MP was the first Black woman to become a Member of Parliament. Helen Grant MP is the first mixed (Black and White) female Conservative MP. Chi Onwurah is Newcastle’s first Black and mixed Member of Parliament. Kim Johnson is the first Black MP in Liverpool. Claudia Webbe is the first female MP for Leicester East. Kim and Claudia became MPs in 2019 so this is not ancient history.  There are many places in industry, law, medicine, arts and education that can be challenged by brave women wanting more. 

Photo by Shirley Anstis. Taken at nearby sculpture park

In our everyday lives this could be standing up for a colleague or challenging inappropriate speech and behaviour in a loved one. It all requires courage. In surviving this pandemic many of us have had to dig deep and be more courageous than we’ve been before. We’ve been stronger and braver than we expected. We’ve also felt more vulnerable, and it takes courage to acknowledge that. Even introverts like myself have missed some social gatherings. We found out that we are imperfect and human! 

When you look ahead to 2021 is there anything you need to challenge in yourself or your environment? I think many more of us now have an appreciation for the simple life.  My challenge continues to be ‘less doing and more being’. Oh, and exposing my soul through my writing.

My book An A-Z for your life, discovering and revealing who you are today is a good place to start. Over to you.

This post is written to acknowledge the role of women in the world in honour of International Women’s Day 2021. The theme is  #choosetochallenge.  Co-ordinated by Attract Readers, https://www.attractreaders.com

Valentine’s Day

February 14, 2021
Happy Valentine's day
Happy Valentine’s Day

We are living in a time that is adding pressure to so many relationships. Friendships and relationships are private affairs witnessed by others. Some of us have had more time to reach out to the people we care about and others have had less time. We all give and desire a different level of support to those in our personal lives.

Valentine’s Day is whatever you want it to be. It can be a day to remember those you have loved who are no longer here. You may also remember those you loved, who brought something wonderful into your life for a time. You may think of the ones you love now, a love that has endured through challenges. Perhaps you’ve found a new love in this difficult time.

As well as giving to others we also need to remember to look after ourselves. Loving ourselves with all our flaws may be the most challenging love of all.

There are 5 love languages and this helps us to know how we show love to those in our lives and how we let others know what we experience as an act of love. The idea is that we have a primary or preferred way of giving and receiving love. Once we know this the key is to communicate that to those we love.

The 5 love languages are:

Words of Affirmation

Quality time

Acts of Service

Physical Touch

Gifts

Consider which is your primary love language and how that shows up in your life. We’ve had to make many adjustments over the past 12 months. If holidays and hugs were your main ways of showing love then you’ll be particularly challenged by all the lockdowns. Perhaps you’ve had more quality time and now value this a bit more. Or maybe like me you’ve been using online shopping for those little gifts to keep you going.

Please comment below and share how lockdown has impacted how you give and receive love.

Journal 2021

December 30, 2020

I’ve added my love of photography to my work in ‘writing as therapy’ and created a journal for 2021. You’re welcome to try it too. It has a writing prompt, space for what you’re thankful for, how you plan to look after yourself and any goals you have for 50 weeks of the year.

2021 journal
Back and Front cover of A4 journal with 50 writing prompts and 100 pages

You can be as focused or as vague as you like , just the weekly reflection should be useful. It’s my first journal so I’m excited to try it and to hear how you find it on Lulu here. Start the year with intentionality and positivity.

https://www.lulu.com/en/gb/shop/shirley-anstis/journal-2021/paperback/product-ykkzdp.html?page=1&pageSize=4

New book!

December 30, 2020

Black British Members of Parliament in the House of Commons

22 mini biographies of serving Black MP’s, including well-known names and many groundbreakers. Be inspired by their dedication and achievement, succeeding against the odds. They are all different and represent the Conservative and Labour parties. Some have been around for many years and others only entered parliament in 2019.

Black British Members of Parliament
Black Members of Parliament in the House of Commons

Meet your representatives and read what they are trying to do with the opportunities they now have. You will be inspired by some and may be annoyed by others. Find out more by ordering your copy today https://amzn.to/37YVSLt

words for wellbeing
connecting words to our memories – more info and booking here

As we are in the year 2020, I am reminded of the concept that 20/20 represents perfect vision. I feel that this is a time to connect to our inner knowing. 

A time for appreciating and making use of our insight rather than waiting to have hindsight. 

I come across so many women who know that if they continue as they are burnout lies ahead, yet it is difficult to change path. 

We are often such good listeners and take everyone’s opinions into account whilst our own voice remains silent. 

When it comes to what is best for us our emotions, thoughts and ideas are most important.

Many of us have been raised to value our thinking over any other aspects of ourselves so we tend to underestimate the messages we get from our emotions and physical sensations.

Photo credit Shirley Anstis

Pause for a moment and consider how well you know the other parts of yourself.

What does tired feel like to you?

Who or what depletes you?

Who or what nourishes you?

Is there a place that feeds your soul?

If you can answer questions like these then I’m guessing that you know yourself well. If you don’t know where to begin with these questions, then today is a good day to start your reflections.

Sometimes we’re scared to look at alternatives to the status quo. Or we feel more comfortable with the challenges we have than the new ones we might encounter if we made changes. 

Whatever the case it’s good to recognise what we are choosing and feel empowered in this.

One of the ways we can explore our inner world is through writing; jotting down thoughts, feelings, memories, hopes and fears. This is writing from our conscious and unconscious. It could be shared in a small group with others on the same journey. 

I often write like this and find it helps me to figure out my feelings about things, offers me a record of how things change and gives me space to explore possible choices. 

Therapeutic writing, as it is known, can be even more expansive and include objects, images, poems, lyrics and other stories. As I continue to learn more and facilitate sessions, I find it a very powerful and fun way to connect to and listen to our internal world. 

You can start with journaling and see how that feels to you. I will be running one session per month from April and you can book a session here to try this out for yourself. There’s nothing like experiencing something to know if it might work for you. 

Do get in touch if you’d like me to design workshops for a particular group. It can apply to many settings and life challenges. 

Here’s hoping your 2020 year is filled with more insight than hindsight. 

How do these ideas resonate with you? 

Shirley Anstis is a counsellor, author and former magazine editor. She uses counselling, therapeutic writing and mindfulness to support others to work through their past, connect to their present and step into their future. Outside of this her interests include parenting, photography, nature walks, diversity, food and films.

Book for my next session here.

Shirley Anstis, 

A beautifully unique image

I’m surprised by the women (and men) I speak to who often see themselves as half empty and lacking something. They compare themselves to what they view as perfect lives online and decide that they are not good enough.

The problem is our peer group has greatly evolved over the last decade or so. 

In the past, our peer group were people like us who lived in our communities or geographical area. They would have similar lifestyles to us.

But we now compare ourselves in a global space, with great disparities in wealth and power, to people who have vastly different lifestyles to us. They are the tiny percent who are wealthy, beautiful and celebrated. We damage our self-esteem if we constantly compare ourselves to these people and find ourselves lacking. They can help to motivate us in small ways, but our aim cannot be to become them. There is only one of you and one of me, with our very own strengths and weaknesses. Human beings are imperfect.

We do well to acknowledge all that we have learnt and experienced in our very unique life. Awareness of who we are helps us to make the best decisions. Denial of who we are encourages us to make bad decisions. 

With so many examples of success in the world it can seem that it comes easily to some. I know from my training, my work and myself that we all have struggles, although these may not be visible or made public. (On the plus side, we get to see so many different ways of living a successful life and can step towards one that resonates with us). 

Talk to the people in your life and ask them how they’re doing. You may find many are struggling with something. 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 8 young people will have a mental health problem. 

As we acknowledge #Timetotalk let’s reconnect to people in our circle, speak our truth, listen to theirs, and be non-judgemental. 

There’s a lot to be said for simple appreciation and encouragement. As we give so we receive. Everyone benefits from a kinder world. Judge less, listen more. Let me know what you think by commenting below. Thank You.

Shirley Anstis

Women, Food and God

August 26, 2019

Women, Food and God

Can we be more present to how food connects to our feelings?

I’ve been reading WOMEN FOOD AND GOD by Geneen Roth. This book came out some time ago but I never got around to buying it. When my local library was selling off old books I thought I could give it a new home but wasn’t sure what to expect.

It’s been a really interested read. As I’ve become older, what I eat and how I feel in my body has become more important than it was. I have a busy life and need foods that energise me for long periods of time. Thankfully I’ve always liked healthy food and been of average size. But I’ve also liked large Caribbean portions and that is less forgiving as I age.

In my experience ageing is not just about the body but the added responsibilities which can become stressors. This inevitably leads to a reduction of downtime and leisure activities. This means that I need to be particularly kind to my body to stay well and feel at my best.

One of the key messages in the book is that weight is not so much about what we eat as it is about why we eat when we do. It’s about being honest with ourselves and recognising that sometimes we eat when we are not hungry.

We, or others, might tell us that we deserve a treat – even though too much of that thing could be bad for our body. We might also be judged for not wanting extra cake, coffee or alcohol. In my case, I enjoy dark chocolate and I know that there is diabetes in my extended family.
Every gathering, including churches and schools, now have an unhealthy food option. It’s not enough to choose what you eat in your home or what you pick up for lunch, but you need to be prepared to make, and possibly explain, your public choices from limited unhealthy options.

What is quite clear from this book and from life, is that if we do not get to our underlying issues, then weight, via aches, pains, immobility, leisure restrictions and travel restrictions, will become the issue. We use food to express any number of emotions as well as a means to avoid staying with uncomfortable feelings. Comfort eating could be an irregular occurrence or a daily one. Can we allow ourselves to experience the difficult feelings such as disappointment, frustration, loneliness, sadness, depression, anxiety and regret without using food to keep them quiet?

The other thing she raises in her book is eating because we are impatient with the progress of our life. Let’s say we expected to be somewhere and we’re not there yet so we’re eating to avoid being where we are now. But as she says if we can’t be in the present then when we get to that holy grail of future success, we won’t be able to be present to that either.

What I take from this is that being in and with our present experience is the best that we can do. Being more mindful of why, when, how and what we eat gives us good information so that we can make better choices. Negative feelings are best dealt with rather than ignored. Therapy, journalling and mindfulness are just a few of many options to ease our difficult emotions. If we ignore one issue, we can easily create another one to add to the first – now we have two problems to work through. This is not about size or what other people think we should eat but about us – you and me – listening to our bodies as they are today. Does any of this resonate with you?

Shirley Anstis