It's January 4th. It's my Dad's 92nd birthday. I am at home isolating and working from home today in Ireland. I have had the most wonderful experiences for the last several weeks so I can be incredibly grateful that we managed to stay away from the variant that is rampant until now. Things seem to have worked out really well for me the last while during the Pandemic. I haven't come into close contact with anyone who has had covid until now so that was very lucky and with the new variant it seems that it can be picked up even easier than before.
We did want that though, we wanted to all become infected to erradicate the virus as long as we are safe doing so that is! The Spanish Flu was erradicated by it becoming an Endemic and I see an 'END' in that word right there! It eventually became part of the common cold and was classified as lower and lower risk status eventually leading to it being erradicated. We are on day 2 of our isolation period (I think or is it day 3!) and I have my flight back to Germany booked for Sunday on the premise that I will have a negative result. We need to remain calm and stay with a positive mindset that even if we do get the virus that it will be mild. May it be swift, mild and be gone as quickly as it arrived.
As I sit here in the wee hours of the morning, I reflect on the previous year's goals that I set for myself and I feel good about how much I wanted to focus on my mental health, how much I got myself together and really engaged more with life and loved it. I am also proud of my friends and family for being so supportive, encouraging, positive people that got through the Pandemic. Not only that but I would even say that they understood my need for quietness, respected my boundaries when I was a little cautious and really put an effort into more contact. It was challenging to say the least and I am proud to have such great friends and family.
The next steps then for 2022 are to look at my new intentions. I have set some goals, I've looked at them a little differently this year. I am less afraid as I was last year. I think, for some reason, I was waiting for something to happen. I was in a state of flux at one point too. There were so many deaths, I was exhausted and emotionally drained and that's okay, weren't we all, it's behind us now. It's in the past. We grow, we learn, we move on and keep the lessons and I am glad of it. I understand more with the relationship with myself now than ever before and also the relationship with my friends and family of which is of great importance to me.
This next year I want to focus on the whole-life success model. I looked at different categories of life and set some goals. I am relaxed about these although I still want something to keep me focused on being the best version of myself and living my best life. I am affording myself opportunities by setting goals, we can play ball all we want but without a goal to kick the ball into, the game is pointless. It's all about having fun and taking life as it is. Life is what you make it and I am making mine a paradise!
I am vaccinated and the world has opened up as a result. I am in a privileged position. I plan to do a little travel next year - of course, as safely as possible that is. I would love to climb a mountain. I have other goals too and set these based on the model I mentioned above - the whole-life success model. I am grateful that we have gotten this far and I am even more grateful for the solid foundations in re-discovering some relationships and for the understanding and compassion that everyone is showing especially to those that drop off the radar for a bit while they get their life together too.
Here's to 2022! I plan to sing more, laugh more, love more and enjoy life more and these goals/intentions focus my mind on what life is all about - having the best craic while learning along the way.
I've set aside some time the last several weeks due to health and decided to take the time to review how Java with Ali was looking and readdress what the point of the channel is. It, as the name suggests, is set up to make Java programming accessible to learn. It is something I work in as a developer daily. I spend my days opening up Eclipse, writing and debugging computer programs as part of a team developing software for our clients. I love it. I love my colleagues and they also provide inspiration on approaches that I also can adopt. So here it is, the next course for Beginners 2021-2022 who want to start learning Java. I love it and there are many many reasons why you could love it too.
Well, what started as a week or two with work shortly turned into six months and now I am living here four years and I love it. In the last year I have started to get more and more creative as I embrace writing books, creating YouTube videos and focus on innovating more and more.
I hadn't even thought about Germany before moving here and getting opportunities come knocking on my door.
I've made the following video regarding the anniversary and some observations I've made since living here along with some funny stories. Enjoy! It's all in good-humour and I hope it is also received that way as well. It will be released Saturday 17th July at 2pm.
Wow I read the post back in September and I do sound very optimistic indeed. I was optimistic, I still am, however, I noticed I was trying to be while deep down I felt that anguish regarding Corona, that feeling of being trapped and isolated all at once. Although at the same time I do enjoy my own company, there was terrible news coming in waves daily. I was so used to that feeling that I managed to look on the bright side of things which is admirable. I mean, it takes more effort to look at the bright side of life than it does to be cynical and downtrodden. It is easy to give into the negativity bias that we are all built with. It is part of our survival mechanism - to scan for threats. If we don't acknowledge the negative thoughts, then they get louder! So yes, these thoughts are not true and it's time to challenge them.
A few things have happened since September 2020. I was doing really well until January hit and I have to say that the amount of deaths got to me. I was upset a lot about the state of affairs in the world. I was not only upset but the blatant disregard for human life was upsetting me. While I sat in January in what felt like the longest two weeks of greyness to appear in the sky over my head, I started going about figuring out how to move forward. I have always had an optimistic mindset. I was almost trained that way. Someone would say something critical and I would jump to say something to counter the argument and allow them to see the lighter side of life. This has its own pitfalls as the person doesn't feel heard and what we all want is to feel seen, heard and loved. I knew intellectually a lot of the mindset changes I could do and routines I could put in place although in January I was certainly feeling the darkness. I had such a disciplined mind studying and even in my previous workplaces too. I loved it. It's refreshing and enlivening to have goals and a focus. Some can tackle their own way of overcoming their own scepticism towards life, I like it my own way though!
I like to have a goal, I like to have something outside of work to keep me motivated and refreshed. It works both ways too, the more motivated I feel outside of work with things like marathon runs or currently triathlons, the more I feel settled in work and focused. I am currently signed up to do the 10 Freunde-Triathlon in September and I am so lucky that most of the same team are joining this time around. The optimism it takes in order to sign up for it and believe that by September the event will happen and also by Summer we'll be able to train in a pool.
While I have goals like this outside of work, I also have this joy for creating v-logs that I found last year when doing some v-logs as part of Java with Ali and we know the only way to get around those dark feelings is to find joy. I mean, everyone says it. I started Yoga with Adriene last year and the tagline is 'find what feels good'. I found what feels good by doing those v-logs and tutorials online as well as having fitness goals. In an effort to create more v-logs I started a channel. I love it. It brings me joy. I have so many ideas and I also love talking about topics like the Growth Mindset, Germany, life in Germany, learning German, culture similarities and differences as well as travelling and some very important sunrise and sunset time lapses. I do love waking up and watching the sunrise. There is something magic about that and capturing a certain moment in time with a camera. So a new channel is here, please like, share and subscribe if you want to see more. I love it. Here's the link if you'd like to join me on some things I am doing during Corona to keep my mindset in check - my 21 day challenge I invented and also potentially later on some travel v-logs once we are able to travel once more! Enjoy! Perhaps it might be a way to distract from all the bad news or maybe it's a way to join me on the things I am trying too... that's up to you! You do you! https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQit3hSgZGkV2NUqvuNZyqg
September, what a phenomenal month it has been so far. I started a great project in work a month ago and being on this project has been so fulfilling. I have learnt a lot, programmed in new programming languages, felt encouraged and most of all - loved working with my new colleagues. I feel like I am starting to bring some of my experience as I think of ways that things could be made more efficient (I am collecting so many ideas) and also contribute any knowledge of past experiences that I bring from previous projects. My creativity this month is flowing from me like a river and I am enjoying it.
I am also taking certificates in work that contain a lot of information about processes. I am enjoying reading them and wow have I learnt a lot of new vocabulary as a result. Who knew when I started learning German that for every 1 word in English there are about 3 or 4 in German. For example, I want to use the verb ‘to use’, well the thing with German is that it is very precise and I am guilty of not knowing the exact word in particular contexts yet (Growth mindset remember - I am always growing and so what I was yesterday is not what I know today!) So for now I switch between the verbs verwenden, benutzen, nutzen, gebrauchen, ausführen und anwenden. Yes, there are that many regarding only one single verb. You can imagine working in German a bit like a mix of studying German, programming, people and also the processes of a new company as a bit of an adventure. I find it thrilling.
I am also settling into a great structure with good habits during the week in which morning activities are filled with early morning stretches followed by a good breakfast and affirmations to start the day off to a great start. I feel so settled and relaxed as a result and thus more productive. I have also come back to my true self with a relaxed focused feel throughout the day. I notice tension that I carried previously in my stomach that I have let go of and as a result a lot of my stomach has healed which I am thankful for especially as the stomach contains 90% serotonin production - yes 90% of a happy chemical so when your stomach is off - you’re off and this is also why people are happy when they are eating good food.
Now onto something else that has been amazing this September, I’ve been away for a few days in Denmark to celebrate a friend’s wedding and wow was it more romantic than I expected it to be. She (the bride) had prefaced the wedding with the fact that it was in an office and not such a big deal but the fact that they chose to be together in these times is the most romantic thing. Regardless of your views on marriage or otherwise, this is the premise of any couple being together - when they have the freedom to make a choice to stay together each and everyday through the hard times like a (like a is a very Irish way of saying - for example) family member passing or the ecstatic times of travelling together and jumping into the sea together and having amazing fun filled adventures camping. The premise of any good relationship is freedom of choice. They are both coming to the table as 100% whole, worthy and complete individuals staring into each other’s eyes enhancing the other person’s life, admiring the other’s journey that is life and also supporting the other where perhaps the other person feels less than worthy with something outside of themselves like a goal to be accomplished. Supporting the other person while knowing that they are well and truly worthy of accomplishing anything they want to and even if they don’t that it’s okay because you still love them regardless - you will be there as there staple, their guide, their shining light to remind them that yes, they can do whatever they want they have that choice.
Speaking of September, it was also my parent’s 50th Wedding anniversary and they have created a family of 5 beautiful individuals that each own their own paths. We are similar in so many ways and yet so extremely different in other views that it’s hard to see how we are related. I, myself, love computers, documentaries, hiking, sports and I would have been the sporty tomboy in the family growing up with a pink BabyG sports watch which has now upgraded in later years to a Garmin Vivoactive 3 (not pink though - they don’t do it in any other colour than black as standard BOO Garmin - also pink used to be a boy’s colour showing how bold and strong they were!). To keep the balance I still enjoyed some eccentric colours and at the same time wore sports clothes most of my life. Fashion in that sense is not my forté! I am the one to buy random quality clothing and put it together thinking it’s fine but the pieces that I do buy are investments. On the other side, I am not a lover of shopping (except outdoor and tech shops of course!). Both fashion and shopping are my sister’s strengths but not mine! I can cook but it’s a utility game and I afford the time to put in for my body’s sake not for the want or liking of it - although over the years I have grown to enjoy it more as I’ve picked up more skills and I have been known to do cooking courses. One of which I have already signed up for! In saying all of this, yes, we, myself and my sisters, are like chalk and cheese and at the same time still Mc Namara’s and still at heart a blend of my Mom and Dad. We are all grown up and choose our own ideals and values now so while we might disagree on some things, we still come together to celebrate large occasions and yes we do go all out for it. We have a common theme throughout like being generous, dressing up and feeling so incredibly lucky that all of us are connected.
September is also a time where people are starting new things or coming back to start things again and leaving behind old things. For me, it was already a few months since I’ve been out and about for a hike. I am lucky I also got to go hiking with some of my favourite people here in Germany and I got to visit some of the most beautiful spots here. The views are incredible and sometimes I need to pinch myself that I am here, I get to do the things I love and I am also healthy. Without the bad you do not appreciate the good - say that again - without darkness there is not light - so I appreciate my health so much more now than ever and having a body that can still visit and hike with the people that I love. September isn’t even over yet and I still get to have another amazing fun-filled weekend to come this weekend.
There is so much to be appreciative of for the journey that we are on. Perhaps the discipline that I have getting up early and having a ritualistic morning lighting a candle while enjoying a healthy warm breakfast has made me appreciate this life even more. I can say that last September I did my first triathlon and the person I knew then who was having so much fun and enjoying life didn’t know how much more content she could be as she is now. Isn’t it funny when you can look back and see how much more relaxed and happy you could be and really find a happy place?
The things I’ve realised this year are pretty simple - the more relaxed I am, the more I can do, love, be and achieve. This has been the thread throughout my life. I won’t go on about that too much, how being relaxed and achieving goals faster go hand in hand but I will say - thank you September 2020. It’s now time to start into Autumn and I am awakened to all the good things that are coming down the road.
I did a writing exercise this month - write in the present tense as if you were at the end of your life now recounting everything. What a fantastic exercise! I can already at this young age say that I have loved with all my heart, experienced the lows and the highs and know that I am ready for whatever comes up in the future. I am ready because I have faith in myself now that if I relax, all is well, all that comes my way is all part and parcel of the journey and I am happier than ever. Disclaimer from last year - I can say that I had some of the tools I have now but implementing them on top of stuff bothering you isn’t implementing them - the cookie will crumble without the right glue that sticks it together and I am so grateful and happy that I know that now! I now have a deep genuine contentment with life so I am happy for all the highs and lows.
You can live through whatever life throws and you and have faith knowing you can handle the next thing, there is almost a calmness that comes with that. You can either be the bottle of water or a bottle of sparkling water. If you shake the bottle of water, when you open it, it is still calm or you can be the sparkling water and when you shake it and open it, it explodes. You can choose to express yourself in life or bottle it up and explode. Now I can handle whatever comes my way, I love it, I love life. Like I said, without the bad stuff, you don’t appreciate the good - without winter, you wouldn’t appreciate summer so much - so enjoy the process and cycles of ups and downs, highs and lows - nothing is forever - live in the moment and enjoy the journey. It’s a good one. Happy rest of September 2020 :-D
August 2020, actually I learnt in school that August is the start of Autumn and it's true, within the Celtic calendar it is the start of Autumn as the 1st of February is the start of Spring - also St. Brigid's day (Ireland's Patron saint along with St. Patrick). We also all did things like Brigid's crosses in school on the lead up to Spring and you still see them in schools today. So to mark the start of August I cycled up to Burg Frankenstein to watch the sunrise. It was beautiful.
This week I am posting a video on Study Plans and I draw comparisons with fitness challenges although this current plan I have also integrates study with German and uses Pomodoros too. We are forever improving and learning throughout the process and I can now add my current fitness/learning plan - fitness and German ;-) I already feel much stronger and can hold planks and other exercises for longer. I have integrated an extra activity in this 21 day plan so instead of doing 3 activities I now do 4 and will stick with 4 * 30 seconds before integrating a new activity at the end of the 21 days.
I have also recognised that instead of having two different plans for fitness and German, I have put these together. I will also start integrating my YouTube video production plans within this and choose dates according to the schedule. As I mention within the video, I add in different German activities based on my fitness activities as this is based on time throughout the day. I know on my rest days I can integrate more German and I know on my fitness days I use those days to listen and do exercises with 'Easy German' and on other days like Sundays where I am not working, I integrate two German activities and reward myself with an 'adventure' every weekend so that may include trying something different or going hiking somewhere else instead of the usual places - this is also good for my brain too. This plan for me represents structure and discipline as well as happiness. Discipline and accomplishing goals for me brings me joy and I love being outside, going for runs as well as improving myself too. I love being able to share some tips and tricks as well as I have learnt so much and you can see the plans evolving as I learn more from the first plan in May versus now in July.
I can say now that I do roughly 11 butterfly sit-ups in the 30 second timeframe so I can estimate in the next plan that I will aim to do roughly 15 of them and instead of using time I will progress into amount of reps so I will end up doing 15 * 4 reps which makes a total of 60. The same will go for the plank drop downs, planks themselves will need to stick with time as it's a stationary activity. I have also integrated several rest days so that I can recover and then do longer workouts on my fitness days. As I said at the beginning this is all a learning process and always improving, always growing, always creating and moving towards the goal. The goal is inevitable and at the same time I know that I can remain flexible based on previous plans where there was 'a dip' in both motivation and health as my stomach wasn't the best and that's okay. I know this is long-term and will get there slowly but surely with every action that I take. I am so grateful and happy that I am back to fitness and healthy again. It's really great being able to get up and have energy all day. I appreciate my body and what it has been through and my mind as well as it has overcome a lot. I can now look back and recognise how far I have come and with plans like this too I can see even since May and having stomach issues how much it has impacted me and how I am stronger now as a result. It's all a learning process and we're all growing. On a side note I recognise procrastination - I posted a video on this on my channel too - I know what I can do to overcome it if and when it happens and thankfully since May and stomach issues, this hasn't been the case! Enjoy making plans and going towards your goal - you can do it, stick with a plan and adjust as needed and remember to be flexible in your mind and it will be inevitable in accomplishing your goal when there are hurdles on the way.
I recently decided to create a new playlist on my YouTube channel - Java with Ali - as I have worked with a number of students over the years and some things seem to appear time and time again. Some of which are so obvious to me since the Masters that I could have done with them in the past myself! It would have alleviated the stress and pressure and I think I would have enjoyed myself more. In fact, I know I would have enjoyed myself more as I discovered these during the PhD and I loved doing the PhD because I had these tools. Bob Proctor says that 'discipline is the ability giving yourself a command and following it' and he's right. It takes discipline and it's something that brings happiness once you figure it out. I mean, you can do what you like and follow your own plans, however, I thought I'd share mine as they have worked so brilliantly for me in the past and are still working now. So part of the series I wanted to share some of the tips and tricks including the growth mindset and others and in this blog post I will talk specifically about plans. I uploaded a video regarding study plans and they are similar to fitness plans. You can see my first 28 day challenge in the previous blog post where I talk about doing it and now that it has completed I thought I'd share some results and what I have learned. It all went well, no hiccups. I completed it. I am happy about that and then I decided to do a second 28 day challenge with the things that I have learnt from the first one. I decided to incorporate a green smoothie daily.
As you can see the green smoothie was a breakfast replacement and included a handful of spinach, protein powder, a full romain lettuce, an apple, a banana and a pear with some water. So this was the part of the plan that didn't go too well and as I said in the YouTube video, there is a dip in most plans where motivation wanes. I experienced serious stomach pains and thought it was because I drank it too quickly. I introduced more water and decided to drink it throughout the day instead of just over a 5 minute period in the morning. I adjusted and still woke up every night in pain for a few weeks. I decided to stop drinking the smoothies and see if it got better. I had to stop, it was the only thing that I had changed along with increasing my fitness plan from 30 second reps to 60 second reps. My breakfast then became oat bars as oats are known to be really good for your gastrointestinal tract. I found out in my reading that 90% of serotonin comes from your stomach - I have no reference for this but after this experience I believe it. I had low energy from pains experienced every evening. I was waking up nightly. It was a really challenging few weeks with bad stomach pains to stay myself. So now I have bought pro and pre-biotics and have already noticed a difference including drinking a lot of water every morning first thing in the morning. I had to take a break from them for a little bit.
My point is, we may need to adjust the plans to get what we want and have faith that this is a long term goal and we'll get there eventually even with hiccups along the way. Now I have two more plans which also include improving my German grammar and German language overall. As I am working from home there is less practice speaking German and I want to maintain and attain a better level too. I also mention in the YouTube videos the growth mindset as well as using the Pomodoro method. That deserves a different blog post and for now I will talk about using the Pomodoro methods in my plan.
I am using the Pomodoros to calculate my amount of time spent on learning German and have introduced 1 of these daily over the next 21 days. It may not seem like much, however, concentrated effort over a 20 minute timeframe when introducing a new plan into your life allows for an accomplishable goal to be achieved. It is not unrealistic and this is also about motivation which I speak about in the YouTube series regarding 'I'll do something for 5 minutes... and guess what, 2 hours have past and you're still on task'. It's part of the initiation method that gets you started so while I note down 1 * Pomodoro, I will use that as the minimum and see where it takes me as I know I can afford 20 minutes per day on task.
I have set a fairly nice plan over the next 21 days. I have learnt that 21 days is better in case anything pops up like the stomach issues again and I know that I can address that in a shorter time and increase my level in the next stage. So for now I have a conservative 21 day plan for both fitness and German to keep both my motivation and level of energy up as I adjust the plan to keep moving forward. I know that it's okay if I waiver a little off track while I fix other things. It's like if you tilt a plane's nose ever so slightly en route from Ireland to New York, you'll end up in Canada and it takes a tiny readjustment to get back on track so now I can safely say I am back on track and ready to keep going. No pressure, no stress, only focus and relaxed in knowing that I am strengthening both my body and my mind in the next 21 days.
As I mentioned in the YouTube, with fitness as well as study, you usually start with amount of time on task before you figure out how many reps you can do within that timeframe. During this next 21 days I will start counting how many I can complete. I won't be rushing them, they are focused tasks with concentrated effort. Effort * persistence = moving towards your goal and motivation comes from the latin word 'to move' so action allows us to accomplish our goals. I am also using the initiation method and leave these 21 day plans somewhere I can see them. I have a morning routine with a glass of water beside my bed and my clothes and equipment ready - for both German and fitness. Part of this is also allowing myself to be kind to myself I don't achieve a day for whatever reason and that is where the growth mindset also kicks in. I am confident that I will get to my goal and if I have a bad day regarding stomach or anything else that's okay. I know I am putting in my best effort.
During the PhD I had written a blank piece of paper stating 'Motivation is the latin for 'to move'' to remind myself to keep moving and it worked. It acted as a way for me to keep focused on my goal and consistent in my effort. Notice how I align the days of running with the B task for German and I also allow adventures on Sundays - this is to keep being inspired, enjoying life, no sacrificing mindset as that's not what it's about, it's about accomplishing your goal while enjoying the process and the same goes for study. As I say in the video - I know that my abilities can grow through hard work and effort. It is part of the process to allow yourself to have the adventures and experience loving life. I love making plans like these and following through. It's not only about the accomplishment for me, it's about enjoying the process. I love the process regardless of the results that it brings. The results are the side effects of the motivation - the movement or action I am taking to achieve the result and enjoying that action.
What an incredible week this has been. I met (virtually) so many inspiring, encouraging, supportive and positive women in technology. I went to workshops on Eclipse, Pair programming, Java, Python and of course, presented my own talk "Java Development: It's easy when you know how" on Thursday. I connected with women all over the world with all different backgrounds and stories to tell. I also connected with women in the Rhein-Main region which is where I live in Germany. We have already said that we'll meet in person too. It's been a really great week and luckily enough I also had a day off in Germany the day that I presented so I managed to get to do the talk without any time management concerns raising with work. I will definitely go again. I found the talks regarding representation really interesting as we start encroaching again upon technology - remember the first programmer was a female, the first person to discover a computer bug was also a female. Being represented offer different perspectives and a balance is needed.
Different perspectives can come from a simple thing like a cycling rack. For example, I went cycling recently and parked my bike outside the apartment on the bike racks - this is again, an example of the detachment of design from someone that cycles. The bikes are squashed together, the spacing between racks might even be industry standard, however, that does not make them any more practical and should be rethought by actual cyclists. Pulling my bike out from the handle bars of another bike is not something anyone wants.
The same goes for all products - you can do as much market research bringing in your audience into a room to test a product (I have done that and it's not very well researched - coming from a researcher that is saying something!) and colleagues tend to become excited by the fact that consumers like the product and miss the entire area that is lacking in the product. This goes the same with all products when a group are underrepresented.
A major example I spoke about is gaming when you play a game and there are no female characters to choose from or the ones that are available are either 'the princess to be rescued' like in Mario or a sex object with unrealistic beauty standards. We cannot help but be influenced by the photos, images, videos and external inputs from society and the unrealistic demands imposed upon us. When a 10 year old boy is playing a computer game with men all represented as giants with large muscles - this is also an unrealistic beauty standard and that's another topic.
The other trend I spotted throughout some talks was that women are more cooperative in conversation while men seek status and/or competition. Being too cooperative can be seen as weak in some work places and the competitive nature can be seen throughout the industry if you are working in a toxic workplace. If you are working with mature, evolved humans, it will be balanced. Men won't seek status as they are comfortable with who they are and women won't be people-pleasing as they will also balance into their own strengths and not shy away from them. This also doesn't have to be gender specific - this is also unbalanced or unconfident humans too.
Overall I have a lot to consider and it was a really positive experience sharing some of the confrontations that are faced in technology due to gender differences and some of the other elements that make it an absolute need for women to be represented more in this industry. Some issues faced like in gaming where women may not even be represented at all or the men represented are also unrealistically buff too. That's another story regarding the unrealistic standards set upon by our society. Regardless of representation some of the technology and products available lack the perspectives of females to make products complete. They are missing a component. They are, effectively, incomplete.
I would even go as far as saying, they are missing huge opportunities to get others into a product like gaming and the ones that want to get into it may feel excluded or even intimidated and shy away from games like that. So tech industry, the time is now, innovate, include women more, include underrepresented groups more - this is, after all, the summer of gaming.
My own talk is available on Prezi with a video following soon. It spoke about Java Development and some tricks on how to learn/concentrate and get the best out of your time is available here:
I am delighted to participate as a speaker in the conference in June this year with what is set to be 100k attendees. I am thrilled and grateful to have this opportunity to join such incredible women in technology. I am looking forward to attending in some of the other talks that are available. I'll see you there!
May is a tricky month for me, it brings up memories of heart surgeries and for someone who is into the outdoors, rock climbing, mountains and running marathons, it was a tough pill to swallow not being able to move my body. I wrote about this already regarding the Berlin marathon that changed my life. I couldn't exercise for a long time and I couldn't walk up the stairs without being out of breath. For someone who identifies as a person who is into sports and fitness it was especially challenging. If you think of something as part of your identity and it is removed from you then it can impact your sense of self too. Also it was a way of coping for me too, it was my coping mechanism for most things. I loved a good run. I was also part of a club and enjoying social running as well as training with the girls in the club on Sunday mornings. I was also sporty in school so this wasn't something new. I won medals for running and loved trying out new sports that were available after school. In my working life in Dublin I used to do things like the army bootcamp and I was reminded of happy memories only this morning. Memories of training in the outdoors with some army guy telling us what to do and how to do it... fast! I was strong, I loved it and I went most weeks that I could.
Cut to heart surgeries and the second one was in May 2018. Every May since I think back on some of the time that I had spent and how grateful I am now that I do not take any medicine and I can go back to what I was like before 2017 happened. I am one of the lucky ones. I was going in for a consultation and I was distraught because I was thinking it was never-ending. There was no end in sight and the surgeon was happy that I was taking tablets and he said I might need to accept that I'd take them for the rest of my life. I was by myself in the consultation and as ever I was trying to think optimistically (that the future would be better - not positively in that I didn't recognise the situation was tough but optimistically in that I tried to think that the future would get better). I knew it was challenging and I burst into tears at reception after travelling back from Germany for the consultation. Perhaps it was the exhaustion or the fact that I was in a room which was usually empty and this time it was full of people that were upwards of 70+ years old. The thought popped into my head that I was a young person and my body was failing me. I had put it through too much perhaps with climbing several mountains and running marathons as well as stress from life.
A man at reception was really lovely. He saw that I was trying to hold tears back and I couldn't stop sobbing. I was trying so hard to be inconspicuous while in the waiting room. I wiped my face and sobbed while waiting to be called. I was telling myself that it'd be fine, it wasn't so bad but my other thoughts were, I am here in a room with people over 70, I should not be here, was I ever going to be able to run again? My LOVE of fitness, could I ever walk up the stairs without being out of breath? I was really upset and he came over and sat beside me. He said that it's alright, he had the same surgeon and he had had 14 surgeries and he was fixed after the 14th. I'm not sure he knew it but that upset me even more. I thought I could not cope with 14, no way. One was enough and after the first I had to wait 6 months for my heart to heal. I had only the one in the December the previous year and it exhausted all my energy out of me while waiting to recover.
I was called into the consultation and as I left I thanked the man for his support. He really was a lovely warm, friendly caring man. He thought he was consoling me that I was alive and only young. Perhaps it was because I was also in Blackrock and reminded of my previous running club in Blackrock (Blackrock Athletic Club) too that I was a little more upset because of those memories. They did the consultation and again my heart was irregular and fast. The trouble was, it was both irregular and fast. I went up to the surgeon after the absolutely brilliant Fiona Kehoe (the Electrophysiology Nurse Specialist) came down to collect me. Dr. Lyne had said that I could go in and he'd schedule the next surgery. The second one took place on May 18th at 7am and it was a success. Four hours awake on the operating table watching the surgeon slowly guide a camera and their instruments through both of my groin regions is a little surreal. I remember them celebrating and asking the anaesthetist about his trips climbing mountains. I was so relieved and delighted that I was fixed. I was left out of hospital on May 19th 2018. I remember the day very well as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle got married the same day and my sister and mother both came to collect me after they watched some of the wedding celebrations.
This story is now part of who I am and I can again identify as a person who LOVES fitness. I love pushing my body and doing exercise. I love going for runs and picking up new types of activities. I guess my mindset was shaped since as a result as I appreciate my body so much now. I can say that it is strong and magnificent, it went through a lot already previously with other surgeries too (more than most people I know) and recovered. It has not only recovered but is stronger and more resilient now as a result. It has allowed me to travel, hike, do triathlons and go exploring too. I am truly appreciative of it now. I can now celebrate it for what it is. I love my body. I thank my body for serving me so well. It's like a well-oiled machine. I am comfortable in my own skin. My body deserves such love and respect. I am confident in my body and I love it for every scar and inch that it takes up. Every scar tells a story of what adventures it has had. Scars from two heart surgeries, knee scars from hockey accidents in school, eyebrow scars from falling off my bike, scars from messing in the playground when I split under my nose, appendix removal, six wisdom teeth removal, piercings, accidents and other surgeries - these are all the things I've put it through. These are all the things that I can say, thank you for being with me and being the resilient body that you are. I can be forgiven for forgetting this every so often and May is a good reminder each year to focus on what it can do and it can MOVE and it can LEARN.
Last year I learnt to swim and completed the 10 friends triathlon in Darmstadt where I made so many great friends as a result. This year is a little more challenging with social distancing measures and the corona virus so I've adjusted and adapted to other activities that are also indoors. I also went paddle boarding for the first time the weekend before last and burnt my skin so I had to adjust again and not do anything for a week.
I have now started more core workouts and other exercises. I knew my mini weights, yoga mat and resistance bands would come in handy eventually! So for now I've started into a new core workout plan and I thank my body for going through what it did back in 2018 so that I could get back to fitness and enjoy it to its fullest and most importantly without any medicine needed. I've linked some of these below and the plan that I am now working on. I love a good plan. I like to chart progress. I am organised like that. I believe knowledge is power and data can show evidently what you can do and how you can progress transparently. I enjoy being goal-oriented and having some direction. I believe that having a plan provides the direction that I need in order to accomplish it, so, the plan is as follows:
A: First day 3 * 30 seconds planks on elbows (I do love a good plank), Russian twists with weights and plank crunches.
B: Every 2nd day is to do 3 * 30 seconds squats, press ups, lift weights.
C: After 12 days introduce a workout every 3 days of 3 * 30 seconds panther shoulder taps, butterfly sit ups and half-kneeling wood chops. Eventually increasing from 30 seconds to 40 seconds.
Spotify playlist for this plan:
So the workout should look something like the following:
03/05/2020 Plan A 04/05/2020 Plan B 05/05/2020 Plan A and so on until 15/05/2020 where it becomes C and 16/05/2020 A, 17/05/2020 B and 18/05/2020 (heart surgery anniversary) possibly go for a run that day to celebrate being able to run again.
Aside from working on the plan below are some of the photos that took place in 2018 for the thankfully final heart surgery. Photos for me act as a way to refresh my memory. May 17th was full of celebrations being my twin niece's birthday and my sister's wedding anniversary too. It was great to celebrate everything before taking the trip on the train to Dublin with Mam. I can now celebrate the fact that it's two years already and two years filled with ups and downs. I went running on May 31st but I would say I didn't fully regain energy for a few months afterwards even though my heart was back to normal. I was a bit more careful and didn't want to push it too much. Like a toddler learning how to walk, I was going slowly at first and a little afraid until I got into full swing. Then of course I had another unrelated surgery later that year which was another challenge but that's for another story. My energy was zapped for other reasons on top of that too but today I can celebrate that it's May and marks two years since the last heart surgery. Both surgeries shape a lot of who I am and what I appreciate more in life now and that's that my body can move. I truly appreciate it for all that it is. I am confident that it can do what I ask of it. It's not until something happens that we realise how much we loved something until it's taken away. I can wake up every morning and I can go for a run when I want. It is truly an incredible feeling. I am appreciative of it now more than ever and I am filled with joy as a result. I'd also highly recommend watching the video by Gary Vee.
I went to a workshop during the PhD regarding the Seven Secrets of Highly Successful Research Students by Dr. Hugh Kearns. It was an inspiring workshop and one that I know now shaped how quickly I finished the PhD. He started the talk by telling us that there was someone in the room that was not supposed to be there and noted that the University had made a mistake and while he knows it was a large mistake that they are not supposed to pursue their research. He then went on to describe what imposter syndrome was, although this is for another blog post. It was an impactful start to the workshop that day and one I will remember for a long time. We all thought it was ourselves that were not supposed to be there.
He then went on to give us material regarding how we could turbocharge our writing, tips for handling supervisors - (although I had the absolute best person/supervisor that a person could have asked for. She is both encouraging and supportive. She guided me along the PhD with ease and I trusted her entirely with the process. She always had my best interests at heart as I went to writing workshops, engaging with whatever was available on campus. She deserves an entire post dedicated to herself). The tips we received regarding handling supervisors was to do with handling power dynamics. Your supervisor dictates how long you spend on your PhD and your level of progression. While it is up to them how you progress and prepare you for the Graduate Committee every year. I have been in a PhD room with people that have taken 12 years full-time and others 7 years full-time and then others 3 years. It is self-paced and the pressure can be immense as you dictate your own speed, your own discipline and your own working schedule per day. Dr Hugh Kearns' workshop was one of those that structured a lot of the final stages of the PhD for me in that he gave us writing tips and a template for a word count. Again subscribing to the 'done is better than perfect' model as I speak so fondly about in my previous blog posts.
Back to the power dynamics, the power is within you to finish it but is encumbered by your PhD supervisor. It is up to them entirely if the PhD is up to international standard and ready at each stage of the years of study that you have completed. Have you done enough per year in order to become a researcher. A PhD is like an apprenticeship in this regard, it teaches you to have a critical eye on research, look for good sources, understand the science and how to interpret data along with many more attributes. The relationship between a supervisor and their PhD student is one that can seem tricky to manage. You are not their priority (sorry to disappoint those of you that are hearing this for the first time), their priorities usually lie within their own research so it's also important to choose carefully and seek out a supervisor that aligns with their research and not only your philosophy (Epistemology) but also in terms of their theory on ontology and the construction of knowledge. Do they enact a power dynamic that is hierarchical or flat? It is the same in an workplace. These need to fit in order to progress.
Teaching during the PhD, I was teaching data mining strategies using XLMiner as part of a two semester long workshop. A couple of years previously I had been working in an insurance company as a business analyst. I like to wear headphones to concentrate as the office was quite loud. My boss at the time decided that he didn't like this and that he had worked in busy offices in London and he got used to the noise. Let's just say I was reprimanded for wearing them. Long story short he was celebrating his 45th birthday in the XLMiner class that I was teaching. He was disrespectful and disruptive to the other Master's students. I had a quiet word and asked him to leave as he was removing the opportunity for his classmates who wanted to be there to actually learn. Karma always finds a way to find balance and in this case it was balanced in terms of power dynamics which I found quite funny. I was the one who had gone full circle, moved country, learnt more, worked harder and had more experience. It turns out he had to do the Master's programme because his Dad owned the insurance company and he didn't actually know much about it. Thankfully after the first class it was all fine and he understood that he couldn't be singing Happy Birthday in a workshop despite being 45 years of age on that day and wearing a huge badge.
Subtle signs of power dynamics can be seen in everyday life. These things include people interrupting you, being late and not apologising and thumping their chests when they get code to work. These came up in the power dynamics discussion in the PhD workshop. All of these act as signs of asserting power over another. That is not to say that people don't do these things by accident, of course, we are human. However, when there is a concerted effort to enact these then it is a power dynamic that is contrived and can impact upon another person's self-esteem. Impacting upon a person's self-esteem of course is dependent on if they relate their identity to what they are doing at the time. If the person links it to who they are a person then this can be quite antagonistic.
Being late: I was meeting a person recently and I travelled an hour to get there. I had thought to myself instinctually that this person might be late if they wanted to assert a power dynamic and 'test' how my reactions were at this time. It is a classic tactic that I have seen being used by American soldiers to 'test' the dynamics of the relationship. Unless you are aware of this tactic then you may think that it's something that was done unintentionally, however, it can be a behavioural strategy in order to push boundaries. I have several experiences with this and in the end it resulted in a conversation and understanding these power dynamics were, in fact, intentional. Again though, we are human and it depends on the person and if their wish is to shift the balance in the relationship or not.
Interruptions: In the workplace be observant for women and men in a team and men cutting across women. It can be seen quite frequently in some places that I have worked. Interruption of someone speaking can be disruptive to the person and also explaining away certain points made by the person can be both damaging and an intentional strategy in order to assert power over the person. These 'chatterboxes' might come across as passionate and a lot of people tend to be forgiving towards these mishaps, however, start looking more in-depth and you will start to see patterns. Some are unintentional of course, however, when there are power dynamics at play in a competitive environment or if someone feels under threat, then naturally these tend to be intentional. It can be highly frustrating to the recipient of such assertions. The repeated behaviour can wear a person down to the point where they lose their voice. Not only is it highly frustrating but it can stop their train of thought, put them in the defence and eventually their brains can become encumbered by the survival mind. It can also be a battle of the brains as one asserts that 'my point is MORE valid' than yours thus also claiming the power dynamic across a team or organisation.
Losing your own voice is the biggest repercussion when it comes to power dynamics. The ability to adapt and be flexible in a power dynamic is important. It is also a strategy to weigh up the pros and cons on if you are 'going to win' back the balance in the relationship or has their been too much of a power shift. A power shift can also happen in terms of making a person feel uncomfortable in a workplace. This is self-evident. The survival mind will become active as the person perceives their everyday life as under threat and eventually if all other power dynamics are enacted to assert power then their self-esteem will be eroded and they will lose their voice.
There are also some power dynamics where a boss will give you something to do and want an argument. This is not a trustworthy power dynamic. Yes, of course, question what tasks you are doing but certainly culturally that is not something that is done in certain countries. I have worked with people in different countries that say yes to everything even when they don't understand it and then after giving them training, they fly back home and you find out that they don't understand a thing but culturally it is part of their culture to agree to their boss and what they say without question. I have also fallen for this as I have trusted my supervisor in a workplace previously and they have taken advantage of this through micromanagement and slowing down processes. This is also an intentional workplace power dynamic and can soon escalate into a toxic workplace. Although you might find yourself in this situation at the moment, it is time to move on and find a place where you will thrive. It is also important to remember that karma will always find a way to restore balance so you might just meet them in the future where you are in the position of teaching them on the Master's programme.
Of course there are also other things at play like management style, time management, priorities etc. Greater efforts are needed to ensure that you are aware of these power dynamics at play in order to keep a balance and get your job done. In the PhD I was incredibly lucky to have such an amazing supervisor who corroborated with my research and excited to see my success. It was, of course, a sure-minded individual who wanted to see my success as she was also successful and that is beneficial for both parties. Further work needs to be done to align with the dynamics within an organisation to ensure that you align philosophically with their needs. I trusted my supervisor entirely to guide me on my path, I knew my best interests were taken into consideration. Although, this is not always the case in a workplace or with other supervisors. In part it is also about building trust and backing your work up with solid evidence. In some cases it might be necessary, certainly at the beginning to chart your progress, note everything and send back and forth meeting notes to establish transparency and trust.
The key in all of these power dynamics is to listen to your own inner-being, your own voice. It can sometimes be a whisper and you need to listen to that whisper in terms of being in the right environment for you and whether you are achieving your goals or not. Do you find yourself progressing and are positively inspired going into the workplace? I had this now several times working where I wanted to go into work and I wanted to learn. I had a 'growth mindset' and I could trust my boss to look after my interests. It was a positive experience and one that I hope continues. These people that you surround yourself are successful and you can learn from their success. Surround yourself with these people and you will learn a lot about the contrasts in life and how you can thrive.
Disclaimer: Power dynamics can impact a person's psyche as well and can be more sinister. I have only touched lightly on the topic above and omitted very relevant topics in today's world such as sexual harassment in the workplace. Survivors of sexual harassment may experience depression as their minds are encumbered by the survival mind and are fearful of all threats. This usually is a power dynamic to assert dominance on a person and make them feel so uncomfortable that the person will start to question parts of their identity. Physiological as well as psychological reactions can occur (please see link below for further reading). It is not something that anyone should experience but as a female I can tell you that I have experienced this first hand as with 1 in 3 women in the workplace (please see link below for further reading). If you are surprised by this figure then please open your eyes, look around and ask around. It is also not limited to women only. It can be men to men, men to women and women to men and all forms of gender. It is part of a power dynamic and where there are people, there are power dynamics. The survivors that I know have not only overcome this but also let go of shame and become an advocate for establishing better roles in the workplace. I have seen some that have gone onto thrive in their own right, find their voice and establish their own identities as something that has made them stronger and more resilient. They have overcome the effects of this and gone from surviving to thriving. Please seek help if this has happened to you.
A message of hope for sexual harassment survivors: It can be good to find support in talking about this to others, it is rampant and talking only once to someone who has experienced this can allow you to gain perspective that it is not only you and that it is part of power dynamics. It is also important to note that healed people - heal people. It is something that will allow you to thrive eventually and unfortunately in today's society it seems to be unavoidable for many. When you heal you will live a fuller, more authentic live that allows you to follow your bliss - when you put the work in. Creativity is the highest form of love and you will create more, be more focused, overcome all the effects of sexual harassment and establish what you want. Remember the more exposed you are to people the more you will meet all different kinds, good and bad but for the most part they are mainly good. See Rocky speech below for inspiration. It can also be an interesting exercise to get into a taxi and ask the taxi driver if they think the world is full of good people or bad people in terms of the passengers that they have encountered. I can guarantee they will say that the world is 99% good people, even the 1% that are not are people that are hurting/projecting/feeling unloved and operating at lower levels of emotions. Remembering these things will help you to thrive and YOU WILL THRIVE.
Dr. Hugh Kearns Website: https://www.ithinkwell.com.au/hugh-kearns
Kearns, H. & Gardiner, M.L. (2011). The care and maintenance of your adviser. Nature, 469(7331), 570-570. https://www.ithinkwell.com.au/content/nature_2011_student_advisers.pdf
Gardiner, M. & Kearns, H. (2012). The ABCDE of Writing: Coaching high-quality high-quantity writing. International Coaching Psychology Review, 237-249. https://www.ithinkwell.com.au/content/ABCDEwriting.pdf
Kearns, H. & Gardiner, M.L. (2011). Waiting for the motivation fairy. Nature, 472, 127. https://www.nature.com/articles/nj7341-127a.pdf
Video link for following your instincts - point 3 relates to the workplace: https://youtu.be/NPQ0XCkD2jE
Dealing with Shame: https://youtu.be/RSrXxqKfYwI
Sexual harassment: https://www.usf.edu/student-affairs/victim-advocacy/types-of-crimes/sexualharassment.pdf
1 in 3 women experience Sexual harassment in the workplace: https://www.businessinsider.com/professional-women-have-experienced-sexual-harassment-2019-6?r=DE&IR=T
As most of you know by now I have a PhD, I have worked multiple jobs at the same time, studied full-time while also working full-time all whilst doing a PhD. How did I do it? Well I had to get the most out of my time. I needed to be focused, on-point with what I was doing and most of all be bold. I subscribed to the mantra which I wrote about below 'Done is better than perfect' in the blog post 'Done is better than perfect - Lessons I have learnt from my PhD'. Apart from that it was a case of implementing some strategies that I had learnt already too.
I had accumulated some experience working between degrees and went to several different time management seminars sponsored by companies that I was working at at the time. One of which was Ocean Consulting in Dublin and he said that the first thing you do in the morning when you get to work is to continue what you were working on the evening previously. DO NOT LOOK AT YOUR EMAILS. They can wait for an hour while you get into a work frame of mind. I took this into the PhD. I also learnt and used some apps to help me focus my mind and concentrate in what was a high-pressured environment. These were the following:
The Pomodoro method: This is a method for writing/doing/creating/programming/focusing on a task you want to or maybe even don't want to do for 25 minutes without any distractions. You set the timer and once that 'one pomodoro' is completed you get up, move, reset and take a 5-10 minute break. I had the timer set on my computer and it would flash up when it was finished. I would advise not using this app if you are in a PhD room as it can be distracting for others. I used the app on my phone at home. Your motivation will increase if you concentrate on telling yourself that you can do 1 of these per day without stopping. I know it seems like a tiny amount but once you realise how distracted you are with things then you can start to accumulate those pomodoros. In the height of the PhD I would concentrate on accumulating these in the 10s - again without distractions. In a workplace environment this can be challenging as people walk over to people's desk and I found going to a separate area to concentrate far more beneficial. I set my timer and then I concentrate on my task. It can be quite meditative.
Blocking Internet: I used an app on my computer called Freedom, it blocks websites, apps and the Internet for up to 8 hours. Now be careful with this one, if you are doing research and development, you may need the Internet. It is only good when you have a solid base knowledge. You may develop strategies that you learn like writing things down that you do need to look up afterwards while your mind goes to what you can do while you wait for the time to expire on the Freedom app. It is definitely something that you need to think about before implementing for a full day, I started with two or three hours at first and it was a case of forming the right habits. It really does give you a sense of freedom once you can work away on something without interruptions. Most things can wait an hour or even longer if you are concentrating.
Writing: Another app that I used was for the write-up phase of the PhD. I used an app called FocusWriter to remove all of the other apps on the screen and only show the page in front of me. It was excellent for writing-up the thesis. Now you can enable this function within word, if your thesis can function within Microsoft Word. Although it is tempting to touch a button and revert to full-screen. FocusWriter had settings to lock other apps while you were writing.
All in all these were supportive in terms of forming the right habits. I needed social media like twitter and this blog to keep track of some research that I had started and to keep in contact with some conference attendees but I didn't want them to be a distraction or to pull my time into different directions. I also wanted to optimise my time to the best I could. I was usually blocking time in the morning for game development until lunch, after lunch scheduled or supervisor meetings, giving tutorials, correcting anything and back to the reading and summarising theory in the afternoon to support my thesis.
It was also a case of being flexible and allowing myself to come back to what I was working on if I had an interruption. This is where some self-compassion can work wonders. If you get distracted allow yourself to take a minute and gently bring yourself back to what you were working on. It will be both encouraging and supportive and you will feel great about going back to the task. I can't say that this was the perfect solution, however, it was transformative in terms of my work practices. I can only speak from my own perspective when I say that it influenced my life for the better in terms of habits and discipline of mind. Like with all disciplines it takes practice and falling out of these practices allows us to remember why these are important to keep practicing them. We all need a bit of contrast in our lives to appreciate that. See post on we all need a bit of contrast in our lives.
Disclaimer: This isn't to say that I didn't work very long hours, I did, but I enjoyed teaching part-time while working full-time. I love my students and the free-time that I do have I enjoy teaching. It's not a remedy for reducing time, it's a remedy I found to be more efficient and focused with my time. These allow me to get the jobs done that I need to in a shorter time frame than most.
I tend to be a person that has leaned towards teaching part-time while studying or working. I worked several jobs concurrently in summer and winters in college, when I finished I worked in industry and managed to teach somewhere part-time. While I was working in the Dublin office for Rakuten Kobo I also taught C# for games development every Saturday in Pulse College. I loved my class, it was a class from 11am-5pm and we'd make games together every Saturday. I'd look up different ways to teach students and new ways of explaining concepts. I also came up with the acronym DAU at the time to explain that you must define, assign and use variables within each program.
Since I was in school I tended to lean towards computers and helping others grasp concepts, I had the keys to the computer room in school. I was a University mentor giving tutorials to students the year behind me as part of the University mentoring programme and we were the first year who got payment from the University to do this. Even during my Masters, I taught computers to adults two evenings a week. During the PhD I was teaching as well, I taught mainly advanced Excel and data analysis, Geogebra and other software programmes as part of different departments.
Then of course I moved to Dublin from Galway and sought out opportunities to continue teaching which was, of course, with Pulse College as mentioned above. I loved figuring out ways to get students to create something. From the beginning the classes were practical and students started creating their first game and by the end they had fully functional games that were ready for their end of year projects. At that stage, the opportunities were starting to come knocking with Kobo. I moved to Germany in 2017 and haven't been teaching since then so it is a wonderful opportunity to get back into it again. I love it so much and really to be able to see someone creating something that they weren't able to before is a privilege. I love spending some of my free time teaching programming and I've created a profile in Preply in order to teach as I love it. I'm already thrilled to have a profile and to get started with my first student.
Please go to the link in order to receive a reduction in prices from Preply: https://preply.com#_prefMTMyMjAxMA==
My profile is available at: https://preply.com/en/tutor/310951/
I have found what works for me in a noisy apartment to gain a better night of sleep! I can rejoice. For the past number of weeks I have slept every night - like a log. I woke up refreshed, ready for the day and more creative than ever before. I would say I woke up with a spring in my step. I am a morning person, (unless interrupted sleep happens that is and I have learnt that now). I felt energised and ready for the day ahead. Some mornings I'd wake up with great ideas and ready to put together the next programming exercise, write a blog post and my productivity was increased. On a general sense I felt like my overall form was better, I wasn't as tired exercising, I was simply more energised. The past few weeks I have felt invigorated, excited and motivated to start everyday.
The trains started back a few nights ago and I woke up the next morning a little frustrated and I didn't know why. It sounds so fundamental but I had obviously gotten used to trains running at 4am, waking up and falling back to sleep again. I was a little groggy without any reason. I felt sluggish. It occurred to me really quickly after that. It was all a result of ONE thing - interrupted sleep. I can function on very little sleep, two hours, three hours on a few nights. I've climbed mountains on very little sleep. In fact it is really exciting that you get up at 1am to get to the summit and you gather all your strength to get there. The view at the top is always worth it. I've even slept in mountain cabins with little to no sleep and I've expected that and still felt more energised. However, interrupted sleep in your home, that's a different story altogether.
According to researchers at John Hopkins Hospital, a short amount of sleep is more beneficial than a long amount of interrupted sleep (link is below). Over long periods of time, it can impact brain chemistry, shorten your life-span and we will go into survival mode. We think we are being woken due to a threat and that causes consequences over a long period of time. The study found that it impacts your mood after only two nights.
Context also matters, I grew up in front of a racecourse in Limerick, where, it was and still is very quiet. I remember working in Dublin and going home for the weekend, sleeping an entire night and feeling more exhausted at home because I had finally gotten a full night of sleep. It was noisy in Dublin too. I lived in the north side of the city across from what we would say at home, 'a not so nice area', and there was plenty of times people would be screaming on the road outside or shouting to each other. This was in contrast to living in Galway sleeping in an apartment in the suburbs where you can see the sea, horses were behind the apartment block and also at the roundabout at the end of the road and it was pure quietness.
I always had some techniques for combating sleep and stress - see post regarding biofeedback. I have these strategies built up over time. I know what to do during these times. It's a standard process. Usually our brains are pretty good at telling us when we don't feel safe so anxiety works in a way that tells us to get to safety. When you are under stress this can be a case of telling ourselves that we are safe, for me that has worked in the past. However, interrupted noise still causes alarms to go off - as is normal for every human usually. It is in our 2,000,000 year old brains to protect and conserve ourselves as well as become alert to a threat.
So getting back to the point, the trains started back a few nights ago. I have found a solution that I want to share as I feel so grateful that I found a solution for this. I have an Alexa at home and now I tell it to play sleep sounds. You can choose what types and for how long you want to run the sounds for with a simple command - Alexa open sleep sounds - Alexa set sleep timer for 7 hours (or however long you want the sounds to play for). You can enable that skill on Alexa and look up the site - sleep sounds, it can play white noise or other sounds. Right now I have used this for the past few nights successfully and I wake up so refreshed. It's quite funny the difference it has made. I don't hear any neighbours and it is a pleasure to sleep with the sounds of the mountain lake or river in my bedroom.
I needed that contrast - see post regarding contrast. I needed to have a few weeks of amazing sleep, sleeping like a log and that feeling of waking up refreshed and ready for the day in contrast to a few nights with the train passing by for me to realise how much my sleep was being disturbed. Perhaps I was used to the trains waking me up and me falling back to sleep over and over again. I even went as far as exhausting myself during the day with exercise so I would fall asleep and then wake up even more tired than before after the trains beside the apartment block speed by.
It's right in plain sight and as we are creatures of habit we can fall into these patterns quite quickly convincing ourselves that 'it's fine' as you prioritise something else and stick in earplugs to do the job. The issues with earplugs are that 1) they are uncomfortable 2) they don't actually address the issue and 3) interrupted noise won't be drowned out by earplugs only constant noise will be dampened. I used to wear them working in a pub/club as a student, you can still hear almost everything including taking orders for people's drinks. I still wear earplugs in libraries when I study or when I need to concentrate on something important. I now use noise cancelling headphones on airplanes but also used to wear earplugs when travelling. It drowns out the majority but will not be helpful with a disruptive loud noise, you will still wake or be startled with that.
So I would say, whoever reads this if you have trouble waking up in the night - you may not even know why, it could be to do with external forces that you have gotten used to and a good solution is to play some sleep sounds. Let me tell you that your nerves will thank you as you will be much more serene once you find a solution for a noisy sleeping environment. You will be more creative, relaxed, energised in the morning, more alert - your body is like an engine in a car, it needs some time to recharge the battery and that means good quality sleep every single night. Quality is better than quantity as stated in the study I have linked below this article. So even a little amount of sleep that is good sleep is better than interrupted sleep for all types of reason - I've linked another article from WebMD below.
There are also playlists on Spotify that you can have on loop too. It's a simple, yet effective, solution for a problem that you cannot change. It also allows your brain to relax and go through each sleep cycle. You will feel the benefits are one night after you find the sound that suits you the best. Let's see what the next few nights bring. I feel happy to have found a solution. Good luck, you will figure out what works and it is the best solution until I find a quieter environment.
Some other hacks include using biofeedback which I've written about in the Biofeedback blog.
Image source: https://www.maxandmaude.net/is-your-dog-cat-sleeping-normally-pet-sleeping-info/
I moved to Germany in 2017 without any German (maybe Hallo and Danke) and I am now at B2 level and continuing to learn more and more. I completed the B1 TELC examination with 96% and Goethe with 83% in December 2019 and I really enjoyed learning the language. It's something that I've always wanted to do and I now work in German as well. I am a lifelong learner and always looking to improve. For that reason, I have no issue going back on things that I have already learnt and refreshing my memories on that topic. For example, the word's gender matters a lot in German and a friend of mine gave me the best tip when I started learning German. She said to learn all words WITH their article and then you can look at changing it depending on the cases afterwards. The most useful video that I came across for this was from easy German - see YouTube below. I can say that it's a really enjoyable language to learn as the rules, once you learn them, are clear and learnable unlike some in the Irish language. It has breathed new life into language learning for me and I have enjoyed learning with apps like Memrise that a former colleague recommended, I am so grateful for that app. The app taught me sentence structure as well as vocabulary. For more regarding learning German and some resources that I have used please see post - German Language Learning.
Perhaps we all need a bit of contrast in life in order to appreciate things more!
I went for a cycle today and I LOVE Germany for many reasons and one is for its cycle paths - see photos below. I used to cycle to work in Dublin and during the PhD in Galway as well. I cycled when I was small and I loved it. I grew up on a quiet road in Limerick (now it is not so quiet). I would go out and cycle up and down the hill outside the house and down the back of the avenue near the racecourse. It was lovely and then I fell off my bike. I hit my head, there was blood everywhere and a neighbour brought me into the house where I was still gushing blood everywhere. I don't remember much apart from not being able to stop the bleeding. I remember going to the hospital and getting stitches. I was off school for a week with a bandage that went all around my head. I had cut open my eyebrow and still have a scar from it. Apart from that I stopped cycling. I didn't do much. I was still using my sister's bike at that point too. I didn't pick cycle again until years later.
I arrived in around 2008 to Dublin and bought my own bike. It was a fold-up bike and I was living in the suburbs so I thought I'd be able to cycle it. Dublin was far too dangerous though. I didn't have the wherewithal to carry a whistle like some cyclists and get aggressive where needed. I'd watch some cyclists zoom in and out between the cars with ferocious speed. They dominated their space and they were not afraid to let the cars know that they were intruding on the small gutter that was at the edge of the road that they cycled in. Soon Dublin had cycle paths which were only lines draw on the existing roads to show that cyclists would be cycling there - see some photos below. It didn't help much. There wasn't much space. So I didn't cycle and I ended up giving my bike to my flatmate at the time who said that she would use it.
Cut to 2012, I was now in Galway for the PhD and I was in a car accident. I wasn't in only one accident but three in a row and I sold the car. I had a back injury that kept me awake during the night with discomfort, I slept with heat pads on my back and I had continuous treatment with physiotherapy. She advised me to do two things to strengthen my back muscles which were, cycling and swimming. I had to learn to swim and then buy a bike.
I went for some swimming lessons before the storm in 2012 reclaimed the swimming pool in Salthill in Galway into the sea and that was the end of that. While I stopped the swimming as there was now no pool, I kept cycling and cycled in and out to the NUIG campus right up until December 22nd. I slept a little better and my back muscles started to strengthen. The winds were violent and most of the rain was beating off my face most rides but I never regretted the cycle in - as long as I had my wet gear on. It was refreshing and I was awake by the time I got on campus. It definitely got the blood flowing being out in the wind and rain but arriving in dry after delayering! I loved it. I had a €100 euro bike that was an old rental bike - see photo below and I loved that bike. It was old, it was heavy and the first cycle I couldn't make it up the hill to the apartment in Knocknacarra but soon after a few weeks I was cycling up and down the hills in Knocknacarra without any issue.
I then moved to Dublin in 2015ish where I decided I'd cycle in and out to work in Kobo and if it was really bad weather I could shower before work. They had facilities in the office such as a gym downstairs as well as a changing room and showers. It was ideal. I rented a bike in the morning with the Dublin Bikes scheme on the north side of the city and then I'd drop back on the south side in a Dublin Bikes station nearby the office. I didn't need to buy a bike at all. I rented it usually for 25 minutes in the morning and 40 minutes on the way home - it seems like a mismatch as I took the same route but the cycle home was full of traffic and knocking on car windows to make sure you weren't squashed. See photo below for the route to show no cycle lanes in Dublin.
Cycling in Dublin is taking your life in your hands - I needed to wear a high visibility jacket of some sort, a helmet and anything else to make sure that I are seen. If you are not used to cycling within a few centimetres of cars and knowing their blindspots then it is very risky and uncomfortable. As for cycle lanes, well, there aren't any really. I cycled O'Connell bridge with three lanes of traffic - no cycle lanes and you cycle in beside the buses too - the huge, gigantic double-decker busses. It's no joke and you'd want to make sure you have eyes that are on the back of your head as you look to see if a bus has just pulled out or not. It's exciting and at the same time it's something that you need to be aware of all the time. I didn't buy a bike in Dublin. It was all for the commute and I would say not an easy cycle. You are on alert the entire time making sure no taxi/bus runs you over.
In contrast then I come to Germany in 2017, I buy a bike in 2018 and I cycle it a lot. I love cycling here, there are cycle lanes and even the entire way to the city there is a cycle lane. Galway also had cycle lanes and some were off the road too which were a pleasure to cycle in and out to campus. In the city itself it was a different story, on the old bridge into the city barely pedestrians or buses would fit together at the same time. Anyway, Germany with the cycle lanes and you can cycle for over an hour, it's not a short little 3km cycle path in Galway that I mean, it's a full route. The cycle lanes can be off the road too and under beautiful trees where leaves touch each other as they lean in to meet in the middle. It is absolutely beautiful. I mean even the ones on the roads have space, you aren't thinking to yourself - oh no, I've to knock on a window or stop cycling or jump off the bike quickly at any point. It is pure pleasure.
So maybe we all need a little contrast in order to appreciate the things we have. In some cases its cycle lanes, in others it's the beautiful weather in Germany because I am coming from a country which can rain in the west up to 225 days of the year. It's the appreciation of my health now that I have it and I cherish it, I don't think I will ever take these things for granted again. It's not until you go through the rough times that you appreciate the good. It's also important to recognise all those past experiences be it a trivial one like cycling or something else in order to recognise how far that you have come. Now don't get me wrong I loved cycling in both Galway and Dublin but the culture is different. It isn't a cycling culture in Ireland.
The culture of cycling is starting to develop in Ireland but in Germany they make bikes and have a culture that everyone uses a bike. In some cases in Ireland it's seen as being dirty - some say what about sweating - others say it's too dangerous, others have other reasons but they are not the same as here. Here everyone seems to cycle, I did notice not as many use helmets but they have more cycle lanes. Not everyone wears high visibility jackets, but they have separate cycle lanes. Not as many need to light up their bike like a Christmas tree in winter due to the darkness, because the lights are on both sides of the roads and usually you are cycling on the cycle lane. It's completely different in Ireland and Germany so there is no comparison.
While you cannot compare these two countries in terms of cycling facilities and cycling culture, when you enjoy cycling and then go to a country with the right facilities for cycling, you cannot help but admire, appreciate and adore the presence of these beautiful off-road cycle lanes. So maybe we need a bit of contrast in life to appreciate what is in front of us, and when we can't appreciate what is in front of us at that exact time then keep in mind that there is always rainbow after every storm, there is a good day after every bad days and spring comes after every winter.
Either way you look at it, those contrasts make me appreciate things even more. I love Germany, I love the cycling culture and I love the outdoors. It is so refreshing and invigorating to be able to run in the forest or cycle on a cycle path, here there are actual summers too. It's beautiful. Absolutely beautiful, I appreciate every day and every moment that I can go out and do these things. If anything the last while must have taught us is that the world can change at any second and for me, I had this view already from previous experience - see posts below regarding lessons learnt and I wouldn't change a thing. I love my life here and I love my life - FULL STOP!