It’s 730pm, Wednesday evening.  I’m watching yet another prison based documentary on Netflix but my eyes are stinging.  The extreme heat of May means my fan is on almost constantly when I’m home, this combination resulting in my already dry eyes going into meltdown: stinging like hell; hazy blurred vision; and joy of joy occasional stabbing pains.


Shutting my eyes for a few minutes will usually ease the pain (yes I can regularly be seen sitting in cafes and bars with my eyes shut looking like some sweaty, dishevelled spiritual enlightenment seeker) and so I employed this tactic last night.


And the next thing I knew it was 1.30am and I was reaching up to switch off the fan before turning over and not stirring again until 7.30 this morning.


That’s one way to cure stinging eyes I guess!



It’s OK to not be OK

As it’s currently Mental Health Awareness week I thought I’d do something a little bit different on the blog today by sharing some of my struggles and strategies.


There’s two distinct but intertwining elements to my mental health issues.


The first element came into my life as a teenager.  my periods started, hormones kicked in and with them came raging PMT.  Not that I ever acknowledged that was the case.  Too embarrassed to even talk about my menstrual cycle I chose to blame my regular mood swings and vile outbursts on the “idiots” I was surrounded by.    My family and others close to me suffered terribly as every month I became verbally and even, on occasion, physically abusive, along with being moody as hell and self-loathing.  By my 30s I was finally ready to acknowledge that what was going on was actually my stuff, part of chemical switches that occur in my brain as my hormone balance shifts throughout the cycle and now in my late 40s I’m fascinated by how the shift in my hormone shifts as I move through perimenopause into menopause means that new patterns are emerging, but those same depressive feelings are the result.


So that’s my hormones doing their thing, but something else can often be at play in negatively impacting my mental health and that is the situations and circumstances I sometimes find myself in.  These mostly centre around romantic relationships and what I now recognise as my inability to retain a sense of myself when I’m in them coupled with a fear of being alone which keeps me in them for far too long, but have also included a period of bullying at work (that introduced to chronic anxiety for the first time too) and a badly timed move to Poland amongst others.


And you may have already worked out that when I’m in a shitty situation and start feeling meh my hormones start to go haywire too exacerbating the issue.  This mainly happens because when I start to get depressed I stop doing the things that minimise the impact my hormones have on my mood, namely I eat crap; I don’t exercise; I entertain and even actively encourage negative thoughts and basically do anything and everything to send me spiralling downwards.


I’ll be honest with you, whilst I’ve never thought about committing suicide there have been times when I wished my life would end and I’ve had extended periods of time where even getting out of bed every day was a major challenge and actually getting showered and dressed was beyond my capabilities.


But it’s not all doom and gloom.  Most of the time now I feel mentally well and when I feel it starting to slip I have a fabulous toolkit of stuff that I use to help me get back on top.


Before I share with you what those tools are though I want to be totally honest with you.  I currently take, and have for a long time now, a daily antidepressant – the SSRI, Fluoxetine to be precise.


I started taking them during my infamous divorce which in the end took longer to get through than the length of the marriage itself (18 month marriage versus 2 year divorce in case you were wondering).  A long conversation with my doctor convinced me that

  1. I wouldn’t have the reticence to taking drugs if it were a heart condition we were managing and…
  2. The level of depression I was experiencing was too severe to climb out of without a little push (this was deep in the not getting dressed and wishing I was dead phase).


After the divorce was settled I slowly came off the tablets whilst at the same time working really hard on improving my physical health and diet.  I was at my physical peak, eating in a way designed to boost hormonal health and yet once a month I still sloped down into a pit of despair that made going to work difficult as I often couldn’t stop crying and was exhausted all the time and managing unjustified outbursts towards my nearest and dearest and their aftermath was a daily struggle.


Another conversation with my doctor and we agreed that I’d try going back onto a low dose of the fluoxetine and low and behold, within three months the psycho Sara who jumped out of the closet every month for a week or two was firmly locked away.  And that’s why I to this day take SSRIs.  Because for me they help.  They turn my normal hormonal pattern into a socially acceptable hormonal pattern and allow me to function daily.


At times I have, with the agreement of my doctor, upped my dose temporarily to manage situations when I could feel myself sinking and I also had to switch to a different type of medicine when anxiety struck to stop me chewing my nails to the bone and avoid having a nervous breakdown over my failure to watch everything I’d recorded on the TV!?!?!


But the tablets are only a small part of what keeps me sane, so here’s some of the other stuff I do to help me be ok:


  1. I talk to people (both professionals in the form of therapy and trusted friends/family). No longer ashamed of my periods or my mental health foibles I recognise that talking about this stuff serves multiple purposes.  It helps me reduce the problem to a manageable size rather than being an insurmountable obstacle, it helps me reframe the issue and sometimes even reveals that the problem isn’t there at all.
  2. I meditate. I have a free app called Insight Timer on my phone and I use it daily (sometimes more than once).  Even when I’m sinking into a CBA phase I make sure that I at least put on some meditative music when I turn off the light to go to sleep at night and regularly turn to it during periods of insomnia.  For me it helps that this app tracks how many days in a row you meditate for and awards stars (gotta love a star chart) and there’s also a HUGE variety of stuff on there to listen to.
  3. I eat right. Part of the reason for doing the pickle workshop was because I know how important a healthy gut is to ensuring a healthy brain (something like 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut) and after having strep throat and taking antibiotics to kill the infection my gut needed all the help it could get.  The pickles have now all gone and tomorrow sees me starting off a new batch of what will now be a regular feature on my plate along with lots of fresh veggies and fruit – this is the year that, if I don’t discover my Nutribullet at the bottom of a box in my storage unit, I will buy myself a blender and become the smoothie queen of Kampot.
  4. I laugh. At other people, with other people, at stuff on the internet but more often than not at myself.  Life’s too short to take yourself too seriously.
  5. I employ the mantra of not my circus, not my monkeys and I encourage others to do the same.
  6. I’m grateful. Grateful for my health, for my beautiful family and friends, for sunshine and rain, for mangoes, coffee, good red wine and gin, for the simple things and a lot more besides.
  7. I exercise. Not a gym bunny and don’t want to be, but I do have to admit I always feel better when I’ve been for a walk or a bike ride or a swim so it needs to be part of my routine.  I also love meditative exercise such as Qi Gong and try to combine some with a bit of stretching when I’m on a mission to be well.
  8. I listen to music – creating eclectic playlists with quirky names to match my mood or needs and adding to them when I hear a song I love is a favourite of mine. As is listening to radio two while I’m pottering about at home (though obviously not outside as my intolerant neighbour is likely to shout at me if I do).
  9. I make stuff. Creative stuff makes me very happy and is one of the reasons I am actually really enjoying teaching the tinies at school.  Every day we do some kind of craft activity and I think I generally enjoy it as much if not more than the kids do.
  10. I write. My blog is a way of making sense of what happens in my life and also a way of connecting with the people who read it.


So there you have it, my mental health wrapped up in a blog. It really is ok to not be ok.


BTW, if stress is an issue for you, you might be interested in this article that I wrote a while back and now sits on my allthingssaraperry.co.uk site: Address your Stress


Today is one of 26 public holiday days here in Cambodia.  The reason for this particular holiday is the celebration of the birthday of the current king.   In honour of this we get two days off, and when I say we I mean anyone who works for a Cambodian government organisation or a private business which currently includes me in my temporary capacity as a primary school teacher of English as a Second Language.


Every Cambodian with a job in a Cambodian institution and access to a vehicle or a space in/on one has been on the move.  The road outside has been bumper to bumper for most of the day and news from social media reports traffic jams across town and on the main routes in and out of town too.


Each group of travellers following the same rituals.  Set off early having packed every available space in/on the vehicle with food, then stop at a popular spot for breakfast before heading to the chosen beauty spots via stops at various snack stalls en route.  Those heading on the road out past my house are on their way to the waterfall.  Their journey through town to this spot will most likely have included a visit to the main market and a stop at the railway track to take pictures as well as the breakfast break and snack pickups.  Some families do buck the trend and stop for a picnic on the way.  The criteria for selecting a spot to sit and munch appears to include being as close to the open rubbish heap as possible and potentially edged out into the actual road itself.


Whilst all of this makes for entertaining observation it’s actually not much fun to be a part of – name me one person who enjoys a bank holiday traffic jam back home.


And so, In honour of such an auspicious day, I rose early and engaged in a period of meditation followed by 20 minutes of gorgeous stretchy yoga.  I ate a ripe juicy human head sized mango with natural yoghurt, drank good strong Cambodian coffee and spent a few hours reading my latest book (Gone Girl in case you’re interested).  A lunchtime wander down to the spa was timed impeccably to avoid the huge storm that rolled in this afternoon, disturbing my Netflix binge viewing thanks to the din of the rain on the roof.


Nothing much else has occurred in my day apart from the eating of pickles straight from the jar and brewing up a second batch of Kombucha, the first being absolutely delicious once flavoured with ginger and served over ice.


That and listening to the increasing impatience o those on the traffic lined road and thanking my lucky stars I’m not part of it.


Night turns to day

Sleep was slow coming last night.  The intense heat of May means the fan needs to stay on when I turn in, it’s gentle whir usually lulling me into oblivion but last night it failed to do the trick.  An hour or so after the lights went off and my nightly meditation was a distant memory I finally nodded off.


It was a short-lived sleep.  The long overdue storm finally arriving, its approach bringing a series of short power cuts, the break in the whirring of the fan stirring me from my dreams just as a huge flash of lightening lit up my room, a roll of thunder not far behind.


For an hour or so I lay once more unable to sleep.  Listening as the thunder rumbled, then banged and then the clouds broke.  A metal roof means storms are not a peaceful experience at the best of times and this one was a corker, the rain so heavy that the dripping from the hole in my ceiling turned from a gentle pitter to an ominous plopping.  Would this be the night that my ceiling finally gave up its fight against the nightly rambunctious tumbling of scrapping rats and cats coupled with the water seeping into its layers.


It held firm, the rain lessened and ultimately sleep arrived again.


The next time it was the neighbourhood dogs.  Howling at god knows what for the longest time before our family of hounds decided to join in the fray.  I tossed and turned, I dozed, the dogs refused to give up their howling.  And then I saw it, a shadow passed my window.  There was activity in the yard.


Two men, mango thieves at a guess, snooping around.  Papa was woken, shuffling out in his boxers only to chat to the men and wander up to the road.  Our dogs quietened down, the neighbourhood ones not so much so.


The monks chanting, a death overnight maybe.


By now all thoughts of sleep erased I lay and listened to the sounds of the approaching morning.  Watching as the sky turned from black to a deep rose pink outside my window.


Opening the door to a post storm morning, the faint smell of over ripe slightly fermenting mangoes drifting on the breeze.


Yoga time maybe? Or how about a bike ride?


The latter decided upon and off I went into the cool of the start of Sunday, in my mind likening the temperature and feel to a UK summer morning.  An impromptu selfie to Snapchat back home put paid to that idea – my idea of a ‘cool’ morning registering as 26 degrees on the app.


A bovine roadblock, same place as last time, probably the same cows.  Kampot waking up, going to get coffee and breakfast, the ice man doing his rounds, reaching the end of the road and turning back, bridge painting still going on (sadly the yellow and black have made an appearance), beauty in the simplicity of a lotus flower opening.

Post bike ride I sit for coffee, the lack of sleep making it a three Americano morning, the end of my book signalling that exciting time of which one to choose next.


All is well in my world and despite the lack of sleep I have a good feeling about today.

The spice of life

On Thursday, my day started with me providing consultancy support to the female leaders of an awesome business here as they transition to a new exciting phase and ended with me singing the let’s pack our toys away song followed by the goodbye song as I finished teaching an English as a Second Language class consisting of 14 children aged between three and nine.


A mere 6 weeks ago my Sunday was filled with leading a whole day event for 300 employees of a Cambodian pharmaceutical company followed by a taxi home from Phnom Penh in the evening so that I could spend Monday and the rest of the week that followed teaching literacy and numeracy in a combined year 1 and 2 primary school class here in Kampot.


The past nine months have also seen me writing marketing and workshop materials for consultants in the UK and Australia; working in the two Dorsu shops in town and also reviewing and revising their HR and retail store operation  processes; supporting the L&D team at Heineken Cambodia in designing and preparing to deliver a companywide away day; creating and delivering a number of workshops to support effective communication and team working for organisations here in Cambodia and offering voluntary support to the team at the Banteay Srey Project here in Kampot.


And then, come July I turn my hand once more to the role of Course Director for another brief but exhausting summer school season.  This will see me managing and supporting a team of teachers, some actual teaching itself no doubt, keeping a diverse group of group leaders and their cohorts of students happy and dealing with all of the random stuff that putting 200 international pre-teen and teenagers in a British University setting for two weeks at a time brings about.


Well, they do say that variety is the spice of life and it would appear my life is pretty damn spicy right now!

Pleasure, Pain and a Pledge

This post comes to you close to the wire in terms of my commitment to an essay a day in May courtesy of the first P in the title.


You find yourself reading a slightly red wine and gin addled post thanks to an impromptu night out with co-owner of Dorsu and personal friend Hanna Guy and her dad Dave.


A “come join us for a wine” text ended up being a two bottles of red, followed by a night cap G&T (BTW if you haven’t already heard, Cardamom infused gin is THE FUTURE!) times three night which has just ended with the lovely tuktuk driver Nu dropping me at the gate to a welcoming serenade from resident canines Big Red & Yappy (or Bean as he’s officially known).


So that succinctly sums up pleasure meaning it’s time to move on to pain.


For 47 years now I have carefully trained my shoulders to slowly but surely gravitate towards my ears via across the board tightening of muscles.  This stressed position is all well and good until some form of actual stress like an impending  primary school cover teaching stint sends the already tensed up muscles into super tense overdrive and my body ceases to function without pain.  And there you have the picture of me this week.  Back, neck & shoulders knotted to high heaven with knots on knots causing a trapped nerve and the inability to raise my left arm more than a few inches without experiencing pain.


I’ve suffered it in silence all week.  A round of heads, shoulders knees and toes turned into heads, shoulders half way to my knees, half way to my knees as I creaked and groaned through each afternoon, until I finally did the grown-up thing and called our local osteopath and masseur this morning for help.


Fast forward to 6pm this evening and I find myself lying on a massage bed and having my spine manipulated.  From the manipulations being made it quickly became apparent what a twisted wreck my body had become and I slowly but surely had this realisation reinforced as muscles from my clavicle to my elbow – some of which I didn’t know existed – screamed in protest as they were gently asked to release from spasm.  An hour of this torturous bliss left me feeling like I was floating on air as I headed home on my bike. What’s more, it also ignited in me the fire to commit the last P of the title.


On the first of May I pledged to write an essay a day in May and ten days in this pledge has been a huge source of huge procrastination but also a source of joy.  Writing every day feels good especially when that writing is put out into the world to be read and responded to.


And so, I’m going to try once again to harness the accountability of putting something out into the virtual world in a bid to get something going.


And this time my pledge is to my personal health.


The pain of the massage and manipulations today have made me finally, really acknowledge how abusive I’ve been to my body for the last 6 months.


And so, I hereby pledge to doing at least 10 minutes but preferably 20-30 minutes of simple flexibility based yoga every day from tomorrow until I leave Cambodia for the UK on 7th June 2018.


Can’t wait to start tomorrow (said the Sara who is not already feeing a hangover forming).


Wish me luck!  I’ll keep you posted.

Winning at Teaching

You know you’re winning at teaching when:

  • A child falls asleep sitting up in circle time so you lie her down in the book corner and she sleeps through the next two hours
  • You cycle home from work singing “roly poly, roly poly, up, up, up” to yourself after having sung it twice a day for the past week
  • You’ve gone from hearing “Miss Sara” uttered every 5 seconds for 3 hours straight during your first stint at the school, to a variety of monikers raising from the acceptable but vaguely irritating “Miss Chara” (a bastardisation of my name and the teacher I’ve replaced) to the outright bonkers “Miss Booron” this time round.
  • When a child says toilet to you 10 times whilst jigging about and you still fail to understand what he wants
  • You have to sit on your hands to stop the be perfect in you grabbing the pencil from out of a child’s hand because they’re not drawing the tail on the tadpole the right way
  • Getting up from circle time is akin to a circus elephant getting up from kneeling
  • You wish Bot Bot was the name of one of the children in your class not the morning one as it’d be easy to remember and would make you giggle every time you said it
  • 75% of your time in the classroom is spent saying things like ‘oh wow’ and ‘yes’ and ‘that’s great’ to try to mask the fact that you don’t know what someone has said
  • You spend a ridiculous amount of your day pulling up shorts that are falling down
  • A kid grabs hold of your legs and then utters ‘urgh’ when he realises how wet and sweaty your legs and dress are
  • You use your really annoying, over animated, enthusiastic teacher voice when you order your dumplings for dinner on the way home from school
  • The highpoint of your afternoon is when you’re lying on the floor squirming around transforming from a tadpole into a frog
  • It’s easier to just pick the little ones up and physically move them than trying to get them to understand what you want them to do


And all of that is just three days in – I dread to think how long the list will be in a couple of weeks time!