The loss of Anthony Bourdain this week hit my family hard. He was one of the few celebrity chefs we knew of back in the day, before this culture of celebrity chefs was really a thing. The charismatic and adventurous New Yorker put a solid two middle fingers up to any kind of health food fad or pretentious, showy, Hollywood sensationalism and instead let himself be immersed in what truly mattered: culture and cuisine.

Having grown up abroad, this resonated with me. The foods I was exposed to growing up – particularly in my early childhood in Morocco – have shaped the person I am today in many ways. I am bold, adventurous and forever on a quest to try new things. Anthony Bourdain spoke to that part of me. The explorer. And the part of me that is captivated by the Human Condition, as was he.

I remember watching episode after episode of A Cook’s Tour and No Reservations, fascinated as Bourdain would take himself around the world, trying the most diverse array of foods. He would laugh and ask questions and learn from his hosts and had this way of making those places commonly left off the map newly desirable locations for foodie enthusiasts watching from around the globe.

Although these days I eat in such a way that I try to minimise my environmental footprint, I still can’t help but have a place in my heart for what Bourdain stood for, underneath the surface; food as a vessel for the coming together of people. And food as an art form. Food as the medium through which a culture can express itself and tell its story. Even if those foods include a bunch of things that we know in this day and age we would be better leaving off the table to preserve a healthy planet. Much of the world eats what’s local and what has helped them survive for millenia. Those foods mean something, regardless of whether or not they fit into the current desirable paradigm of ‘sexy vegan cuisine’.

In much of the world, people have a far more intimate relationship with their food than those of us surviving on microwave dinners and single-serving fruit cups purchased and consumed on the go. In these places, food is an experience. Every moment, from the sowing of seeds or birth of new livestock through to the nuturing, harvest and preparation of meals, culture is comprised of the life cycle of food as a whole. We are who we are based on how we deeply we interact with that life cycle.

The headline came through this week that Bourdain had died by suicide and I couldn’t quite believe it. He was so full of life, so fascinating and had so much going for him. How could this be? What drove such a successful person to think this was the only way out? We’ll never know and I sure as hell have no place speculating.

Many people around the world commit suicide every day. That sentence makes it sound like I wrote that without emotion and – believe me – that couldn’t be further from the truth. But I must state the fact; they do. And the majority of those people won’t raise global alarm because they are everyday people with small social circles and their cases considered ‘ordinary’. But whenever a celebrity does it, it always makes the headlines and it’s easy to see why.

Celebrities appear to have it all, don’t they? The status, the money, the power. They’re at the top of the foodchain. They’re the people we should all look up to, right? They had a big dream, worked hard to achieve that thing and have the luxury lifestyle that most of us will only ever aspire to. Get rich or die trying, right?

So how can it be then, that these people with their perfect lives can fall down a cavern of darkness so deep that the only way they know how to escape is through suicide? Ding! You got it: their lives aren’t perfect. I know. It’s a revelation. In fact, the enormous pressure of feeling so bad when you’re supposed to feel the polar opposite can near drive a person to insanity. I’m no celebrity (chef or otherwise) but I certainly know at least a thing or two about feeling the unbearable guilt of asking the universe why you don’t feel better; why you don’t feel the sum of all the wonderful things that you can list about your life. Those things that, of course, you are grateful for. But somehow, those things aren’t enough.

I spent most of 2016 wanting to die. It was the only viable option that I saw for myself. The only way that things would get easier would be if I didn’t have to keep going at all. I felt a million miles from the kind of life that I wanted for myself and a ten-tonne weight bore down on my chest everytime I’d look at all the boxes I ticked which said, ‘hey girl, you’re doing better than most’ and felt an emptiness outweighing them all.

I sought therapy and reduced my work hours and those decisions were the catalyst that turned things around for me and eventually made me come off hormonal birth control which made me realise that that had been about 80% of the problem all along (read more about that here). And after all of it, when I finally felt my ‘Day 1’ of starting afresh, do you know what the most common response was, from the majority of people who knew me best?

“Wow, I never knew you’d been feeling that bad. You always seemed so happy.”

Some of us can hide ourselves under layer upon layer of responsible adulting that can create such an opaque mask over what’s really going on inside that even those closest to us wouldn’t be able to guess in a million years. We still go to work. We do the grocery shopping. We run our errands. We fulfill all of our familial obligations. We make jokes and we laugh sometimes. And meanwhile on the inside we are empty and lifeless.

It really surprised me that my sharing this newfound joy with others elicited such an unexpected response. In my head I had been a shell of myself. How could my closest friends, family and boyfriend not know just how low I’d felt this whole time? How was that even possible?

And then something like Anthony Bourdain’s suicide happens and suddenly it all makes sense. No matter how well we think we know each other, the truth is that none of us are mind readers. And so it is paramount that you ask questions and cultivate your empathy to try your best to step into the shoes of those that you love if you want to truly support them. And not just when they’re turning to drugs or alcohol or sex to numb the pain. Much before that. In the everyday.

These celebrity deaths, as heartbreaking as they are for everyone who’s lives they have enriched, are so vital in triggering a reality check for us all. They show  usthat celebrities are, well, people. First and foremost, they are humans with complicated emotions and brain chemistry and inner demons. You can have all the money in the world and a team of staff and great career prospects and plenty of vacation time, but you are not exempt from those demons that prey on us all. You are not exempt from trauma and heartbreak and loss and yourself.

I didn’t know Bourdain and which demons got the better of him in the end. Or well-known fashion designer, Kate Spade, who too was found dead in her apartment from suicide this week. My heart bursts with sadness for those closest to them and their millions of fans around the world. But I hope we learn from this. I do. May they get conversations flowing and may humanity change in their wake.

Photos via Paper City Mag, GQ

 

May has been and gone in the blink of an eye, but boy, what a month it has been! I write this from the patio of my new home, freshly returned from a spot of frolicking in the wilderness of Colorado and the Pacific Northwest. It’s a hard life, isn’t it?

It’s a weird thing coming back from your vacation to the unfamiliarity of a new home. Jetlagged and in desperate need of both a shower and the use of a washing machine, I knew not how to work the shower and scalded myself in my delirious state and my washing machine hasn’t yet arrived. It feels a bit like I’m still traveling; still on the journey. And I suppose I will be until I’ve settled in and made this bombsite feel like home. But in the meantime, I have a south-facing garden that is a heavenly oasis upon which to sip my morning brew. Life could be worse.

I digress! The subject of today’s post is an account of an important lesson I’ve learned. One I want to shout from the rooftops! Schooltime with Kennedy, if you will. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it absolutely has a tendency to lurk in plain sight; fooling us all. It’s the key to happiness; to fulfillment; to contentment. You’re dying to know, aren’t you?

I was stateside this past month visiting friends for the first time in a long time. It was much-needed after a very stressful couple years. So, we packed the trip full to the brim and explored far and wide, leaving little time for twiddling our thumbs. That suited me just fine.

If you’re fortunate enough to have done your fair share of traveling, you’ll likely understand what I mean when I say that some places call to the soul more than others. It’s never logical, either. It’s entirely emotional and mysterious and magical and shouldn’t be stared at too closely. A bit like the sun. These feelings guide us; in tune with our gut instinct and our sense of spirit that drives us from our very foundations, these sensations are to be respected. If you simply don’t like a place – even if you can’t quite articulate why – trust that that’s enough. You don’t need to psychoanalyse all of the sensations. The beauty of our incredible internal guidance system is that it can handle the wheel remarkably well, if only we let it. The struggle comes when we try to slip into manual override as though we know what’s best for ourselves (we don’t).

It’s impossibly difficult to follow your gut instinct 100% of the time, though I believe that it is in these moments that we faulter that most of our mistakes can be linked to. How many times can you recall saying to yourself, “I knew I shouldn’t have trusted him!” or “I knew I had a bad feeling about that car,” etc? If it’s anything like me, your response is “countless”.

If we all learned to follow our guts a little more and our brains a little less, we’d be well on the way to living happier, more fulfilling lives. The whole point of life; all we ever try to do (whether we’re consciously aware of it or not) is to follow our joy. These is no feeling remotely comparable to the immense satisfaction of feeling like you’re in the right place. Where you’re meant to be. It stimulates this sense of home or belonging that could never be matched by bricks and cement alone (no matter how physically beautiful the structure). Akin to the “flow state”, following your joy is the practice of choosing to pursue what feels good, because, well, it feels good.

It sounds easy right? It sounds So. Damn. Easy. But it isn’t. Especially if you’re not in the practice of doing this already. In fact, for most of us it is the complete opposite: a challenge that must be chipped away at, like Michelangelo’s David. Our brains tell us no, but our body is telling us yeeesss (#sorrynotsorry for that). If you’ve been raised to believe you’re a smart girl (or guy) who has always done the logical thing, you’re essentially on a par with a newborn baby in terms of life experience following your gut. Scary thought, huh? Although actually, the baby has an advantage, somewhat. At least they are starting with a clean slate. You might well have to undo years of terrible decision-making and face things like ending your relationship, changing careers or moving halfway across the world to get back on track with your soul’s desires.

But before I scare you off, let me emphasise that any trade-offs end up with you better off every single time. One hundred percent success rate, people! Suddenly it doesn’t seem so bad right? Any uncomfortable, intermediate stages of stress/anger/sadness/frustration are only fleeting, soon to be replaced by better-than-your-wildest dreams kinds of things. Alluring, huh?

The process for following your gut is incredibly simple really; you make all of your decisions based off of feeling rather than logic. It can certainly take some practice though, so here’s a good place to start if you really feel like you have no idea and are, like, totally overwhelmed by this potential lifestyle change.

  1. Start small. Rome wasn’t built in a day and all that jazz. Start with decisions as simple as which brand of lotion to buy, or which hot drink to order in the coffee shop. Practice the art of making choices that are totally in line with where you’re at on any given day.
  2. Get familiar with “the feeling”. If you’re totally out of touch with your gut instinct, a really easy practice to follow is taking some time out in a quiet seat or lying flat on your back. Place your hands to your solar plexus and then, allow your thoughts to drift over the following, paying attention to the sensations that arise in your body:
    1. Your pet
    2. Your partner
    3. Your child
    4. Your favourite vacation
    5. Someone who has let you down
    6. Something unjust going on in the world right now
    7. A time that you hurt someone

You’ll notice that there is a feeling signature assigned to each of the above. You can choose to articulate the emotions either aloud to yourself or written in a journal if this helps. The point is, notice the physical sensations that arise as you think through all of these different things. When faced with a new decision, our gut will echo these sensations. It’s important that we take note and pick the one that is uplifting rather than the one that causes that heavy, knotted sensation at our core.

Life is indeed much like Forest’s box of chocolates. You really don’t know what you’re gonna get. But making decisions that are aligned with our gut instinct will either generate more of the good stuff, or more of the bad. I know which one I’d rather. I encourage you to follow suit.

I’ve come to realise something that’s really thrown me. And if you know me well, you’ll know that I live for this kind of stuff. I’m game for anything that turns my thinking on its head and forces me to reassess my perspective and where I stand. Because after all, what is life if not one big, long, lesson? Some parts more comfortable than others.

Let’s backtrack for a minute to last September when this all started. I took a month off social media and boy, was that a good call. You can read about it here, if you like. It allowed me to gain some all important perspective on why it was causing me so much stress; why I was oscillating between trying to convince myself I could handle it one minute and then wanting to run in the other direction the next. The lesson learned was simple, really. I was struggling because I’m a human. An imperfect, emotional human. And last I checked, everyone else using social media is human too (alien conspiracy theories aside), which must mean that the things I was feeling were being felt by everyone else too. More on that later.

The entire point of life is to experience joy and make connections. No, not the superficial kind consisting of follows and likes, but the kind where communication takes the form of body language and expression. The kind where ideas are encouraged and something beautiful churned out because two heads are better than one. Meaningful relationships where we see the bad alongside the good in a person and accept it; supporting them and understanding why they are who they are by really seeing them through walking a mile in his or her shoes.

But we’ve walked a dangerously sharp knife edge as we’ve let social media rule our lives in recent years, without really understanding that it cannot ever be a substitute for genuine, human interaction. It isn’t a supplement; It’s just another way that we can spend our time.

As soon as I realised this, I was freed. It was really that simple. I had wriggled free of its tight grip that had suffocated me for so long. That, and realising that it was a tool that I could use to start conversations and implement social change; a way of sharing my lifestyle and beliefs in the hope that I could encourage others to make different choices; choices that I believed were kinder to our environment. But don’t get me wrong; I don’t know all the answers and I openly welcome a discussion around anything that I post about. It’s how I learn. I’m self-assured, but at the same time I understand that I don’t know all the solutions and sometimes I am wrong.

When I came back from my month off social media last year, I also made a pretty huge life choice; I came off hormonal birth control that I had been taking for near on a decade. That’s a whole other topic (that you can read about here), but one that also fits into the puzzle. It allowed me to get to know my true self for the first time in years. Kind of a big deal. And in the process of transitioning from numb human to sprightly self, I realised that something else had been bumming me out as I’d been trying to “do” social media; I wasn’t really following those who inspired me. So, I switched my focus from brands and individuals who didn’t seem to have values that aligned with my own and I tell ya, it made all the difference.

These days, I relish the fact that I’ve been able to cultivate some really special connections with actual humans who are passionate about the same things that I am interested in. We encourage each other, educate each other and shine as bright little beacons in a world that often feels very dark and cold. It’s a world that feels like it can break you and beat you down and, well, win. And that’s why social media isn’t the problem. It’s the scapegoat.

The various avenues of social media have never been the cause of our anxiety, misery and loneliness as I’ve seen them portrayed to be and as I, too, believed. They’ve never been deleterious to our health. What we have been and continue to struggle with is our own shadows; the work that we need to put in for ourselves to be better, to heal and to succeed. We are a broken people raised by parents who never knew any better and brought up in an education system that does us no good. We are square pegs meticulously forced into round holes and we’re deeply unhappy because we have this yearning to be more creative than society is set up for us to live and thrive in.

We’re expected to be happy and have our shit together at all times. Because God forbid we openly admit that we’re not doing so great. God forbid that we ask for the world to cut us some slack and give us some breathing room. There’s money to be made and mouths to stay locked and emotions never allowed to see the light of day.

Only, time’s up, isn’t it?

Ah, yes. We’re at tipping point. In all aspects, from all angles, a paradigm long overdue a shift in a different direction. Because the world will keep on turning and technology keep on churning and there’s only one way to keep up: to wake up.

I look at social media now and I see it for what it is: a marvelous, beautiful, expansive tool that can be used to change the world for better. And I’m already seeing it: exponential growth in encouragement and cultivation of ideas and momentum continues to build each day. If you’re struggling, know that you too can learn to see things from a more positive place, but only if you put the work in first. We need to stop blaming social media for all of our problems and instead look in the mirror. All that social media does is highlight our shadows; those parts within us that need care and attention. It’s hard work and perfectly natural to want to turn the other way rather than put the effort in, but use those uncomfortable truths as focal points for where change needs to be made within yourself. I cannot encourage you enough. Only when you’re all right shining a light on yourself because you’re proud of who you are and truly want to encourage others to be their best selves and the world a better place will you feel comfortable using social media. 

Take the time off, do the work and come back stronger. You can change the world, but first you have to change yourself.

Happy New Year!

Whether you rang in 2018 with vodka shots and an all-night bender, a glass of bubbly next to the fire or slept the midnight chime, might I suggest taking some moments during this first week to meditate on the year that’s passed and plan for the year ahead.

Trust me, I am not about to be all resolution-preaching. In fact, 2017 was a year of monthly challenges for me instead which culminated in something pretty big. Take a read over here to see what I mean. Over the years, I’ve seen resolution after resolution dissipate into nothingness; sometimes before January has even come to a close. We have these really powerful intentions and know the ways in which we want to better ourselves, but there’s just something so completely impossible to adhere to. General resolutions are vague. We humans need a little more structure, I’ve come to realise.

So, if you want something a little different, here are some ideas for things you can do in 2018. See if one resonates with you. All offer the opportunity for self-growth and actualisation. Plus, the challenge likely will appeal to the competitive amongst you. So, without further ado.

1. Read 52 books. 52 weeks in a year, 52 books you can get through. This is a pretty hefty goal and it really might not be possible for the busiest of folks. However, if you have the luxury of time, put it to use by doing something you’ll be incredibly proud of come this time next year. Select a mixture of fiction and non-fiction. Some could be classics, others instructional, others historical. Learn about our world, bask in creative genius and study something new.

2. Daily Journal. Even if it’s only a few lines while you’re sipping your morning coffee, buy yourself a journal and record your thoughts every day for the next year. These are always immensely satisfying to look back over and see how you’ve grown, what’s bothered you and what you’ve enjoyed. Time has this way of slipping through our fingers and with it goes those beautiful little daily moments that we soon forget if they aren’t recorded. In 10 years time, you’ll treasure this creation.

3. Learn something new. Sign up to a class in that one thing that you’ve always wanted to learn and dive in. No one likes feeling like a newbie, but you must remember that we all have to start somewhere. In a year from now, you’ll thank yourself a million times over that you took the plunge.

4. Volunteer your time. One of the best things I did for my mental health in 2017 was volunteer my time for one day a week. Learn some skills, meet people you wouldn’t otherwise and experience the joy of hard work that you’re doing for free. There’s something really beautiful about putting your all into something simply because you want to. If only we could do that full time, eh?

5. Cuisine a month. One of the best parts of travelling around the world is the food IMO. Having your tastebuds tantalised by something foreign and interesting is truly enriching. But even if you can’t make it to India, Italy or Indonesia to try out the local culinary delights, there’s no reason you can’t bring the flavours to you. Focus on a cuisine you have little experience with for each month of 2018. Perhaps seek out an appropriate restaurant to head to at the start of the month for inspiration, then take to Google and get creative, trying out new spices, sauces and cooking techniques that you’ve never used before. Creativity at its best. Wow friends and family by hosting a dinner at the end of the month to share what you’ve learned and convert others.

6. Buy only secondhand. We’ve got far too much of everything accumulating on our planet, so why not commit to a year of purchasing only secondhand. Whether it be clothing, furniture, a car, appliances or whatever else, spend a little more time researching and swipe a good deal in the process. Know that by doing this you’re living completely waste-free and preventing yet another item end up in landfill.

So whether you try a year of monthly challenges, one of the above or something else entirely, know that you have the power to absolutely kick this year in the booty and become the person that you want to be. All it takes is hard work and dedication; nothing you can’t do with a little focus.

 

 

Thank you to everyone who read my last post on nasty hormonal birth control. I had some wonderful feedback from several like-minded ladies who either quit some time ago or needed that extra push to make the decision to do so now. It seems I’ve had conversations in every avenue of my life about HBC and I’m genuinely convinced that the uterus revolution is happening.

I wanted to make this more of an informative post. If you’re feeling the need to throw your pills away, but likening the ‘afterlife’ to standing on the edge of a deep abyss, worry not, I’ve got you covered. I’d like to talk about 4 books today that have utterly changed my life and I’m hoping they can do the same for you. The first two are eye-opening, anger-inducing and damn right essentials that any woman (or girl!) must read if considering HBC. For anyone umming and ahhing, or for someone who’s quit but toying with the idea of crawling back – read these before you do. The other two reads are informative with constructive, concrete steps in maintaining healthy menstrual cycles and using the Fertility Awareness Method either for contraception, conception or simply living more in tune with your body. So, without further ado.

The Pill: Are You Sure It’s For You? By Jane Bennett & Alexandra Pope – I wolfed this down in a couple days and readily thrust it at every girlfriend I can, akin to a grandma trying to carb-load her offspring. Incredibly well-written and full of some pretty horrifying facts, this book discusses recognising the side-effects of HBC, both in the physical and emotional realms. It talks about libido, depression, migraines, cancer, heart disease and the importance of having and accepting your menstrual cycle. It’s a health indicator, after all, and one that can tell us a plethora of important information about how we’re doing from month to month.

Sweetening The Pill (Or How We Got Hooked On Hormonal Birth Control) By Holly Grigg-Spall – This is one that will make you angry, all right! Devoured within days again, this looks at how the pill was created and how it’s become ‘the norm’ for so many women in today’s world. It discusses the approach to contraception in different communities and cultures and highlights the worrying truth that girls as young as 13 are terrified into taking the pill (or other long-term contraception like the implant or IUD) because they’re told they’re walking baby machines. This simply isn’t the case and it puts forth the question of why a male version of the pill was quickly rejected due to ‘potentially harmful side effects’, yet many women live with these unquestioned. A fascinating insight into the world of the pharmaceutical industry and western medicine and how it’s more sinister that you might initially think.

Womancode: Perfect Your Cycle, Amplify Your Fertility, Supercharge Your Sex Drive and Become A Power Source By Alisa Vitti – OK, so the anger has subsided and you’re thirsty for knowledge. You know the pill has been terrible for you and you’ve learned about the importance of having your menstrual cycle month to month. What can you do from here? How can you get back normal cycles after years of having suppressed them? What can you do to have regular cycles so that you can use the Fertility Awareness Method as a form of contraception or conception if trying to have a baby? Womancode is an excellent source of information about how to have a regular cycle and heal conditions like PCOS, endometriosis, fibroids, painful periods, infertility etc. It discusses nutrition, exercise and lifestyle factors that you should consider. It’s a bit of a bible that you’ll want to keep handy and refer to often.

Taking Charge Of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler – The mother of all books on the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM), Weschler’s book has been cited countless times and the principles within it adopted by everyone using FAM today. Use this to educate yourself in how to use FAM as a tool for either avoiding or planning baby-making and fling at your friend who says, “oh man, you’re not doing that stupid rhythm method, are you?” This is a book that should be given to every pubescent female as a “period textbook” of sorts so she can track her cycles, learn about her body and use as a form of contraception when she’s ready, avoiding all the nasty side effects of hormonal interference.

I would love to read your recommendations if you’re on a similar journey yourself. What’s been catching your attention? What are your thoughts on HBC?

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