Long distance love – making it work

If you read my most recent article, you’d know that I’m a firm believer in the benefits of long distance relationships.

Asides from making you and your partner communicate openly about your relationship, they can also lead to individual growth and independence, essential for personal happiness and being a supportive partner.

Even if you’re not entirely on board with spending time apart, here are some real-life long-distance success stories with some helpful insights on making it work. A huge thank you to my gorgeous friends Carmela, Kelee and Rebecca for sharing their personal experiences with me!

When you’re taking things international

Carmela and Charles met overseas in 2010. A month after they started dating, Carmela moved back to Australia, whilst Charles returned to his native city of Nantes, in France. “Stupid and crazy in love, I know,” Carmela laughs.

Long Distance Love – Making It Work: Mapleandmabel.com, Josephine Walsh

Over the next 12 months, they had three overseas holidays together, and kept in touch twice a day using Skype. “We could have given up, but we didn’t, because we knew how much we loved each other and how much we wanted to make it work.”

The couple fell deeply in love and started making plans to start a life together in Carmela’s hometown of Sydney. This would present challenges on several fronts.

“Charles had studied for six years in France to achieve both a Bachelor and Master of Law, however due to the different legal structures between the two countries, [we knew] he would need to undertake another two years of study and a year of legal training before being eligible to practice as a solicitor in Australia,” Carmela explains.

They also had to do a lot of planning regarding visas, that Charles would face employment restrictions as a foreigner and was still developing his proficiency in English, as well as how he would handle leaving his close-knit family and friends. This prompted a lot of open and honest conversation about the future of the relationship.

“Whilst overwhelming at first, facing these obstacles made us communicate even more, think ahead about our future and most importantly, have complete trust in each other and faith in our relationship,” Carmela tells me.

Still together after almost eight years, the couple couldn’t be prouder of their relationship, and deeply appreciate how the challenges of long distance strengthened their commitment to each other. “Whatever difficulties come our way now, [they’re] not as overwhelming anymore. We deal with them together, with a plan and with constant communication throughout.”

If you’re considering entering into an international relationship:

  • Be proactive with arranging times to speak when it’s convenient for both time zones. If that’s too tricky to do on the daily, sending your partner a voice or video message for them to wake up to is always appreciated.
  • Have an honest discussion about how you’ll each finance your trips to see each other, as well as the long-term plans around visas or naturalisation if one or both of you plan to move overseas.
  • Good old-fashioned romance is essential to keeping the spark alive when you’re oceans apart – snail mail or unexpected cupcakes delivered to their work will never mean so much.
Long Distance Love – Making It Work: Mapleandmabel.com, Josephine Walsh
Is there anything better than surprise flowers? Unlikely.

When kids are involved

Long distance can be even more challenging when children are part of the equation. Six weeks after moving to Canberra, Kelee’s partner when to Queensland for four months of work, leaving her with a three-month old baby (their first child) and no support network. “In the six weeks we had been in Canberra I had made one friend, circumstance brought us together and she saved me from some potentially lonely times,” Kelee tells me. “I have always been fiercely independent, but finding myself suddenly single-parenting was an adjustment.”

Faced with late nights alone dealing with a screaming new-born, there were many times Kelee resented her partner being away, living a bachelor lifestyle without having to deal with the realities of being a new parent. But he was also struggling being away from his new little family, and the feeling of missing his child’s milestones were hard to handle.

Long Distance Love – Making It Work: Mapleandmabel.com, Josephine Walsh
My friend Laura’s cute-as-a-button nephew

“There were times when I missed him and really needed him – like when a kangaroo came so close to the house in the night, it was banging on the screen door, leaving me cowering under my blankets!” says Kelee. “[But], we knew it wasn’t forever and that it was, in long run, to make a better life for the three of us.”

Now a family of four and stronger than ever, Kelee reflects that the time they spent in long distance has definitely had a long-term impact. “I think it forced me to get out, make friends, explore Canberra and develop a love for my new home. It also prepared me for a future where my husband would travel a lot – two weeks apart never fazed me after that!

If you have children and you’re doing long distance:

  • Find ways for the parent living away to be involved with everyday activities and share in important milestones. This might be reading bedtime stories over Skype every night or arranging an advance birthday party when the whole family can celebrate together.
  • If you’re the parent returning from a period away, don’t override or critique your partner’s techniques, especially in front of the kids. Respect your partner’s approach and talk about how you’ll jointly carry out any suggested changes.

Long Distance Love – Making It Work: Mapleandmabel.com, Josephine Walsh

When it’s early days in the relationship

Rebecca had just left her beloved hometown of Melbourne and moved to Sydney for work when she met James. Turns out they’d lived around the corner from each other and had several mutual friends. “We once spoke on the phone for work and I commented to a colleague what a gorgeous voice he had,” Rebecca laughs.

But it wasn’t until Rebecca moved to Sydney and a dating app gave her even more reasons to miss Melbourne. “After a disastrous date with an ungentlemanly Sydney bloke, I changed my settings to match me on compatibility regardless of location,” Rebecca tells me. “James was the third on the list of results and was the most attractive.” After a fortnight of chatting, and agreeing to meet in Melbourne, they both knew that their first date would be significant. In a bold and plucky move, James kissed Rebecca as soon as she walked off the plane.

They each knew they’d face at least 12 months apart as both had work commitments. “It was the reason why we put all our cards on the table the weekend we met,” says Rebecca. “A day after meeting we had a simple conversation about wanting to be together, making it work for the year, then seeing who would move where. There was nothing daunting or odd about it.”

Rebecca’s reason for moving to Sydney was to further her career, “So having the guy I’d just fallen madly in love with in another state was actually a good thing. During the week I worked my tail off and focused on work.” Having a defined end point, regular weekend catch-ups and the knowledge that James would support her career made a huge difference to Rebecca. “James would have moved to Sydney if I wanted to stay, which was reassuring,” she says. “I wasn’t making a single-sided sacrifice.”

After four years together, the couple are now married, settled in Melbourne and have recently celebrated the birth of their first child, Tommy. “Part of why our relationship is so strong is because we communicate so well, and that was a big plus [during] that first year [apart].”

If you’re entering into long distance within the early days of your relationship:

  • Be aware that the time you spend together will likely be emotionally heightened. Not every visit will be perfect, which you may feel more intensely due to anticipation and the limited time you have together.
  • Honesty, flexibility and open communication will be key to making this work long term. You’ll both need to handle the normal hurdles of a new relationship even though you’re apart, so addressing any insecurities and be upfront about what you each need is important.

Long Distance Love – Making It Work: Mapleandmabel.com, Josephine Walsh

What was your experience of long distance like? What other tips and insights would you share to make the process easier to handle?

 

(This article originally appeared on HerCanberra, an awesome site that I write for that you should definitely check out!) 

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Flying the flag for long distance relationships

Flying the flag for long distance relationships - Mapleandmabel.com Jose Walsh, Josephine Walsh blog

Some say that absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Others say that absence makes the heart grow crazy, basically buys you shares in an airline and wracks up epic phone bills like nobody’s business.

Whichever side of the fence you sit on, long-distance relationships are a fact of life for many couples. But it seems that people rarely look at long distance as a positive experience, and instead see it as something that must be endured or avoided at all cost.

I’m a big believer that long-distance can be a really healthy thing for a relationship. I think that most people would benefit from experiencing long distance at some point in their life.

We’ve all heard that old adage that you should be happy being alone before you bring another person into the equation. That you should have a strong sense of who you are, and a healthy sense of your own independence, before you start to build a shared life with someone else.

Flying the flag for long distance relationships - Mapleandmabel.com, Jose Walsh, Josephine Walsh Blog

Rarely is life such a linear progression, and relationships even less so. We meet people we don’t expect to fall in love with, sometimes before we’ve had the time to grow into our skin. As creatures of habit, once we’re in relationships we can fall easily into comfortable routines. We share our friends, make decisions in relation to the other person, and sometimes put our partner’s needs before our own. Holidays are spent together rather than travelling alone. Compromise and growing together is part and parcel of healthy relationships, and I am in no way saying that these habits are a sign that couples aren’t happy or don’t respect each other’s own individual needs.

The reason I think long-distance relationships are an important life experience is that they are such hard work. Like, heart-wrenchingly hard work. I didn’t plan it this way, but all of my serious relationships have involved some form of long distance, whether dating my high-school sweetheart whilst in boarding school, being separated from a college boyfriend during the university break, or having my husband move back to Canada a few weeks after we got married.

Over the eight years that we’ve been together, we’ve spent about almost three years of those in some form of long distance. After meeting in Sydney and dating for a few months, my partner Marc moved to Canberra for a graduate job. Later, in 2012, his work offered him the chance to work in London for nine months, during which time we only saw each other twice. Then there were the nine months when he was basically commuting weekly between Brisbane and Canberra. And then in 2016 there was the 12-month stint in Canada (during which time we got engaged and somehow pulled off a wedding within five months. Handy wedding hint: There is a whole lot of stuff you just don’t worry about when you’re in this situation!).

In all of the instances where we were doing international long distance, there was never a question that I couldn’t have joined him, but I chose not to. I wanted to focus on my own career and build up my professional experience. I also wanted him to be able to make the most of such an incredible opportunity. And it’s not just one sided either. This year, we’re moving to London so that I can chase my dream of working for a cultural organisation, but one of the likely sacrifices is that Marc’s work will be based in Europe, meaning we’ll spend part of the week apart.

My experience in long distance relationships is that they force individual growth, examine ingrained behaviours and prompt sometimes uncomfortable conversations. I’d argue that they make any relationship stronger. Even if the relationship doesn’t last, amidst the heartbreak, both individuals come away with a clearer sense of their personal needs and what they’re looking for in future partners.Flying the flag for long distance relationships - Mapleandmabel.com, Jose Walsh, Josephine Walsh

A phrase I heard recently is that sometimes you need to introduce chaos in order to find clarity. I spoke to a few friends about some of the positives that came out of their experiences of long distance relationship.

You’ll appreciate the time you do spend together

Melissa and her partner had been together two years before entering into long distance for 18 months. “Luckily, we were secure anyway and had lived together for two years, so we were committed to making it work,” Melissa explains. “It certainly made us spend quality time together when we had it, and with technology these days, we didn’t really feel out of the loop.”

Claire agrees. “Distance gave us both the desire to spend quality time together, but also a healthy respect for the others’ independence and personal space when they needed it.” She met her now-husband Harry when the pair were just 18, and spent three years apart whilst studying. “I knew what I liked, and Harry knew what he liked,” she says. “We met vastly different people, possibly potential partners – but no one we ever liked as much as each other.”

Making plans to see each other will bring a sense of excitement and anticipation to the relationship. It’s also important to acknowledge that sometimes the person coming home will have other commitments or people they want to see, so make sure to discuss ahead of time how you want to spend the time you do have together. “It is so gratifying to feel such love for someone, when you have missed them so much,” says Claire. “I still feel the same way when Harry goes away for a couple of days, then comes home to me.”

It will improve your communication with each other

The initial conversations about long distance are always emotionally challenging, but it’s important to probe your feelings about being separated. How are you likely to feel? How will you use your support networks, or build new ones? Are there existing problems or personality traits that might be exacerbated by distance? Talking these through with your partner means that you’ll both feel more prepared for potential rough patches, and you can both consider strategies to deal with these before they happen.

Establishing a routine and being vocal about what you need to feel supported will help you both feel as connected. “We would talk every day at around the same time, [which] worked well and I stayed sane,” says Melissa. It’s important to keep in touch regularly so that both of you feel reassured and emotionally supported.

Creating shared experiences isn’t impossible, even when you’re apart, and can give you something to talk about other than your daily routine. This can be especially important if one of you is ‘staying put’ whilst the other is discovering somewhere new and exciting. Get creative by agreeing to read the same book, or watch the same show on Netflix so that you can discuss it on your next Skype date.

You each have time to do your own thing

Claire believes that the three years that she and Harry spent apart exponentially strengthened their relationship. “We had space to become our own people. We were used to having time alone and didn’t rely on being attached at the hip.” This can be especially important if you need to pour some serious energy into your work, which was definitely the case for Melissa. “I started a new job at the same time and needed to get my head around that.”

My anecdotal evidence from speaking to people about doing long distance relationships, or even travelling alone, is they are rarely something that people choose to do. It’s often something that’s forced upon a couple, the last resort, and something that must be endured. I can completely understand the resistance to long distance. But personally, I also think there is huge value in choosing to spend some time apart so that you both have the freedom and mental headspace to chase your own individual dreams. Resenting your partner later in life because you felt held back from taking that bucket-list holiday you’d planned years before you met is likely to be more challenging to deal with than a period of separation.

Flying the flag for long distance relationships - Mapleandmabel.com, Jose Walsh, Josephine Walsh

Every relationship is different, but I think we need to stop looking at time spent apart as the death toll for your shared and individual happiness. Yes, doing long distance can be frustrating, expensive, and lonely. But, it can also take your deep and meaningfuls to the next level, make you each appreciate relationship in a new way, and give you both the invaluable opportunity to grow as people.

Let’s start looking at long distance relationships as a chance for some pretty tremendous transformations, the benefits of which will last far longer than even your lengthiest Skype call.

What was your experience of long-distance? I’d love to hear from you!

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Considering a move overseas? Questions to ask and answer

Maple and Mabel blog, authored by Jose Walsh

Apparently, there are over one million Australians living and working overseas at any given time.

Until a fortnight ago, I was one of them. But it took me about five years to actually pluck up the courage to pack my bags, say goodbye to my comfortable life and move halfway around the world to Ottawa, Canada (in the dead of winter, what was I thinking?!)

Why did it take so long, especially when it had been a dream I’d nurtured since I was a teenager?

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*All* you have to do is stay

Jose Walsh blog

Often the things that look the easiest are the most challenging.

Lift. Tuck. Engage. Full. Lunge. Squeeze. Stumble.

Hold.

Try not to collapse in a pool of sweat and curl up into a foetal position on the floor.

Get up. Try again.

I set a couple of goals this year.

They included fitness goals like surviving my trek through Jordan without needing to be air-vacced out of the desert, building up my core strength, being able to smoothly move from a downward dog into a lunge, and do a handstand. I also had some other goals like prioritising activities that fuelled my creativity, stimulated different parts of my brain, and making an effort to be a bit kinder to myself.

I haven’t achieved all of those things. In fact, the only one I can say I have definitely succeeded in was the trek to Jordan, because I’m not currently writing this from a hospital bed in Amman. Yesterday when I went to the gym, the instructor had to correct basically every single station I went to, and my balance at yoga was so off I’m sure that a newborn llama would have been more graceful than I was.

I recently applied for a job that I really wanted, and thought I’d be good at. I got help from several friends, poured everything into the application, and thought I had a pretty good shot at getting to interview stage. But I didn’t get it. And I was pretty disappointed.

I felt like a failure, to be honest.

And I felt pathetic for being upset at being knocked back for what I’m sure was a very competitive role, and annoyed at myself for not being more resilient.

I let myself had a little teary moment in the bathroom, and then picked myself up and went to the gym. I reached out to all of the friends who had helped me and thanked them for spending their evenings reading through the fifth draft and picking out the passive language in my CV. And I had a big glass of red wine and a bowl of pasta that night whilst watching the West Wing, and although I’m not going to be the next CJ, I felt better.

I’m not big on inspirational quotes but I saw one recently that said that the people who look like overnight successes have been working their asses off for the past 10 years. My friend also told me about a brilliant Princeton academic, Johannes Haushofer, who published his ‘CV of Failures’ to give people some perspective:

“Most of what I try fails, but these failures are often invisible, while the successes are visible,” he wrote.

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Room to breathe

Somehow, I’ve managed to pick up three different types of infection in the last fortnight.

I’ve started feeling semi-normal in the last few days after taking a 10-day course of antibiotics, not drinking for over a fortnight, and dosing myself to the eyeballs with cough medicine.

This morning, I slept late and blearily stumbled to the bus stop

I’d forgotten to eat breakfast so I stuffed a muesli bar into my mouth whilst hazily booking in for my circuit class. Sans coffee, I managed to miss my stop and ended up several kilometres from the studio with two minutes until the class started. I found a bus going in the opposite direction, jumped on, and got to the class 10 minutes late.

But just before I walked through the door, I realised I’d completely missed the warm-up and had no idea what the exercises at the different stations were. I considered going in and trying to figure it out and risk getting injured.

I was about as focused and ready to exercise as a newborn sloth. So, I turned around and went right back home, where I had a coffee and a decent breakfast, and I didn’t feel remotely guilty about it.

I’m not her biggest fan, but Michelle Bridges apparently says that even if you don’t feel like working out, you should at least go, start, and then leave if you’re still not feeling it. That’s exactly how I felt this morning (except, ok, the most exercise I did was walking to and from the bus-stop, once I found the right one).

Over the past few months, I’ve been trying to fit into this gorgeous skirt.

I bought it in Barcelona for my birthday. It was already a squeeze when I bought it, which I guess is a lesson in not buying something several sizes too small and convincing yourself that you’ll find a way to fit it, come hell or high water.

After I went to Jordan, it finally fit, but by the time I went to wear it for a wedding recently, it was going to be more uncomfortable than I was willing to put up with. So I had a tailor let it out.

At first, I felt really disappointed in myself that I hadn’t met my goal. But then I realised how restrictive my goal had been in the first place. I I could either have this beautiful skirt sit in my wardrobe gathering dust, making me feel guilty that I hadn’t whittled my waist down enough to feel confident in it, or I could let the bloody thing out and actually enjoy it.

That’s the thing with goals – they change.

And we need to be flexible enough to allow them to without beating ourselves up over it. Of course it’s good to have a big-picture goal to work towards, and to hold yourself accountable to it. If you’ve been following along for the past couple of months, you’ll probably know that I’ve been trying to get fitter, improve my overall health and have a good mental attitude towards my body. I’m happy to say that I’m getting there by eating better, trying new types of exercise and prioritising my health. But it’s not going to happen overnight, and it’s not worth sacrificing a simple moment happiness if you’re feeling like death warmed up.

Sometimes, you’re a hot mess.

You’ll miss your gym class, or won’t hit your step count, or cave to chocolate pudding. And that’s ok. You’re human. One indulgence or morning off doesn’t have to dictate the rest of your day, or week, and make you fail in meeting your goals.

Give yourself some room to breathe.

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How to get in the friend zone

Brunch - Learning to make new friends, a blog post by Jose Walsh

So, you’ve moved to a new city and want to make new friends.

Luckily, your workplace has an active social calendar and is full of lovely, like-minded colleagues. You already know a handful of people who welcome you with open arms into their social circle. You envision chuckling with your freshly minted mates at after-work drinks, arranging group movie nights, and becoming a surrogate mother to your new bestie’s adorable terrier.

Except, what if:

  1. You’re not working, or in a workplace where people don’t really socialise
  2. You know zero people
  3. All of the above

When I moved to Canada earlier this year, I felt like I’d been thrown back into the dating pool. I realised how much my broader social network had led me to meeting people, and how tricky it is to make connections completely from scratch.

I was that nervous chick chatting with their yoga instructor after class, worried that she might think I was hitting on her when I really just wanted to find someone to enjoy brunch with.

How to get in the friend zone - blog by Jose Walsh
Girls just wanna have brunch…

I’ve also spent an exorbitant amount of time extolling the virtues of Australian coffee culture to random baristas, just for the sake of talking to someone other than the host of the podcast I’m listening to (discussions which are disappointingly one-sided).

Whilst I’ll leave the mechanics of striking up a conversation with a complete stranger entirely up to you, here are some sure-fire ways to put yourself in the friend zone.

YOUR ANSWER IS ALWAYS YES

Colleagues ducking out for lunch in the city? Neighbour invites you around for a catch up? A friend connects you to another new arrival who wants to see the latest Thor movie? Yes, you’d love to tag along.

Don’t turn down the chance to socialise, network and meet people, even if you’re not in the mood to go out or don’t have an interest in said event. You never know who you’ll meet, and you might surprise yourself by discovering an unexpected passion.

There is never a shortage of events in Canberra, and you’re sure to find something that floats your boat in the What’s On section of HerCanberra.

JUMP ONLINE TO FIND OUT WHO’S OUT THERE

Meetup is an impressive online resource which lists communities and events in your city. There is a huge diversity of Canberra-based groups that connect people with shared interests in anything from jogging to Jane Austen, breweries to book clubs, and stacks more.

Facebook also offers a plethora of Canberra-based groups, and the ‘What’s On in Canberra’ Facebook Page is another great way to find out what’s happening. Keen Instagrammer? Igers Canberra host semi-regular Instameets as a fun way to explore and photograph the city (be sure to register as places are usually limited and book up fast).

Also, don’t be disappointed or disheartened if your first attempt at joining a group doesn’t yield the bosom-buddy you’d hoped for. I joined a book club in Ottawa and only went once because the reading list didn’t align with my taste. But, I had a fun evening out where I met some lovely women, and I’m open to going again if there’s a book that piques my interest.

GET ON YOUR HOBBY HORSE

Always wanted to try your hand at pottery? Nurtured a lifelong dream of doing a photography course? Or maybe you’re kicking yourself that you missed the Italian Film Festival for like, the seventh year in a row.

How to get in the friend zone - blog by Jose Walsh

If you’ve had a slow-burning desire to try your hand at something, now is the time to do it. I took up life-drawing in Canberra last year, which not only acted as mental yoga for my brain but also introduced me to some very talented Canberra creatives. Similarly, learning French this year got me out of my comfort zone and into a café with a classmate who also didn’t understand le future proche.

Check out Eventbrite to find workshops, classes and retreats in Canberra that will fuel your creative fire and hopefully add a few friends to your network.

TAKE CARE OF YOUR BODY

Whether it’s joining a gym, signing up to an introductory offer at a barre studio, or giving boot camp a try, finding an active pursuit will put you in a healthy environment and good mental headspace to meet people. Tell the instructor you’ve just moved to the city and ask if they can introduce you to other newbies, and find out if they organise informal social events like post-boxing coffee.

I joined a yoga studio in my first week in Ottawa and thanks to my Aussie accent managed to befriend the owner, who has an adorable Yorkshire terrier and lovely husband who we’ve since gone camping with. I’m secretly stoked to being one step closer to becoming a surrogate dog mama.

How to get in the friend zone - blog by Jose Walsh
I’m taking the dog with me…

You’ll find a staggering number of fitness activities and reviews on the HerCanberra ACTIVE directory.

FIND A LOCAL PLACE TO UNWIND ALONE

Whether you’re a stickler for good coffee, keen to find a cosy nook where you can read, or love to finish the day with a glass of pinot and a cheeseboard, finding a local where you’re happy in your own company is essential when you move to a different city.

Although it sounds counter-intuitive to making friends, I think it’s really important to find a public place where you feel comfortable being by yourself. I find that spending time alone when I’m around others is good for my mental health and helps me to feel connected to people.

How to get in the friend zone - blog by Jose Walsh
No-one except the waiter to make me feel bad that I’m having wine with my french toast

Sure, you might not become besties with your barista, but it’s always nice when the staff at your favourite joint remember your name, ask how your day was, and have your double-shot macchiato ready within two minutes of your arrival.

My favourite Canberra places to fly solo are Mocan and Green GroutMonster at HotelHotelBar Rochfordand ONA Manuka – the staff at these places are all lovely, the spaces are cosy and you won’t stick out like a sore thumb because you’re dining alone. And, you might just meet someone else who’s also reading Big Little Lies that you can bond with.

How to get in the friend zone - blog by Jose Walsh

 

Remember, making friends can take time. You’re not going to gel with everyone you pluck up the courage to introduce yourself to, and some friendships might fizzle. But, if you strike a balance between being proactive in meeting people and not putting too much pressure on yourself, you’re sure to make meaningful connections.

A simple hello can lead to a million things.

This post originally appeared on HerCanberra, who have a stack of interesting things to read about! 

How have you gone about making new friends, whether in a new city or your hometown?

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Heed Yo Self – Taking Your Own Advice + Staying Motivated

Heed Yo Self - Taking Your Own Advice and Staying Motivated. Jose Walsh. Josephine Walsh. Josephine Walsh blog.

Hiya from Ottawa!

I’ve just returned to Canada after a very long stint overseas, including some much needed time back home in Australia with friends and family.

Vancouver from above
View flying into Vancouver at god-knows-what-time in the morning

I’ve been away from home for almost two and a half months, and my routine is completely out of whack. I also find that often when I’ve had a really intense period of happiness with the people that I care about most, my mood can slump a little when I’m by myself. Let’s be honest, it can slump a lot. I’m feeling pretty homesick right now.

Mark and Ghislaine Walsh
Missing my gorgeous parental unit

The fact that I’m seriously jet-lagged and its pretty nippy outside is definitely a contributing factor. I find that when I’m overly tired I can get stuck in my head and my anxiety can sneak up. Fun times! 

We’ve got just over two months left in our beautiful adopted home, and lots of exciting things to plan and look forward to. I do appreciate how lucky I have been this year. But, I need some personal goals to keep me focused, motivated and stop me from going stir-crazy whilst I’m in-between projects.

So, in the spirit of taking my advice about being open to change and making the most of my year abroad, I thought I’d share some strategies I’m trying to put in place to prevent myself slipping into a negative head-space. I’m also hoping this helps me stay motivated through the Canadian winter, which is pretty damn freezing!

Canadian mountains
Snow-capped mountains en route from Vancouver to Ottawa

I hope this is useful for other freelancers, people taking a break from work for whatever reason, or maybe those of you who are settling into a new place. Or maybe you just woke up feeling cruddy this morning and need some help getting your shit sorted. 

Muscle memory

Recently, I’ve eaten my way through the Middle East, Europe and my mum’s kitchen. I’ve been doing body composition scans and analysis over the past few months, and although I’m a bit disappointed at not making as much progress as I had expected, I am happy at how my body is remembering how to move. Even though I’ve lapsed in my running recently, I surprised myself by doing a gentle 3km jog yesterday even when my wireless headphones conked out and left me music-less.

I’m learning more about ‘slow exercise’ and have a little 30-minute workout that I’m planning on doing thrice weekly. I’m going to try out a barre class with a girlfriend tomorrow as well as get back into the beautiful (and warm!) Elevate yoga studio. I love reading the Elevate blog, as well as using the Aaptiv app to motivate me. 

Downward Dog
Not included in this image: Me swearing and sweating a lot

If you’re struggling with exercise inspo, ping me – I’m happy to be your Fitbit buddy, share healthy recipes or send you a random encouragement text (which you’ll probably get in the middle of the night due to our time difference!).

Get on your hobby-horse

I started learning French earlier in the year despite feeling totally daunted at the prospect. Although it was challenging, it was surprising how much my brain had retained from learning French and Italian at school, as well as a smudge of Latin at uni. Going to class gave structure to my day and I met some lovely people who became my friends. So, I’m signing up to re-do Level 2, which will mean I’m committing 110 hours (eeep!) to not sitting around watching Netflix with home-delivery ice cream.

Watercolours

I’m also making a concerted effort to spend more time on creative pursuits which aren’t connected to a screen. Marc bought me a gorgeous set of watercolours for our wedding anniversary which I can’t wait to dip into, and I’ve been collecting patches during my recent travels which I’m planning on sewing on a vintage denim jacket.

Patches on a denim jacket

Make plans and find someone to help you stick to them

I’ve set some professional goals for this year which includes growing this little blog. I’m a nutty perfectionist at times, so I’m trying to keep this space a genuine mix of off-the-cuff posts as well as more considered pieces about my travels and love of museums. Thank you so much to all the gorgeous people who’ve given such kind feedback and been such generous supporters. 

Making plans

One of my challenges is listing every single thing I want, need and have to do, and then struggling to prioritise. A big current focus is researching job opportunities in London, where we’ll live and planning our transition to England via Australia. All of which is super exciting but also a bit overwhelming at times, especially as there are a considerable number of variables on the table. 

So, I’ve got a master list of things thatI need to do over the coming months, and I’m breaking them down into weekly and daily tasks, and asking others to help me keep accountable.

Your new answer is yes

Invited to a work function? Partner keen to see a new movie? A friend connects you to someone who is moving to your city and wants to meet new people? Yes, you’d love to.

If you’re offered the chance to socialise, get out of your comfort zone, or indeed out of the house, grab it. The more you’re out and about and feeling connected to others, the happier you’ll feel.

Breakfast
Any excuse for brunch!

Stop feeling guilty about taking down-time

Surprisingly, I think this has been one of my biggest hurdles this year. When I was home recently, a lot of people commented on how relaxing it would be just ‘being on holiday’ all the time.

When you’re freelancing, not working a standard office job, or not working at all, it’s really challenging to set goals and manage your own time, including when you give yourself permission to unwind. It can also be frustrating when others perceive that you’re just lolling around in a café wearing your active-wear drinking endless lattes.

Jose Walsh Blog
Today I am dolling my activewear, but hey, I wrote this blog post!

When you’re not working in a conventional job, working from home or creating your own projects and managing your expectations around them, it’s tricky to hit the mark in terms of productivity. Tasks can spread out, temptations are hard to resist and productivity can dip. I’m trying to structure my day as if I was at work, so that I can relax and enjoy some quality time relaxing later in the evening, on the weekend and when I am actually on holiday.

If all else fails = wine

It sounds so simple, but sometimes the hardest thing to do is to just take a step back and acknowledge that you’re doing the best you can. If all else fails, pour yourself a glass of wine, do something you find relaxing and try to chill the hell out.

 

Are you a freelancer, working in an unconventional environment or currently not working? What are some of the challenges you experience, and how do you deal with them?

 

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Absurd things you needn’t worry about on your wedding day

Jose Walsh wedding blog

Absurd things you needn’t worry about about on your wedding day

Hands up all the brides-to-be who despite their best efforts are not feeling like glowing mistresses of wedding zen?

Jose Walsh Wedding blog
Hi. I’m Jose. I feel you.

I got married last year after being engaged for 5 months, and planned our wedding whilst my now-husband was living in Canada. Everyone told me how relaxed and chilled we were, and I honestly did try to keep my wedding stress in check. But sometimes due to factors that you can and can’t control, feeling stressed about your wedding is unavoidable.

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Just because you think it…

I don’t feel particularly comfortable writing this blog post.

But I do believe strongly that the more we talk about mental health and mental illness, the less stigmatised and isolating it becomes. I would hate for this to be considered navel-gazing or a wallowing post filled with self-pity, but as today is World Mental Health Day I thought I’d share my own experiences of anxiety and what has worked for me when it comes to dealing with it.

Just because you think it...
Shine a light on mental illness

Something I’ve mulled over in the process of starting this blog is how we represent our lives online. On more than one occasion, I’ve had people tell me how jealous they are of my travels this year, how exciting it would be living overseas, how cool my life looks on Instagram. I know that I’m incredibly lucky, and I’m very grateful for all of the experiences I’ve had so far, but I’m also not going to lie – it’s been really, really challenging as well. I thought that without the pressure of full-time work, my anxiety and perfectionist tendencies would magically disappear. Surprise! They didn’t. And with more free time on my hands, I found myself fuelling the niggling worries in my head because I had more time to devote to indulging those worries.

I’ve experienced anxiety since I was a small child, when I used to fret about why I couldn’t fall asleep. It seemed everyone but me was able to drift off into the world of nod without much effort, and everyone else was getting a good night’s rest. I’d fret about being tired the next day and not able to perform well at school. This would then snowball into a fear of not getting good grades and disappointing my parents, and, not surprisingly, keep me awake at night.

Throughout high-school, where I was a boarder, I went through intense periods of being bullied and excluded. I luckily found a group of amazing friends who pulled me through what was hands-down the toughest time of my life, as well an amazing support network in my family, teachers and school counsellor. I hate to think of myself as a victim, and usually when I think back to that time in my life, it’s with a sense of pride that I got myself through an awful, prolonged period of unhappiness intact. However, as I’ve got older, I have reflected more on that period and wondered if it has in fact had a more tangible impact on my sense of self-worth and confidence than I realised.

I often find it challenging to back myself professionally, convincing myself that my work or ideas are probably not terribly useful, creative or unique. When I first read about Imposter Syndrome, it was like I was reading someone else perfectly describe my own mental dialogue at work. Working remotely means I have to restrain myself from over-communicating, as I feel a strong need to prove that I am actually working and contributing something useful. And if something goes wrong with a project, or there’s a breakdown in a professional relationship, I’m convinced that it’s either because I’m in the wrong or didn’t work hard enough to avoid the problem from occurring.

I have a very up-and-down relationship with my body. One minute it’s this amazing temple housing healthy tuna salad, magic abilities to perform yoga and the confidence to wear high-waisted jeans. The next I’m bemoaning the fact that I look like a giant next to all of my friends, I have love handles which not even my husband could possibly love, and I may as well just drown myself in merlot before face-planting into a large bowl of pasta and be done with it.

Tuna salad
Healthy lunch on a good day. But not every day…

Does all of the above sound absolutely stupid? Of course it does. But I’m sure there’s a least one element of what I’ve said that resonates with you, or someone you care about. And although I’m lucky not to experience anxiety intensely every single day, when it does sneak up, it hits hard.

 

According to Mental Health Australia, one in five of us is currently dealing with some form of mental illness. I love how this year’s theme is ‘Do you see what I see?’, which is a call to look at mental health in a more positive light. Here are a couple of things which have helped me when I’ve been feeling low:

 

Make health a priority at your work

Although I personally love work drinks, sometimes you need other (healthier!) initiatives to get you out of a work slump and help you bond with your colleagues.

My last manager instituted a great team tradition that we would go for a group run every Thursday afternoon. Everyone was welcome, and we planned our afternoon meeting so that it was easy for everyone in our team to attend. Pace or fitness wasn’t important – it was just the fact that we all got outside together to do something healthy.

I go insane when I’m by myself for too long. Now that I’m working from home, I often go to a local café to work – I feel that I’m more productive when I’m around other people. If you work with colleagues, don’t feel guilty about spending time catching up with your friends for coffee, lunch or a walk. A problem shared is a problem halved (as long as it’s part of your break!).

 

Be ok with your own company

There’s a difference between being alone and being lonely. Find something you enjoy doing just for you, by yourself. Maybe it’s exercise, going to a movie, going to an art gallery or eating out by yourself. For me, when I’m feeling down, I try to do something that I know from experience I’m going to enjoy doing by myself.

I am also a big fan of mindfulness, meditation and yoga. Yoga Studio is a great way to build up your confidence and strength in yoga, and I also love Headspace for bite-sized mindfulness exercises.

Going to the flower market never fails to make me happy!

Take baby-steps to healthy eating and exercise

When I’m feeling crap, I find exercise really daunting. I have a big picture idea of going from 0-50 in the space of a week, and make grand plans to overhaul my diet and exercise regime. I’ve found a great app called Aaptiv, which is like a personal trainer in your pocket. I start off with regularly making time for 15 minute beginner work-outs and build up from there.

Kate Freeman is a legend in my household. She’s a down-to-earth, no bs health-writer and nutritionist who created The Healthy Eating Hub in Canberra. Her recipes are simple, delicious and filling, and she writes great posts about healthy eating which are designed for real human beings, not photo-shopped Instagram models. Speaking of which…

 

Think about who you’re following online

There is nothing more soul-destroying that going on social media when you’re feeling crap and you deliberately seek out accounts you know will make you feel even worse. Unfollow accounts that make you more insecure than they do happy.

 

On that note, I promise to keep sharing the great and exciting things that are happening in my life. But I also promise to share an insight into the things that don’t make the cut for the highlights reel.

What I actually looked like today – working on a deadline, no make up, jetlag and headcold in full swing…

 

My mental health mantra for 2017 when I’m feeling anxious, like an imposter, fat or incompetent: just because you think it does not mean that it’s true.

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Maple + Mabel: What’s in a name?

Hampstead Heath London, Josephine Walsh, Jose Walsh, Maple and Mabel blog

18 months ago, if you’d told me that I would have:

  • agreed to yet another stint of international long distance,
  • got engaged and planned a wedding in 5 months,
  • resigned from a job I loved
  • moved to Canada in the dead of winter, and
  • travelled to Jordan solo for a trek in searing summer heat,

I would have laughed the rather large glass of wine I’m drinking right off the table.

I have to say that I never thought I would be here. And I’ve discovered that in itself is a great thing. 

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