I’ve never been the type of girl that commits to keeping a diary. Committing to pouring out my heart on the pages of a secret diary with a padlock in the ‘dear kitty’ kind of style, never really was my thing. And yet, I had a gigantic stack of filled journals filled with stories from my very early youth right until now. They form the running chronicles of my life.

Even though the girly diary style wasn’t my thing, journals have always been a safe place for me. To try things out, to write about my life and to make (life) lists. Flipping through my old journals, you’ll find a collection of bad poetry, depressive thoughts, chronicles of the boys I have had a crush on, confusion, happy photos and parts of stories I was making up.

While there have been gaps, journals always played a huge part in my life and have been the sole constant in a life where everything is always changing. Yes, there have been gaps in the journals, and sometimes they were more a planner than an actual journal, but there was always some form of a paper book as my sidekick.

As I’m wrapping up 2018, I’m finding more and more comfort on those paper pages again. I missed it more than I thought. Sometimes not doing something makes you forget how much you need something. Sometimes you can get caught up in what ‘it’s supposed to look like’ that we forget that it’s a tool to help you with things. A journal is a tool to help you clear your head, get clear on how you feel and work through issues, emotions and feelings. It doesn’t have to look pretty, because you’re not going to show it to someone else. It’s for you to face your feelings. It’s something I forget at times. So yesterday I started a new journal. It’s not pretty, my writing is sloppy, but I already feel more grounded than I did before I started again.

What are you starting again this December?

Back in September, I started climbing. A coworker asked me to come along with her. I hesitated for a moment. Could I even do this? But decided to say yes and was hooked right away. 

I started climbing twice, sometimes three times a week. Through slow and steady progress I saw I started to improve and I could nail harder routes. 

And then I lost my job.

Naturally, there was more to it than that, but the important thing was I lost my job, got a burnout and suffered a severe emotional disbalance. On the day I lost my job I spent my day sobbing over comfort food, got myself out of the door after dinner and went climbing. I drove to the gym bawling my eyes out, but by the time I went home, I felt a lot better than before. 

How come? 

From my experience climbing forces you to think about nothing else than the problem in front of you. One thought or worry about anything else, and you’re concentration is gone. Your hand will slip, and you will end up on the matt. 

It makes climbing very mindful. There is no room for anything else. The trick with climbing and bouldering is that you’re both using your mind and body at the same time. While you’re climbing, you’re solving little puzzles.

The research

Naturally, I’m not the only one who discovered the benefits of climbing along. Several studies have been done revolving around mindfulness and climbing. All of those pointing out the same things: climbing is an act of mindfulness, leaving no room for other thoughts.

For me, climbing has been instrumental in not losing my mind. Not only had my body get stronger, but my mind also had too. Some of the routes can be scary and can only be done when you believe you can. As soon as your mind goes ‘nope you can’t do this’, you slip, and you’re back on the ground. This happened to me many times.

When it comes to climbing your mind is your strongest muscle. This is true in all sports, but in climbing it becomes most evident to me. That’s the key, I think. That even when you feel weak, and your mind is giving you a run for your money, you can still conquer it when you climb.

There is something magical about reaching the top. Even if your whole day fails and feels wrong, climbing can make you feel like you still accomplished a lot. Reaching the top feels like an achievement like you conquered the world even if that world is only 4 meters high. 

During a few very dark days climbing has been a light to hold on to. It gave me something to look forward to, and it made me feel like I did something. No matter how shit the day was, climbing could make it better. 

This year I want to keep climbing. In the gym, outdoors, in different places and other countries. I want to read about climbers, connect to climbers and be a climber. Because in the end, climbing saved my mind when I thought it was going to stuck in a really dark place. I taught me I’m always stronger than I look, especially when I don’t think I am.

Sometimes it’s hard to look into the mirror. Really stare yourself. Look at your reflection and see not only the flaws but also the good things. Sometimes you need someone to hold that mirror up and point those things out to get you started. 

The point is that unless you are willing to really look yourself in the eye and be open to what you see, you will never improve. You will never change one single thing about yourself apart from just getting older. 

Would you be willing to stay where you are? Not change? Be like this until you’re 80? 

Yeah. Me neither.

Don’t be afraid to be you. The tagline of my website and the hardest lesson I’m still learning. Every day I’m still afraid to be me. I don’t know who ‘me’ is sometimes. Where I’m going, or what I want to do, who I want to be. So it’s hard to be something fully and completely when you don’t know who or what that is.

It’s an easy excuse to hide behind and live in suspended animation. I know that. But it’s also a large part of my reality. Who am I? How do I know for sure what I want to do?

Taking a leap of faith is one way to go, I’ve done that on many occasions. I moved to the UK, went back for one thing, and there have been many other situations where I spontaneously followed my gut instinct. Sometimes that felt like the only thing I could do.

And now when I want so desperately to rely on that gut instinct, it has gone on a vacation without me. I will have to work hard to make sure it comes back to me. And the only way to do that is one habit a time.

So this morning, after a long period of nothingness, I pulled out my journal, and I wrote three good things that happened yesterday and three things I’m grateful for. Starting to full-on journal was too big a step yet. But, the journal inspired me to make an index card for the Icard challenge, and I’m writing this blogpost now.

Little tiny baby steps all the way. One thing I know, one thing I’ve always known, is that creativity and writing are the two things that are going to make all the difference.

It’s up to me to face the demons blocking my path with these tools and make sure writing and creativity are the cornerstones on which I build my day.

I’m lying on my back on a towel. I can feel the grass beneath my feet, the sun on my face and the wind playing with the loose strands of hair. In this moment I am completely happy.

Lately, happiness is something that doesn’t come around that often for me. Being burnt out for me means that happiness is something that’s really hard to experience, and everything around me feels like a big black hole that’s sucking me in deeper. But today was different.

Today’s yoga session was outside. It’s one of those rare occasions where the Netherlands is warm. And I mean really warm. Bright blue sky and blazing sun. We white Dutch people rejoice and at the same time worry about sunburn. So today, my weekly yin yoga class was in someone’s garden overlooking the fields. Up ahead, horses were running around and playing, and all I could hear was the sound of birds and the rusting in the grass.

This is what happiness looks like.

We came to a stop right as we were exiting the roundabout. It was the start of my big UK adventure, and it started with a broken car an hour away from our destination.

The car was packed to the brim with boxes of stuff that I felt I needed to bring. Anything from books, to craft supplies, pens, clothes and even a sewing machine. Fifteen moving boxes in total and let’s not talk about all the loose crap stuffed in between.

If anything, I’m far from a minimalist, and this was made painfully clear as we stood there with our car broken down. Someone came to rescue us, but because of the weight of the car, the cable snapped. It stranded us in the middle of roundabout number two.

In hindsight, some good things happened because the car broke down. My dad had to stay longer and got to see more of the countryside. He got to see me settle into my new life in Wales.

It also prolonged the goodbye making it harder by the day.

But we did some great stuff. We went to see St. Davids Cathedral, the St. Davids Bishop’s Palace next to it and we went to the beach. The beach was special as it turned out to be one of my favourite places in Wales. I even cycled there on my Dutch bike.

This year it was six years ago that I moved to the UK to chase a dream I never got to find. Moving out there was not all it was cracked up to be. I fought for it, though, took a job in the big city, moved out there on my own. But I never found my happy place there.

The only time I did was when I was up in the countryside hiking some mountain.

This year also marks the fourth year of being back in the Netherlands. It’s always a bittersweet reminder. Four years ago, I decided spontaneously to go back home. Just as spontaneous as I did when I decided moved out there in the first place.

Now, all those years later, I would have done things differently for sure. I know more, I acquired more skills, and I know better what makes me happy. But would I have changed moving to the UK? No, I wouldn’t.

At the time, all I wanted to do was get out of the Netherlands and move to another country. Chase those big dreams and making them happen. And I did, I went out there, I chased the dreams and came back home with my tail between my legs.

Yes, the fact that I came back does make me feel like I failed in some way. In others, I was brave enough to recognize a situation that wasn’t working for me anymore.

Failure or not. It was an experience that is all mine, something I’ve done and that no one can take away from me anymore. And I’m better for it.

We had just gotten out of our hotel in Bangkok, and all I could smell was this overwhelming stench. Asia took some getting used to at first, but what struck me most was that everything smelled differently.

Our hotel was in China town, exiting on the famous street with all the street food carts. Not even 10 minutes into Asia and I had already encountered Durian. I had heard of it before, but I couldn’t imagine what it would smell like. Rotting dirty feet would be a great way to describe it. And the food carts stocked them abundantly.

On our first night in Bangkok, we booked a street food tour. Together with a guide, we explored all the different street foods in the area. Some tasty, others not so much. Upon request, we tried Durian as well. It’s one of those things you have to try when you’re in Asia.

I was a little hesitant – it really stank! My ex took a bite and shook his head in disgust. Not for him. But I was surprised when I took a bite. It was actually really nice. It reminded me of camembert, the French cheese I love so much. The look on my ex’s face when I asked for another piece was one for the books.

Now that we knew what it was, the smell of Durian became familiar. I was no longer looking for something that was rotting in a ditch; it was just Durian.

Because the air is hot and humid in Asia, everything feels different. When we travelled to Indonesia and Singapore, I had the same thing: getting used to the different smells took me a while.

I guess since we’re so used to a particular kind of smell, we get so used to it that we almost don’t smell it anymore. If I travel within the Netherlands, Amsterdam doesn’t smell that much different than Groningen does. It’s familiar and safe. And even before you can see where you are, you know you’re somewhere, you know.

Coming to Asia was different. The was a cultural shock the first few days. It was hot, humid, traffic was different, it was busy, and it smelled. However, once I had gotten used to the smell, it was okay. It just took me a few days to get used to it, but then I enjoyed the tropical scent in the air. And of course the sent of food.

If there’s anything they’re good at in Asia, it’s food and eating. Some of the best things I had was during my travels in Asia. And I don’t mean insects and things. I mean classic Thai and Indonesian dishes.

This year I hope to go back to Asia, to see more, and to try more of the foods there. I never thought I would say this, but I’ve grown fond of Asia.

Everything around me is silent. The only sound comes from the wind through the cornfield and a few birds. I’m paddling my bike up a hill on a country road in Wales to go to the beach. Oh, and did I mention I’m not wearing a helmet?

The path I take is amazing, and a sense of freedom overwhelms me. The last corner leads me on a steep path down. It rained earlier that day, so the road is slippery. I pick up speed and try to use the back paddle breaks to slow down. My back wheel slips, but I’m still upright and rolling down. I can’t see where the road is going, and I pray no car is coming up. The road is too narrow for both of us, and I have no way to stop as I’m still picking up speed on my way down.

Being born and raised in the Netherlands, I grew up on a bike. Naturally, when I moved to Wales, I had to bring my bike. It turned out my bike wasn’t equipped for the Welsh countryside. No gears and looking like a proper vintage piece of metal, it was the joke of the village. Especially when one morning, I rode it to my waitress job.

In hindsight, the no helmet thing was stupid. Over here in the Netherlands, no one wears helmets, not even the little children learning to cycle. If you do see people wearing helmets, they’re either sports cyclists going way too fast or German tourists. It did teach me a few things, though: I make do with what I have. Since I lived in a small cottage in the middle of nowhere, I had no other way of getting around. I was still saving up for a car, and the beach was too far to walk. So I had to use the bike to get around. But it also taught me that I tend to be spontaneous, bordering on recklessness and that I like it that way. I love the feeling of making up my mind to do something and then to do it. In fairness, that doesn’t always work out, but at least I have no regrets.

Like that day, I cycled to the beach, even though I still ended up mostly walking back home. The roads were too steep to cycle back up, and I had no endurance whatsoever since I was used to the flat roads in The Netherlands. Yet, I regretted nothing. The fresh air, the sense of adventure, and the feeling of freedom gave me wings.

Looking back, I sometimes wonder where that carefree, spontaneous girl went. She’s replaced by a calculated planner who is used to comfort and security. Yet in the midst of this, I can feel the need for adventure rising and bubbling like a volcano eruption. One of these days, it will erupt and result in a trip far out of my comfort zone. So far, in fact, that it will feel like the comfort zone was never even there.