Significance is relative

On Saturday night at 11:50pm, I was lying on my back on the grassy field behind my house, watching out for what would be the 13th meteor I had seen that night. And when it did come it was incredible: a sudden flash of white light which instantly drew my eyes to a region of the space just above the constellation of the Big Dipper, and just in time to see its long blue tail extend across the sky.

But lying out there, under all the thousands of visible stars inPerseid-meteor-shower-web.jpg the night sky, gets you thinking. After the sun, the nearest star to us is Proxima Centauri, at a distance of 4.2 light years. This means that when we look at it, we are really seeing what it looked like 4.2 years ago, because it takes that amount of time for its light to reach Earth. And while this is our nearest star, it is only one of 100 billion stars in the Milky Way. And the Milky Way is only one of over 200 billion galaxies in the universe. So when I was looking up at the night sky, waiting for that 13th meteor to fly past, I realised just how entirely insignificant we really are.

And realising that insignificance really puts things in perspective. At some early points in history, astronomers believed that the Earth was the centre of the Universe, and that the sun and all planets revolved around us. While we now know better than this, we aren’t all that much closer to discovering all the secrets of the Universe, and I believe that we aren’t supposed to. I do believe, however, that we aren’t alone in the Universe. Thinking that we are the only life in all of those billions of galaxies in just an extension of the same arrogance that made us think we were the centre of it all! In the grand scheme of things, we are completely insignificant, and it is a damn near impossibility that any actions of mankind would ever affect the future of the Universe.3. Milky Way Silhouette - The World at Night with Clear Skies and No Light Pollution.jpg

But while we are of zero significance when we look at the bigger picture, we are of HUGE importance on our own little planet and in our own lives. Our actions affect ourselves, each other and the fate of the planet. If we were to always focus on the bigger picture, it would have damaging effects on everyone’s lives. We would act on impulse, with no regard for the consequences of our actions. We would constantly choose to make bad decisions and feel no remorse. We would waste all our food, let people starve and ruin our planet. Because who cares about wrecking our world when there are another billion billion planets out there???

But THIS is our world. THIS is the planet that was destined to see the beginning, and end, of our species. We aren’t meant to live on Mars or the Moon, and personally I think that sending people to go live there is a very bad idea (after all, we’re already ruining our own planet, why ruin another?).

So the point in this blog post is that significance is relative. In the grand scheme of things we barely exist, yet on our own planet each one of us could be the only reason that someone else is still living. So like me, enjoy the rare feelings of insignificance while you’re star-gazing. But remember not to forget just how important we all are too.

(Yes I love astronomy 😊 )

 

Today is a gift: that’s why it’s called the present

I have a very long bucket list – over a hundred places to visit, adventures to have and photos to take. All of which would provide me with memories to last a lifetime, however long that may be. But the chances of me actually ticking them all off are very slim.

To be fair, in the eighteen years I’ve been on this planet, I’ve done some incredible things. I’v11990403_1663895650513987_4455711378670237205_ne sailed down the river on a boat in Paris, swam in the To Sua ocean trench in Samoa and won medals for my country, amongst other things. But the likelihood of me seeing the seven wonders of the world, trekking the Inca Trail and watching the Aurora Borealis from a glass igloo in Finland? Not great.

So why bother? If I know I’m not going to see everywhere I want to see and do everything I want to do, then why set myself up for the disappointment? Why do I write a bucket list? Why does anyone?

Because, we like to plan.

There’s a quote in my favourite book, Looking for Alaska by John Green, which says:

“Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia. You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.”

It is an inescapable trait of the human race that we want to prolong our lives as much as possible. We can’t bear the thought of a life without loved ones, and furthermore, we can’t bear the thought of being forgotten by those we care about. So what do we do? We plan. We try and cram as much into our future as we possibly can: we aim to travel the world and see all the famous landmarks; we aim to be adventurous and go sky diving and ride a hot air balloon; we aim to inspire, save lives and change the world. Humanity fears oblivion. We cram everything into our future in an attempt to be remembered. But as John Green writes in The Fault in Our Stars, oblivion is inevitable.

We spend so much time planning that we forget to do. Before we know it we’re caught up in education, jobs and family life, and suddenly those times that were once the future become the present, and then the past. The words on the page under the heading “My Bucket List” soon become forgotten, and everything that was going to be, never was.

So let’s not become one of those people. Go climb that mountain; start training for the marathon; book that plane ticket to Sydney. Go give blood, sign up to become an organ donor and buy a coffee for that homeless guy on the street. Stop planning for a minute and start doing. Focus on the now and stop yearning for a future that might never come.

Today is a gift: that’s why it’s called the present.

Ten Things I’ve Learnt About Life

[WARNING: Learning in progress]

  1. Happiness is a way of life, that YOU choose

Last year, I was in the middle of a phone call with my sport psychologist. He was talking about emotions, and saying that it was okay to be down or upset every so often, as long as you tried to move on from it after a while. And suddenly it occurred to me: I could choose to be happy. It seems a bit dramatic to put it like this, but it genuinely felt like a moment of enlightenment. In that moment, I realised that I had complete control over my emotions, and that if I just chose to be happy, I could be.

Of course there is a limit – I’m not saying that if you’re really upset over something, you can just snap your fingers, smile and say, “hey, I’m completely over it”, but as long as you just recognise and accept that that is how you’re feeling instead of dwelling on it, very quickly it is possible to make yourself feel better. Happiness doesn’t come to you; you choose it.

  1. Don’t just fake it till you make it, fake it until you become it

One day my coach sent me a link to Amy Cuddy giving a TED Talk on the importance of body language and how it influences both ourselves and others (link here). She spoke about how while it is common knowledge that our minds affect our bodies, it is also the case that our bodies may affect our minds. For example, sitting hunched up before a job interview may actually impact your mind and make you feel powerless and inferior, which subsequently impacts on your performance and the outcome of the interview.

There were a lot of examples and stories in the seminar (it’s definitely worth a watch) but basically the moral of the speech was that you shouldn’t just fake it until you make it, you should fake it until you become it. Pretend to be confident even if you’re not, and eventually it’ll become who you are.

I’ve used this mantra on a number of occasions, all with positive results, but for me the biggest impact has been on my mood. By trying to be optimistic, putting on a smile when things are going wrong and generally just pretending to be happy, it’s helped me become a much happier person. And most of the time now, I’m not pretending anymore. I’ve become it.

  1. When you feel like you’re drifting, make a decision

This was something that one of my physics teachers told me this year, in my final year of school. He was telling me about how he had heart problems and had been given the offer of an operation to try and fix it. Because it had risks, he couldn’t decide whether or not to go for it, and so had been drifting aimlessly, unsure, for months. But as he was talking to me, he suddenly stopped and said that he’d been drifting for too long, and was going to do it.

This really resonated with me because for a long time while I was still swimming, I felt like I was drifting too. I would turn up to training sessions, not really enjoying them but most of the time not hating it either, and I would just swim. Up and down and up and down, along the eternal black line on the floor of the pool. I knew in the back of my mind that I needed to do something about it but I put it off, afraid to say the words I knew everyone would hate to hear. However eventually I did, and it was one of the best decisions I think I’ve made. And now I know, that drifting achieves nothing.

  1. Everything happens for a reason

Now I am in no way religious. I wouldn’t go out on a limb and say that there is no God and that when we die we die, but I wouldn’t say I particularly believe in a creator or an afterlife either. However, I do think that there is some sort of mysterious force in the universe that governs our lives, depicts which people we need to meet and teaches us the lessons we need to learn. I also strongly believe in karma and that good people attract good things. (However, at the same time I appreciate that sometimes bad things happen to good people, but I’ve yet to come up with an explanation for that!)

In September I’m off to Edinburgh for university, and my best friend Beth and I had applied to stay in the same flat. We were unsuccessful, and while at first I was devastated, I am now thinking that it has maybe happened for a reason. I have never been great at meeting new people and have always been quite introverted around people I don’t know, so perhaps the universe has laid out a personal development plan for me to improve. On the other hand it could just be bad luck, but either way I’m going to put trust in it and believe it was meant to work out this way.

  1. Some things in life you just have to accept

This is where we come to my favourite teacher of all time: my S6 chemistry teacher, Mr Semple. When he first started teaching me in 5th year, he said I looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights, and ever since then I think he was on a mission to try and ‘improve’ me. And while he is the most sarcastic person I’ve ever met and outwardly appeared to not care about anyone’s wellbeing, he definitely did care and he definitely did ‘improve’ me. One of my probably more irritating traits, to a teacher, is that I can never just accept what I’m told. I have to question it, and find out exactly why it happens. It was this trait that led to Semple barking “JUST ACCEPT IT” ten times a lesson. And while he initially meant it to prevent me asking more questions about chemistry, it started to spread to other aspects of my life. Now, if I don’t like it, I change it; if I can’t change it, I accept it; if I can’t accept it, I leave it.

  1. Sometimes you need to focus on the present

Near the end of my Higher year, I was insanely stressed. The walking out of class, breakdowns in the guidance office kind of stressed. Because of it I was invited to take part in a mindfulness lesson, in the pupil support base, once a week. It didn’t particularly sound like something I would benefit from, but I was in such a bad place that I decided it probably couldn’t do any more harm. Oh it did.

I hated those lessons. For one full period a week we would listen to depressing and sometimes incredibly awkward stories from the teacher (the kind of stories that you reeaalllyy shouldn’t take into your work, nevermind tell to a bunch of already stressed teenage girls), as well as practising breathing and talking about feelings. They left me absolutely shell-shocked and even more stressed, but I was too scared to say I didn’t want to do them anymore.

But as much as I did hate them, there was a few good principles that I’ve adopted into my daily life. Sometimes when I’m overthinking and getting stressed, I try to anchor myself back in the present. I notice things – sounds and smells – and just try to focus on where I am at that present moment. I did it while I was preparing for races too: instead of stressing about how the race might go, I would focus on preparing myself the best I could. Focus on the process, not the outcome.

  1. Unnecessary pressure does more harm than good

This is another extremely important lesson I learnt after my Higher year. I was putting myself under far too much pressure to do well in my exams, when realistically there was absolutely no need for it. I’ve always been really academic, and I was the kind of person who enjoyed and did well at school, so I knew I wanted straight As in my highers. But for me at the time, straight As was never going to be enough. I wanted band 1 As, and better yet, I wanted to get as close as I could to 100% in every exam. It became an obsession: I would be silently annoyed if I lost a few marks in a test, and refused to use my notes to help me with homework so that I could see exactly which areas I didn’t know how to do. I was fully capable of getting straight As, and I did, but the stress I went through to get them was insane and completely unnecessary. In S6 I was much more relaxed, and didn’t even react when I got multiple Bs in my homeworks (something that would have driven me mad a year earlier!). Get rid of unnecessary pressure and be rational – nobody is perfect.

  1. Do what makes YOU happy

I touched on this in my first blog post but it is definitely one of the more important lessons I’ve learnt this year. For months I was drifting through my training sessions: turning up, doing what needed to be done and then getting out. I knew I wasn’t happy, but I was so afraid of letting people down that I kept going, for months and months and months. And mentally, it destroyed me. Yes, there were a lot of people that were disappointed when I told them I was quitting. There were even a few people who verbally said “no, I think that’s a mistake” and tried to persuade me not to. But at the end of the day, why would I continue living a life I wasn’t enjoying just to satisfy a few people? It would make absolutely no sense. It’s your life – do what makes YOU happy and ignore those who say otherwise!

  1. Holding grudges is a waste of your happiness

I am a very stubborn person. I am the type of person to take pride in holding grudges, the kind who would store up all the bad things someone did to me in my mind so that when I’m accused of something, I can reply with “well you did this, and this, and this”. I’m now learning that this is a very stupid and unhealthy thing to do. Holding grudges uses up so much mental energy. How can you live a happy life when every time you see someone, you are reminded of that time they invited all your friends to a party and forgot you? How can you be happy when you can’t go out for pizza because the last time you did, a girl gave you a funny look? How can you be happy when you’ve got the weight of every bad memory you have on your shoulders?

Sometimes, no matter what somebody’s done or said, you just need to forgive them. Not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace.

  1. Put only the good memories in the box

Yesterday, I was scrolling through my Twitter profile, reading tweets from the past couple of months and going all the way back to when I first made my account. A lot of them from years ago were very depressing – it was easy to see how pessimistic I used to be and how much tiny little things used to bother me. In contrast, my more recent ones are visibly more positive and show how much happier I am now. And it made me feel so good.

The problem with reflection, is that most of the time people don’t use it properly, and it has a negative effect on them instead of a positive one. When I used to think about things I’d done in the past, I would automatically go to the negative stuff and get myself really worked up about it. I would get embarrassed at stuff I’d done and get angry at people for doing things that once upset me. And I found that I used to return to that stuff far too often.

My coach once told me that you have to treat your brain a bit like a box. Choose which memories you want to put in the box, and throw the bad ones away. It’s easier said than done, but I’m getting better at it, and now I realise that I actually can’t remember a lot of the bad times in my life very clearly, because I’ve automatically thrown those memories away. Get into the habit of only putting the happy memories in the box. Because after all, who wants to look through a photo album and only see the bad times?

😊 x

SOS (Save Our Swimmers)

Depression. This was the word that, in February 2017, shocked the swimming community when Olympic silver-medallist Michael Jamieson announced his retirement from swimming. It was revealed that he had been battling the mental illness, caused by his gruelling training regime, for a while and the news raced through the swimming community as a shockwave. How could such a model athlete – who achieved so much success – possibly be suffering from depression? That’s what the non-swimmers would ask. The swimmers, on the other hand, I fear would understand perfectly.

What non-swimmers do not and cannot understand, is that if you have a talent for it, swimming becomes more than just a hobby: it becomes a lifestyle. It soon becomes normal to hear the monotonous sound of the alarm clock at 5am most mohqdefault.jpgrnings and then not get a moment to relax until after 9 o’clock at night. At elite level, swimmers will likely be in the pool 10 times a week, plus gym and land sessions several times a week, for 51 weeks of the year. And while we do it all because we love it, it can sometimes be a cruel and unforgiving sport. At every major meet, guaranteed, there will be numerous swimmers who have unexpectedly missed the medals, or not achieved the qualifying time they were aiming to get, or failed to make a final in their best event. All because they began their taper a little too early and peaked in the first couple days of the six-day meet, or trained too hard going into the competition and weren’t quite rested enough. It’s very, very cruel, but it’s just the nature of the sport.

As for Jamieson, his training plan would’ve been meticulous: every training block planned out four years before each Olympic Games. With his training volume regularly exceeding 100km weekly, it’s no surprise that it began to take its toll on him mentally, especially when after all the hard work, racing didn’t go quite as planned.

But while mental health is becoming less of a taboo subject in the general world, it is clear that there is a lot of work still to be done to help support athletes mentally. While mental factors have been scientifically proven to be of equal importance to physical ones, they are still not taken seriously enough, with many coaches only caring about getting in the metres and pushing the swimmers physically to the extreme. When swimmers are physically fatigued, their training intensity is reduced and they are told to rest. When they are mentally exhausted, they are told to get on with it. It’s an inescapable paradox.

IMG_3829I know from my own experience how mentally tough swimming can be. After a really successful year in 2015, I soon started succumbing to the perceived pressure that was on me to continue doing well. What once was my favourite thing in the world, and something that I looked forward to every day, soon became a chore. It got to the stage where my whole life revolved around something I hated, and I spent every day dreading the next session. I was miserable – not just in the pool, but in school, at home, with my friends.

But I was lucky, because I had so many amazing people supporting me through it – from my family and friends to my coach and a sport psychologist. And even though I no longer swim, I am grateful for their support and know I wouldn’t have made it through that hard time without them. Jamieson too, would have had a huge amount of help from those around him. But not everyone is as lucky.

I am quite confident when I say that there will be thousands of athletes worldwide struggling in their sport, many of whom, unlike me, will not have coaches who care enough about them as a person to let them step back and recover mentally. Most of them will not have access to sport psychologists and doctors. Maybe some of them don’t even have family that would support their wellbeing over their performance.

But one thing’s for sure, mental health in sport is an issue that affects more people than we think, and even after the shock that was Michael Jamieson’s retirement, it will take so much more for it to be taken seriously. Sport, by definition, is supposed to be fun, and since swimming in particular requires so much sacrifice, it has to be something you enjoy. So coaches: stop being so fixated on getting your swimmers to 70km every week and start asking them how they are. And swimmers: if you need help, please please PLEASE speak up. After all, a happy swimmer is a fast swimmer!

Be Happy!

I have never been the most positive person. In fact, those who know me well will agree with me when I say that this is a major understatement. I was your typical glass-half-empty kind of girl: always finding something to complain about and exuding an aura of negativity wherever I went. Not only that, but I was a MAJOR stresser; nothing was ever an easy task, and I always managed to let other people’s judgement stop me doing what I wanted to do.

Recently though, I have been trying hard to change it, and am already reaping the benefits of a hap15541507_1833268816910002_2645300536077619080_npier, relatively stress-free life. Until December 2016, I was a competitive swimmer of seven years, and a pretty good swimmer at that. I always loved the water and the temporary distraction it provided from other aspects of life, and because of that I became very good very quickly. Soon I was competing at national level, winning medals and breaking records, until eventually my career (if you want to call it that) reached its peak when I won gold for Scotland at the Commonwealth Youth Games in Samoa. I had always loved the buzz of winning and the satisfaction of knowing my hard work had paid off, but it soon started to change.

Not long after I returned from Samoa, swimming started feeling like a chore, and instead of it being a tool to help relieve stress, it started to cause it. Without diving too deeply below the surface in this blog post, I became extremely unhappy. Months went by and I kept turning up to training and churning out the metres, but in the back of my head I knew my heart wasn’t in it. Eventually I managed to face up to what I was feeling, and in December 2016 I swam my last race to date. It’s been seven months now and I’ve only set foot in a pool a handful of times, but you know what?

I’m 1000% happier.

For a long time, I felt guilty about quitting. I knew that lots of people h19601327_1931527047084178_6402248824940808430_n.jpgad high expectations of me, and I felt as though I was letting them down. But although it’s taken me a long time to realise, and even longer to accept, I know now that you have to do what makes YOU happy, regardless of what anybody else thinks. And now that I’ve accepted it, I’m trying hard to apply it to all aspects of my life. I’m by no means perfect – I still have second thoughts about whether I should wear that top to go shopping, and I can’t help worrying what people would think of me for writing this blog. But I wear the top with a smile and start thinking of new things to write about, because it doesn’t matter what they think. I’m doing what makes ME happy, and isn’t that what life is about?

xx