If Only Our Eyes Saw Souls

We do not meet people by chance, they come into our life for a reason. I honestly believe this to be the case when I met one of my best friends ‘Simon’.

Anyone who has started a new job will know how it feels the day before. Little nerves of anticipation but excitement at the same time. My new colleagues were lovely, so my nerves were unjustified and despite the restaurant being extremely busy they made time to interact and include me. They made me feel part of the team. This is how I met Simon and I will always be grateful of this day.

Simon and I hit it off instantly and is without a doubt one of the kindest souls I have ever met. He took me under his wing and looked out for me, he helped make my days a little brighter with his kindness. He took time to listen, help and guide me on things that were not familiar both in work and out. As our friendship blossomed, we discovered more things we had in common. His laugh is infectious and like me he laughs at his own jokes, having a good sense of humour helps when you work in hospitality and got us through some terribly busy shifts. I could just look at Simon and he would know what I was thinking.

We share similar tastes in music and talk frequently about what we like to listen to on our days off but what connected us mainly was our love for photography. We could talk about photography for ages. Simon is extremely modest, but I am going to say he is truly gifted. His art tells a story and one that captures the imagination. I feel not only blessed to have met him but to call him my friend, my best friend.

Now what if I told you that Simon was black? Would that make a difference?

Did you assume that he was white? Simon is Simon regardless of his skin colour, the same kind soul. The same person who looked out for me when I needed a friend. So why then should he be treated any different to me? Why can he not have the same opportunities that I do? To be treated equally like I do. Black lives do matter. Simon matters and he deserves to live a life of love, not hate.

“If only our eyes saw souls instead of our bodies how very different our ideals of beauty would be.”

What can I do to help? What can we do to help? These were the questions I asked myself when I witnessed so much hurt and pain to other human beings. To understand, to encourage, to support. Educate ourselves to do better, educate our children. Racism is wrong and no one should have to go through it. You would never treat your best friend or any friend in this way.

 

The New Norm

The “new norm” it is an expression that I have heard and used myself regarding our future but what does the new norm look like and feel like?

After 3 months of quarantine in Northern Ireland it was time for me to travel back to my home in London and return to my work in hospitality. I was excited to see my colleagues and go back to the hustle and bustle of city life.

My journey back to London was very surreal and it felt like I was in a movie. I arrived at the airport expecting long ques for check in and even longer ques at security, but this was not the case. There was hardly anyone there. In fact, it felt like the airport was not open. No ques at check in, no ques at security and nothing open inside. Just people waiting around wearing masks and looking nervous. Like many others who were travelling this was probably their first flight since lockdown and worried about the implications of doing so.

The flight was comfortable, and EasyJet adhered to social distancing, any concerns I had about flying were put at ease. I had a whole row to myself which instantly put my mind at rest. Everyone continued to wear their masks as instructed in the airport and out of respect for each other. It is a short flight of only an hour so wearing the mask was not an inconvenience for that time. My concern was how could EasyJet operate with half capacity on a plane of this size? Would this be reflected in the price that we the consumer would pay? Would travelling now become a luxury?

After arriving in London, I then had to take a train and tube journey to reach my home. Like many people I was a little nervous about using the underground. At this stage I had been wearing my mask now for almost 3 hours. The temperature in London was much hotter than Ireland and the underground even warmer. It did not feel like the City that I had left. No crowds, no squeezing to get in. Just myself and 3 others on the carriage. The temperature as usual was hot and if you have ever been to London you will know how hot the underground gets. Wearing a mask is uncomfortable and at times its difficult to breath. I do not have the luxury of getting an uber or a taxi so public transport is how I and many others will be travelling. What I did realise though was an elderly man sitting opposite me and he was wearing his mask also. How hard must that have been in that heat? But he chooses to wear it because it was the right thing to do. He was showing kindness towards others. A small gesture but a beautiful moment for humanity.

I returned to my work the following day and seeing my colleagues for the first time was heart-warming, when you work in hospitality your colleagues are not just your colleagues but your family. My instinct was to hug them, I had not seen them in 3 months, and it was the first thing I wanted to do. I am a hugger and have always been a hugger. I just find it a nice way to say hello. For me this was extremely hard, and I am sure so many others can relate and is something I find extremely difficult about the new norm. Physical contact for all over us is so precious.

Despite what is happening around the world businesses are working hard to ensure your safety, public transport, aeroplanes, restaurants, pubs, hotels, shops are all adapting so that we can all get back to normal. Employees are learning new systems, training and eager to welcome you back. What I do know, regardless of what the new norm looks like and how hard it may be, if we are patient, kind and respectful of others needs then just maybe we can achieve a beautiful future together.

Be Yourself

There is an old saying that you should ‘Never Judge a book by its Cover’ and it is a saying that I am very found of. You truly never know what someone is going through in their life despite how they may act or seem. I have always been a confident lady, outgoing, bubbly and try to be positive. Working in hospitality you meet and interact with so many people daily that conversation and relationships become your way of life. No one would have ever thought that I had anxiety or even suspected unless I told them.

When my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I remember I started to feel anxious. Naturally, I was worried for her and my family. Without me being aware this was the start of my anxiety and my body was reacting to her diagnoses. I found it hard to sleep at night and my thoughts would be filled with her next appointments, what I could do or how could I help her. My main priority at that time was my mother and family so I knew I had to do something regarding my sleeping patterns and emotions. This is how I got into kickboxing.

Exercise is a great way to release the energy in your body and helps make you feel good. Kickboxing helped me in so many ways and I am forever grateful to my trainer Sean who always pushed me hard but took the time to teach me about nutrition. There is no better feeling than hitting that punch bag. Any negative emotion I had was released during that session. Kickboxing teaches you not only about fitness but respect for your team members too. I have so much admiration for any athlete, the level of patience, commitment and dedication to achieve a black belt totally blew my mind. Not everyone is into Kickboxing and I understand that, but you do not need to be. On the days that I cannot go to the gym I simply go for a walk, even for 30 minutes. It helps relax my body and the fresh air is also good for your mind.

As I became more aware of my anxiety, I was able to recognise the triggers and what brought them on. Stress was the main factor which lead to worry and my body was reacting to this worry. I made changes to my lifestyle that would help combat the anxiety and change my thought process too. After my mother died, I cut certain things out of my life that made me feel sad or bad about myself. I stopped watching the news, horror movies and only watched comedies for nearly a year. Laughter really is good for the soul. When I listen to music, I play anything that is upbeat, that I can sing awfully too but makes me smile inwardly. I found that I could keep myself positive by changing these small details of my life.

“Changing your mind is a strength” Gary Vaynerchuk

I reduced my caffeine intake to one cup of coffee a day as I found If I exceeded this it would trigger my anxiety. I also stopped drinking as much alcohol as this also gave me horrendous anxiety the next day. Do not get me wrong I still like to enjoy myself, but everything is now in moderation. Every night before I go to bed, I read my gratitude book. It is a journal of 10 things that I am grateful for in my life and why I am grateful for them, my last thoughts at night are happy thoughts. Having good friends who are positive and you can talk to about how you are feeling helps and I feel very blessed I have amazing people in my life. Sometimes you must step away from negative people too for your own happiness. Taking time for yourself is essential and something I am learning I must do more of as I can confess, I have always been a workaholic but in order to heal you need to love yourself too.

Everyone has different symptoms when it comes to anxiety so I can only tell you how it affects me. When it is bad it is awful, it takes over my whole body. I cannot eat properly as my stomach is cramping, my heart races and I literally feel like it is coming out of my chest. I have so much energy racing through my body but at the same time everything is difficult to do. There is no motivation. It paralyses you. What I have learned over time though is that you can utilise that energy, positively.

During Covid 19 I have discovered other ways to help keep my mind positive, writing, drawing and even social media. Tik Tok is one platform I would have never used prior and now really enjoy watching and making videos. There are genuine users who simply make me laugh out loud when I watch them. I cry happy tears. Like with any social media platform there will always be a small majority who leave inappropriate comments. How do you handle them? With kindness, they must be hurting to want to do that in the first place. The most important thing I have learnt is that there will be days that my anxiety will be good and days that it will not, but It will not stop me from being me.
Be yourself – be unique, be funny and be kind.

Never Give Up

My mother was a wonderful lady, she loved my siblings and I very much and just lived for her grandchildren, they were her world. She was very independent and strong but with a heart full of kindness and unconditional love.

I remember the day of her diagnosis very clearly, my mother and I both waiting nervously in the doctors waiting room both pretending we were not nervous to each other and everything would be fine. Even after the doctor gave my mother the diagnosis, I think we were both still in shock. It only hit us when we left and sat in her car, we both just started crying. The doctor confirmed she had lung cancer and due to her ill health, they could only offer her radio therapy but could not cure her. From that moment I made a promise to myself that would be the last time she witnessed me upset. Now more than ever I needed to be strong for her and my family.

After the diagnosis we looked at alterative treatments for my mother as well as the radio therapy. I had friends who had been through this journey previously with their loved ones and they recommended wheat grass. As a family we did our research and studies had proven it could help with the side effects of radio therapy. My mother had COPD and the radio therapy could affect her lungs after the treatment, so we started growing our own and my mother took it religiously every single day.

Caring for a loved one with cancer is like being on a rollercoaster at Alton Towers. Your emotions are constantly all over the place with every hospital appointment and treatment. Worrying has it got bigger, had the treatment worked and trying to live in hope and remain positive. I met some of the most courageous people while my mum had her radio therapy. They still inspire me to this day.

After the treatment, my mother was extremely tired and slept most of the day, but we were explained this and so were prepared for it. What I was not prepared for or any of my siblings was how much it impacted us also. We took it in turns to be with her and as her illness progressed, she needed oxygen permanently and her mobility deteriorated. My father became her main carer, while managing to work and look after the house also. He continued to be there for his wife in sickness and in health. MacMillan Cancer helped our family tremendously with my mother’s palliative care. My mother’s nurse Linda offered us advice, support and love. She visited my mother every week regardless and they became exceptionally good friends. I have such admiration for her and what she does, one of life’s angels.

As my mother got weaker it was more difficult for her to move and she could not get up the stairs to her bed at night, her only comfort was sitting up straight so she remained downstairs. My father, sister, brother, nieces and myself taking it in turns to be with her. There have been some very dark moments during my mother’s illness. In life there is nothing worse you can hear than your own mother begging you for your help ‘I can’t breathe’. Those words still haunt me today and my heart goes out to the mother and family of George Floyd. Despite these dark moments my mother fought hard throughout her illness and she kept smiling, her motivation to never give up is what has got my family and I through her illness.

We made sure as a family we enjoyed every single moment together birthdays, Easter, Christmas and days off were spent with my mother. These are beautiful memories that we will cherish forever. Sadly, my mother lost her battle and passed away on May 11 2017 but her spirit of life is what will guide us to keep believing in ourselves and to never give up. As a memory to her I started my own journey of Maggies Designs. I wanted to give something back to the wonderful care she received through MacMillan Cancer. Our family will be forever grateful to Linda and her team. Thankyou.

Maggies Designs

If you can choose to be anything, choose to be happy

Growing up I dreamed like every girl of becoming a ballerina, the little tutu and ballet shoes captivated me as a child. It still does to this day. This soon changed however in my teenage years as I then decided I wanted to become an accountant and I have no idea why.

Its funny how your life turns out as I did not become either, instead my career for over 20 years has been in hospitality. I love the theatre of the restaurant world, the ambience, the passion and the excitement. Every night is like a show but what made me stay during the long shifts, hard work and high-pressured environment for so long? Without hesitation the people you get to meet and work with. I have met some of the most wonderful people and even more privileged to now call them my friends.

Covid 19 has had a massive impact on my life and whilst it brought the world to a standstill and sadly many lives lost, there have been beautiful moments in humanity. Recognition finally for the keyworkers who keep our country running daily, the kindness felt by companies feeding the homeless and those less fortunate, Major Tom raising millions just to name a few. The world took time to heal and for some, myself included it was a time for reflection and appreciating the little things in life.

Being home during lockdown gave me the opportunity to heal properly and most importantly learn how to love myself again. You see my mother had passed two years previously from lung cancer and sometimes life has way of kicking you when you’re down. Slowly without me realising my world fell apart but despite the hardships and lessons, like my mother I did not want to give up. She was not only my first best friend in life but my cheerleader and inspiration. Her values in life are now my values and I will be eternally grateful for her guidance and support. She always encouraged my siblings and I ‘to do the things you love’.

My inspiration for Maggies Designs began with an idea 9 months previously before Covid 19. Working in a busy restaurant in London time was a valuable commodity and one I now truly value more than ever. So, with the encouragement and love of my family and friends I have begun my journey of choosing to be happy. What better way to honour my mother’s memory than to set up an online business in her name, Maggies Designs. A journey of inspiring others to never give up and to keep being you.

2020 for many of us has been the year that woke us up and a year despite many difficulties and despair, a year that kindness and humility has brought us together.