Single, childless and nearly 40

“I finally accepted that most likely I won’t have children” I said.

And as the last word escaped my mouth tears rolled down my face and it was too late to stop them. My friend got up and gave me hug. Seconds later waitress run towards me with tissues saying that nothing is worth the tears. Isn’t there? I wondered.

But then if I accepted it, why was I crying? Ever since I turned 30, the subject’s been crossing my mind countless times. As teenager I wanted kids by age 25. Then I allowed myself time until 30 and then 35 but all those years came and went and I am fast approaching 40 and I am still single and childless.

The thought of not having children crept into my head more and more recently. It’s like this dark cloud on a sunny day. One that comes from nowhere but instantly covers the sun, making everything around you dark and cold. And even though it moves away as fast as it comes allowing for the sun to shine again, the chill on the skin stays a little longer.

My closest friends keep saying that I still have time, that I am young, healthy, fit, that medicine can do wonders now and my biological clock, I keep referring to, can be tricked. But even they say it with more and more doubt in their voices.

I feel it is now final moment when I have to decide. I either get together with anyone and push for family pretty instantly. Or I am doing the donor thing and trying to do parenting thing alone. Or I just accept that things happen or don’t happen for a reason and trust that in the end everything will be fine.

Of course women have children passed their 40’s, medicine is much better now to support us in our late child bearing. But I have to be honest here. Once we turn 35 the chances of conceiving naturally fall massively, the chances of having healthy child also staring to decline and it is scary. I would love my child no matter what. But what we all wish, is for the child to be healthy.

Thankfully being nearly 40, single and childless isn’t something to be ashamed of anymore. More and more women choose to stay single. Focus on their careers. Save for their own houses, cars, holidays. I do to. But I don’t do it out of choice. I do it because I don’t have anything else to focus on. I have the pleasure of the time. I can work overtime without the guilt of ruining someone else plan; I can travel abroad for a month without the family pressure. I can get drunk in the middle of the week. I can embrace the single status.

So it comes with no surprise that my married friends, my friends with children, stopped asking me about lack of my own family. They don’t ask if I date anyone or if I am still thinking about having family. Suddenly they just gone silent. Maybe they do it with best intentions but I feel like closest to me people gave up on me. And that breaks me a little bit.

Sometimes I want to scream at them. Don’t you care I am alone? Don’t you want to know how I am feeling about it? I feel like somehow I no longer belong in their circle. Like there is them, and there is me.

But what hurts me the most is that people think I chose to be single, that I don’t want husband, children. That I have chosen my career, hobbies and adventures instead of family. This makes me feel like fraud. I long for one life and yet I take the most out of the other one. There is so many inspirational stories of women who chose to be single. Whose choice was to have no children, who wanted to focus on their careers. And I admire them. Same way I admire women who chose to stay at home and raise family, same way I admire women who chose to do both.

But where does that leave me. I haven’t chosen anything. Life just threw stuff at me without asking for my opinion. I’ve been programmed to the idea that full life can only be reached with husband and children by your side. I don’t know any different. Not once did I thought I will have to relearn my own belief system. That life without family can be fulfilling. That I can be ok alone.

In the end I decided to accept my life as it is. I owe it to myself. I have to at least try to be happy with or without little feet running round my feet. I deserve to live to the full. I deserve to do well at work. I deserve to explore the world, spend all my savings on single trip and eat beans on toast for months as a result. I deserve it. Because when I grow old, when I sit alone by the fire I deserve to look back at my life and smile.
Without regret.

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My life after Poland.

If 19 years ago someone told me that the next 19 years I’d live abroad I’d laugh. I had big plans for myself, uni to go to, and great jobs to chase. And those, those would be in my favourite polish city, Krakow. City of culture, art and rich history. City near mountains where I planned to disappear for a weekend hikes. That was the plan…

And yet in June of year 2000 I packed my belongings and left my hometown and my country for the bigger world. I would lie if I say that I never looked back. I did, and on some level I still do. Nearly 19 years later. Home away from home. Sometimes I find it hard to comprehend that I am not in Poland anymore, or that I’m writing, speaking, working and socialising, or even dreaming in a language that is not my mother tongue. This in itself is an achievement I never thought I would acquire.

2019 is a special year. Soon it will be exactly half of my life when I moved away from Poland. And this makes me wonder. Am I supposed to accept that Poland is not my home anymore? Do I let go of a country that raised me? Do I let go of place that was my home for half of my life? And what more, do I let go of place where my beloved parents and family still are? Do I still call myself Polish? Or am I now a Brit, a Londoner? European? Does it even matter?

All those years ago my plan was simple, learn English language, come back home and start uni. One year, two at the most. My high school teacher had no hopes for me, saying I should focus on other subjects. English apparently wasn’t my thing.

But as soon as I completed my high school I enrolled to English college in London. I attended classes for four years. I bought newspapers and read them with a dictionary next to me. My first book, had translations and notes written all over it. It took me forever to read it. I took English language seriously. I translated lyrics of my favourite songs, if I saw a sign I didn’t understand like “mind the gap” I would grab dictionary out of my bag and translate it, I had posted notes stuck to everything in my house. People were saying I am crazy but I really hated not being able to understand. Only way to change it was to learn.

I worked part time to support myself. I lived in overcrowded flat with other polish people because I simply could not afford anything else. Poland wasn’t part of the EU then and things were very different all those years ago. No mobile phones, no Skype, no social media. I still remember writing letters to my parents and friends. In fact very recently I found a letter from my mum. She wrote it 18 years ago. It made me cry. Seeing her hand writing. Such a treasure.

Beginnings were hard. I was still a kid at heart, barely 19 years old, I missed everyone back home. I didn’t know how to be an adult. I never had to decide about myself. My parents did that for me.

But I persisted. Things started to change when I met my first friend. She was from Greece. After work she’d take me out to the pub and poured a beer down my throat. Funny how after a drink I’d grew in confidence and started to speak. Broken English but I spoke. Few years later I visited her back in Greece where I’ve met her family and learnt Greek culture from the locals. We would laugh till early hours looking back at our lives all those years ago.

I also started to date. He was English and because we were inseparable fast my language quickly got a lot better. My first grown up love. My polish friends didn’t like it. They said I am betraying my country, its men and that I obviously think more of myself by dating an English man. I didn’t understand them. I was simply in love. I never thought about myself as someone worse just because I was from Poland. Obviously this was not the case for others. To this day I hear some of my fellow countrymen moaning about their misfortunes, blaming their nationality for it. They told me that I was being naive. But I always thought I was just being honest with myself. If I didn’t get the job I wanted it wasn’t because I was from Poland, it was because I was not the right person for it. I always thought of myself as equal. Equal to everyone else. And no, it was not always easy. But that’s how I was raised. I’d stick by it even if reality is somewhat different.

Four years later I enrolled into university, first doing my BA honours and later continuing with masters degree in social policy. I no longer planned to come back home. Poland was newly accepted country in the EU and at last I could work full time. Travelling back home was easier and I could get polish products in local shops. With this the longing for home slowly started to disappear. Me and my man got house together with a garden and a dog. I was settled. Things were perfect. Or so I thought.

Just before the second year started I found myself single again and for the first time in long time I had no one but myself to depend on. And I struggled. I was left alone, heartbroken, with no home, no job, no money and uni to go through. Things were tough.

Alcohol, continuous partying and plenty of tears made the days, weeks, months past. It was awful time for me. But one that in the end made me who I am today. Strong.

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I had to make new friends and soon I learnt they would be my saviours. We held each other’s hands, through the good and the bad. And boy, there was so much bad. My ex would spread some rumours about me so my old friends quickly disappeared from my life. This was the time I was completely lost. Struggling to come to terms with the situation, learning how naive I really was and trying somewhat to find a way to continue forward.

Eventually years went past, my friends found boyfriends, got married, had children. I was still looking for something or maybe someone special. I came back to London. I needed to be busy. Start fresh. I had big hopes for good job, now I was holding a degree. But after months of volunteering, trying to gain the experience to match my degree I had no choice but to give up and start just any work. Bills had to be paid. I was over qualified and under experienced, an answer I was given during many interviews. No one wanted me. This was hard pill to swallow. It was first time I felt that maybe I made the wrong choices. That maybe my degree was unnecessary expense, one I’m still paying for, to this day.

Being back in London wasn’t all that fun. The old friends I left behind were long gone and making new ones wasn’t all that easy especially without a job. London is great place, social place but at the same time can be a lonely one. Most people don’t call it home, they are here for a short while before moving on. You rarely know your neighbours as people move all the time. You are rarely part of a community and with this you never really feel settled. But at the same time, regardless of where you are in your life, London being so big is less judgmental. There will be always someone in similar situation as you, and this can feel at times easier to live with.

In the end I got a job in great little nursery. I started as a supervisor and soon was promoted to deputy manager. I was happy, growing, developing. I had nice home and solid circle of friends. Things were good. One late summer we had a BBQ in the house and I met my next boyfriend. We clicked straight away and soon started to date. It was not easy. He was fighting many demons from his past. Our beginning was anything but straightforward. But after some time things just fell into place and we felt perfect. It was my turn to be happy. The job, friends, volunteering. I felt I could move mountains. I was exactly where I wanted to be.

But about year later my other half came back home white as paper. I knew something was up. He said he didn’t see future with me. I don’t even remember if I cried. He felt so bad I ended up comforting him. We split up promising to stay friends. I didn’t see the point in trying to convince him to be with me. Of course I was broken. But he didn’t want to be with me. I had to let him go. In the end I wanted for him to be happy. Even if it wasn’t with me. Soon we stopped talking altogether, maybe being friends wouldn’t work after all.

With that I was back in the party zone. New friends, new social life. Me and the girls would go out clubbing few times a week, quick sleep and back to work, followed by a bar, drink, dancing and so on….

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But this time it was not enough. I needed to do something else with my life. Getting drunk every day wasn’t working.

I changed my job. This was a big change. One that I finally felt ready for. One I was proud to hold. Still am. Becoming a police officer was my biggest achievement. The job made me a part of bigger family, a place where I truly feel like I belong.

I started to look after myself, boot camps made my body strong, running worked on my endurance. In few months’ time I run my first race. I’ve met amazing people, some became my good friends. Some told me about ultra-running. I was intrigued. For some reason I loved idea about running through the forest for hours, trying not to be eaten by a bear. Since then running became my passion, my new found love. The more I run the more I liked it, especially trails. And about 4 years later I’ve run my first ultra-race. And I run it in Poland, on my home trails, trails I was raised on. It was special 65k run, took me 8 hours and I could not believe when I found out that I won my age group.

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Today I’m still here doing what I always wanted. Helping others. Working for others. And I am happy. This is not easy job. Far from. Dangerous and not one you get many thanks for. But I get to make the difference. And I’m happy with that. I still run, still head out for trails whenever I can. But sometimes I like to slow down. So I walk. Last year I went on a month long pilgrimage across Spain, following footsteps of St James all the way to Santiago the Compostella. I feel lucky and privileged to be able to do it. A dream of so many became my reality. And now I can’t wait to find new paths to walk on. Long distance running or hiking stole my heart. It is on those trails with many kilometers in front of me, that I feel truly myself, truly alive, often alone but never lonely.

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As to my love life…well, heart mends with time. I loved again, but never the same. Never fully. It is not easy to trust people and those walls I’ve somehow built are not easy to break. Short romances, where I was hoping that maybe this time the feeling might grow into something more. It never did. But I don’t regret them. They got me to places I wouldn’t go otherwise. They led me to people I wouldn’t have met. They also made me, me…

Until the time when everything changes again. When someone very special shows up. When that moment comes and your heart skips a beat. And maybe this time it will be something. Whatever the outcome, for me, those moments are worth waiting for.

So as the 19 years approaching fast I wonder what my life would be, have I not left Poland all those years ago. Would I do what I do now? Would I have a family? Would I live by the mountains? Would I run?

I will never know that. What I know is that my life is far from easy, packed with doubts and unknown but I have no regrets. I have two places I can call home and that is more than some can ever say. I have job which I love, I have wonderful people in my life. And I have some amazing plans for my future. And I’m so excited to live through it, wherever and whenever this might be.

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Simple is not easy

I wasn’t looking for a change and it was by accident when I first learnt about minimalism approach. I was preparing for a month long treck across Spain, the famous Camino de Santiago. My plan was to walk as light as possible so for obvious reasons I started to research all things small. And that’s where I found this new, exciting and already big new movement.

It helped me to pack light. Objective achieved.

It wasn’t untill half way through my Camino walk, when I joined a little less used route that I actually saw a beauty in the minimal way of living. In fact I realised that simple is something very appealing to me. I could just focus on what really mattered. I could enjoy things I had because I had them for a reason. Every single one.

Each day, I’d wake up early. Pack my bag and started my walk. Of course, I’d go to the shop and I’d be tempted with all those memorabilia shouting my name to buy them. In the end I ended up buying postcards which I send to my family and friends. Best memory I think.

Passing through tiny villages sometimes only occupied with handful of people really opened up my eyes. There was a beautiful world outside of the metropolis. And I felt I was missing out.

In my bag I had about 8k of stuff.  It didn’t look much, and still, I have not used all of it during my trip. I was amazed that I could survive on one soap bar to do all my self washing and keeping my clothes clean. I was even more surprised that I could live with just 3 sets of clothes. Wash, dry, wear. Simple.

But I think the biggest surprise was the makeup. If you know me, you will remember I rarely go all natural. I like my eyshadows, my eyeliners, my lipsticks….but after some serious talking from my sister the only things I took was mascara, eyeliner and face cream. And you know what? I used it maybe handful of times on my walk. The sun kissed my skin golden brown, my freckles poped out and I really didn’t feel I needed anything else on me.

When I returned home I was so overwhelmed by all the stuff around me and I desperately wanted to hold on to this minimal way of living I enjoyed so much on the Camino.

But it was far from easy.

For one just before my walk, I moved all my belongings to a storage. And because I didn’t know what home will I have I haven’t chucked anything away.

After I found my new home, cosy studio apartment, I realised it is at least few times smaller to my previous flat. Once my belongings were in I could barely move in it.

If I ever wanted to start minimal way of living this was the time.

But throwing things doesn’t come easily to me. I like my books, they bring memories. I like my movies, you know when Netflix fails, I like my Cd’s, when your spotify subscription expires. And so the excuses continued. I think the breakthrough came with my CD player. Year 2000 Panasonic little oldie. One I in fact have not switched on in years and as much as I tried I could not find home for in my new flat. I debated and moved it for days. In the end I placed it in the bin bag and got rid of it. And it felt so good.

Over next few weeks more stuff followed. Things I would never thought of getting rid of. The books, the music, the ornaments, the kitchen stuff, shoes and clothes. My home with less things started to look and feel like home. Everything which was left had its purpose. A real one. The space I gained was precious one. The clean and airy room made me feel calm. Coming home wasn’t exhausting. It felt good. I enjoyed just sitting on the sofa and just being there.

I’m not done yet. Still lots of things I need to get rid of. But it is a process and I don’t need to rush it. Clutter free space created not only space for what really matter, it cleared my head. Getting ready takes me half the time, looking for things is easy and cleaning, well….is still just that.

So no, simple isn’t easy, but it does feel good. Might not be for everyone but for me after my Camino journey was over, it gave me new outlook on my everyday life and what I actually want it to be. 

A girl in Paris…

Paris

For some it is city of love, for others rich history and art, and others the best food and amazing wines.

For me? Well I was about to find out.

Tired from night duty I boarded Eurostar train and within two hours crossed the channel and entered France. Earlier I picked up a book which supposed to put me in the mood for Parisian experience, but one chapter in, a tiredness took over and I entered dream land instead. And I loved it there. I woke up just in time to see the city in the horizont and not knowing why I felt sad. Deep down I knew I will love it there. So why the sadness?

Only couple of months earelier I returned from my month long pilgrimage to the Santiago de Compostela. This was a life changer for me. But as amazing as the experience was, coming back to the reality, to my everyday life has proven somewhat difficult. I am still struggling to fully settle back in. What’s more I don’t actually want to.

But what Paris has to do with it? Well, I was going there to see my friends. My two amazing Camino companions. We spoke often on the phone and shared our after camino lives and now we decided to meet. Mini city break. And what better place. A neutral ground for us all.

I was first one to arrive. I had few hours to kill so I explored. I took metro to Concorde station and without much expectation I reached the exit and walked up to the street. The sun rays blinded me initially but once my eyes got used to the light I saw, Paris for the first time in my life. I stood there with biggest smile on my face. In front of me was beautiful Luxor Obelisk, amazing monument often called Cleopatra’s Needle. The plaza the needle was erected on was huge, not the small square I expected. In fact it is the largerst square in Paris. I took my time there before heading for the little park nearby where I could rest on metal chairs, watching people go by. From there I headed for first of many churches I had on my list Basiliqe Sainte Clotilde. This is beautiful place, quiet, peaceful, calm yet full of good energy at the same time. What surprised me was that it was open, and free and surprisingly empty with no tourists. As I left it there the sun started to set down and coloured sky pink and orange. I was lucky to see it whilst on charming Pont Alexandre III bridge. I was wowed, overwhelmed. One of the most beautiful bridges in the world and amazing sunset.20181102_142814

20181102_164111.jpgThis is where I realised where the sadness came from.

Exploring new, unknown to me places was what I was missing. Simple walking was what I was missing. Having my backpack on was what I was missing. Tears covered my cheeks…it was with the unkown around me that I felt most at home. Always explore and never settle down. My journey in Santiago that felt like end, here in Paris has restarted again.

Hours quickly passed and I made my way to meet Elisabeth. I waited outside station early and soon realised I am waiting with a lot of other women, nicely dressed….looking like they waiting for someone but never actually going anywhere. It also seemed they knew each other. Every so often exchanging few words. I started to feel unsettled as I realised I was definitely waiting in the wrong place. As soon as I thought that, a man approached me with shy look on his face. He asked me something but as I don’t speak French I could only imagine what he wanted. I gave him my most serious look followed by solid No. He immediately turned around and left for the station. Turning back only once with a little fear in his eyes. I managed to scare off another man…

When Elisabeth showed up we both fell into each others arms. We laughed and cried and screamed with joy. I could barely believe that we were here in Paris.

We stayed in charming area near the oh so beautiful Parc de Buttes Chaumont. I can only imagine how wonderful this place must be for a romantic picnic, walk by the waterfall or just a cheeky hilly little run. I loved it. Even if my experience would involve none of the above. A walk with friends would be equally fab.

For dinner we enjoyed some local cuisine, simple food and lovely waiter’s company who even offered us free wine. Who says French are not nice….???

We talked for hours and before we knew it  clock turned 3am. Hours just flew, easily.

With morning came our Mexican, Francesco. His never stopping bubbly chatter was heard outside of the apartment before we even saw him. As he approached the door I could hear him whistling. This boy never stops. More hugs, tears, laughs.

The Louvre was our first stop. The enormous size of that museum, the huge square, the magnificent pyramids. Taking it all in was nearly impossible. I felt overwhelmed by it. I didn’t expected it. Not like this. Not this beautiful. Little walk away and we reached stunning park Jardin des Tuileries with many famous statues. The face palm statue proved popular where little girl stood at its feet recreating the pose. We stopped at the cafe enjoying hot chocolate on this warm autumn morning, snapping pictures of beautiful birds.

Eventually walking the streets of Paris, passing the Embassy of Heaven, numerous bakeries and other quirky shops we got to the corner and saw It. Ever so tall Eiffel tower. Sticking out proudly from behind the top of the trees. It was breathtaking view, and for some time we just stood there with our heads turned to the sky. Admiring her beauty. I waited for this moment. I think I dreamed about it most of my life. And without much surprise sadness appeared again. I froze for a while I was in my own world. Just taking it all in, my own way. Eventually Elisabeth grabbed my hand and squeezed me hard and with that we laughed. I was back.20181103_140524

Paris was fun, it was November day but sun was shining strong keeping everyone warm. Street artists, musicians, painters all using the glorious day to perform and entertain. We didn’t rush. We enjoyed every second. Only hunger eventually made us move.

Knowing few people from Paris and now living in London I had a long list of places to see and eat in.

Onion soup was a must and what better place than little charming restaurant in the heart of city. I was not disappointed.

After that we walked on famous Chmps Elysees burning off the calories from dinner. It was warm night. Without even knowing when, we reached the Notre Dame, iconic gothic church. So far this was my highlight of the trip. I loved the long darken room with country flags proudly displayed. The rose windows. The candles lit which created very specific sweet smell. I added my own little candle. Tears pushed into my eyes once again as the little prayer escaped my mouth. This time I felt happy. Very happy. This place without knowing why meant something to me.

As we left we realised we are just on the corner of popular latin quarter. We picked a bar and enjoyed few drinks before jumping on the metro and heading home.

I slept like baby.

Sunday came fast. And I was really looking forward to seeing the famous Sacre Coeur.

This beautiful enormous Basiliqe presented itself at the summit of the butte Montmarte. It didnt look like church. The round dome towers were very different to everything I saw so far. The interia was dimmed with light and again candle light and smell provided very special feeling to the place. There was also no cameras allowed and I did like it. It meant that what I saw was just for my own eyes to see, only for me to remember.

I wanted to experience more. So I soon found myself getting a ticket to the dome. I would climb hundreds of stairs to the top of this church. As expected it was narrow spiral staircase making anyone dizzy. Eventually I’d reach the top and saw the day light. But this was not the top. I was on the roof. Outside, but more stone stairs followed, turning and twisting around the round roof tops of the church. Some say it is like stairs to heaven and I agree. I was outside, so high from everything else and as I looked up I could only see blue sky and some clouds. It was like walking into heaven. Views from there were amazing. Mind blowing. I stood there unable to process this moment. I wanted to stay there. Never come back down.20181104_120545

For lunch we stayed in the famous Montmarte area where many artists still use its beauty for an inspiration. As we walked back down the hill we saw tiny park. What was special about it, was the wall which had word I LOVE YOU  written on it in over 200 languages. Saying I love you doesn’t come easily to me. It takes special someone for me to say it to. But I loved this wall. I was reading the words, trying to find as many languages as I knew.

The rest of the day was an easy one. Lunch, coffee the famous icecream and strolling by the Seine river.

Before I knew it I was once again saying goodbyes to Elisabeth and Francesco. But unlike in Santiago there was no tears, this didn’t feel like the end, this felt like reassurance that we met for a reason on the Camino and with a little bit of willingness we can stay friends.

And then I was alone again.

I headed for Eglise de la Trinite church. Last one on my map of places to see. It was being renovated. But this one felt so real like no other. People would come and go, often sitting on the floor, praying, crying, I could not help but look at others. Untill I found enough strength to hide myself in my own prayer.

Some time later I got up with face wet from tears, I didn’t even realised they were there. A priest saw me and walked towards me. He put a hand on my head and gave me blessing. I felt the calmness covering me. I felt good, happy, content.

I left the church and headed for the station. I boarded a train with a smile on my face.

I was no longer sad to be leaving. I needed this break, needed to see my friends.

It was beautiful weekend. One I will cherish in my heart forever. One that put back smile on my face. One that showed me that friends are there to last regardless of the distance.

But Paris, the city of love, the one I really want to see, for now will stay a dream. A dream that I’m hoping one day will come true. Because once I was alone again what I really wanted was for another hand to hold mine when I walked the streets of Pari…20181102_164242.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

My Camino

El Camino in Spanish

The Way in English

Droga in Polish

However I choose to call it, it is one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever done. There are books written about it, movies filmed, songs sang and now i’m trying to add a little print of my own. It is not easy task, as writing about month long journey seems to be harder than the walk itself.

It was about 8 am. I think only once before I left the pilgrim hostel this late. And I was pretty ill then. This time, I was with my Camino friends. We decided to walk this day together. I don’t know, if anyone actually made this decision, but somehow we all felt the same. It was beautiful morning and sun was already up. We didn’t talk much trying not to add to already perfect start of the day. As we entered the forest four shadows appeared in front of us. I looked at them and thought how quickly those three became so important to me. How fast they mattered. How much I cared about them and how soon I learnt they cared about me too. The tears blurred my vision, but in my head this image is as clear as ever.IMG-20180826-WA0002

I remember only two weeks earlier I was sitting on the bed in beautiful Monasterio De Valdedios in Asturias, which means God’s Valley.  I was excited about this stay. Big monastery in the mountains. Movie like picture.  But that afternoon I felt tired, and weak. I lied down for a nap, but ended up feeling worse. Shivering, hot and cold sweat covered my body. My head was spinning and my stomach felt even worse. The dampness of the room was making me feel unwell. I run to the bathroom and was sick. I don’t know how long I was sitting on the floor of that bathroom. I just could not move. I didn’t want to move. It was that moment when I really wanted to be home. I was missing my family, my friends, missing my warm bed. Why was I walking? Was this too much, too long? When I eventually picked myself up and left the bathroom a french guy was waiting for me outdide. He grabbed my water and stayed with me outside. Camino….always provides.

When I left London I wasn’t planning on meeting people and even more so making friends. I wanted to be alone. Have time to think and just enjoy the country and the nature; in fact I was looking for solitude. But what I learnt on that day was that sometimes what we think we want is not what we really need. And as my friend would tell me much later “Camino always provides, not what you want but what you need”. I smiled when he said it. I already knew it. I arrived to Irun on beautiful sunny afternoon in late July, I felt brave, little nervous but ready for the adventure. I enjoyed the evening in the charming little town, watching people. There I collected my pilgrim passport and found my first yellow arrow. Following day I started my walk. It was raining but the views were amazing, the air was fresh and the smell of the forest therapeutic. I arrived to the Pasajes de San Juan, a very charming fishing village and tried traditional Basque food before tiny boat took me across the town. There I would make a final climbs to San Sebastian. The city with the beautiful beaches and the sea views to die for.20180728_125209-01

On the second day I met the Italian, who later would become our “Mexican”. Francesco offered me chocolate. We clicked. He seemed relaxed, without the guide or plan. I was intrigued and quickly felt comfortable next to him. It was so nice to share some of my first experiences with someone. But the next day would be the last time I’d see him on the Norte Way.

On the Camino you don’t belong to anyone and no one belongs to you. We all talk to each other and some people you will walk for days with, others for hours, others for just few minutes. And that is ok. No one owes you anything and no one should feel bad about leaving you behind. It is kind of unspoken Camino law. You have to let people go. Even those you like very much.

Next couple of days I walked with Agnieszka. She walked all the way from France and was on the road for over a month. This was also her third Camino. She knew very well what to do, where to stop and shop. I felt like little kid around her. She told me lots of useful tips, but in the end the pace was too much for my beginners legs and so we parted after the Montasero de Zenarruza, beautiful monestary run by Monks. After eveninig of beautifully sang prayers monks made us dinner and offered some locally brewed beers. This monastery was in the mountains, high above the clouds and I wondered if possibly by some accident I have gone to heaven for a day.20180731_160501-01

The Basque country was amazing. The hills, the trails, the forests. I was in paradise. Even walking into Bilbao was stunning. I caught up with a Spanish entertainer Rique, and we sat in the middle of the square, where he made mid morning breakfast, we then lied down on the pavement and just were.

But there were days I kept to myself. I was looking for solitude, and most of the Cantabria I’d walk on my own. I slept on the beach, I’d go swimming away from others. Anything for little more me time.

This changed towards the end of Norte route where I arrived to Guemes. A tiny village and one of the most amazing hostels for pilgrims. Ernesto, 80 year old priest said to us “we have all this space, lets learn again how to share it”. No pilgrim is ever turn away from there. Everything is free, the lunch, the wine, the beds. It made me think.

I went to dinner with changed attitude. I sat for the first time in the middle of others. I spoke to all and I loved it. People were interested in me, and I was interested in them. I walked with some of them from day one and knew so little about them. Everything in the name of the lonely adventure. I realised this was not it. Not for me anyway. I was focusing so much on my idea of the camino that I was not allowing for the camino to show me it’s true beauty. And this beauty would be the people.

My Norte Way soon came to an end and I would carry on with the Primitivo route. A little less known, little more hilly, little less busy and little more challenging.20180812_105448-01

This route had biggest impact on me. It taught me some lessons and introduced me to the best people. Three most amazing human beings. Plenty more fab pilgrims. And endless number of locals who were always so excited about pilgrims walking the Way. Those elderly farmers, who reside in tiny villages, who hear your steps and clicks of the poles and rush out the door to offer you water, offer you some fruit and offer you the most amazing smiles, stories and warmest welcomes.

Primitivo route officially starts in Oviedo. Juliean who I met few days before told me so much about the place. For him this city was the true start of the Camino, the original route. I could not wait to see it. The old town. The stunning historical buildings, little chapels, large churches and of course the Cathedral. I was wowed instantly. I took my time. I wandered round little squares, tiny streets, I ate, I drunk and I prayed. Even my backpack wasn’t feeling heavy. I could walk in this city for days. As I walked towards the albergue someone caught my eye. I could not believe my eyes. Francesco, my Mexican was there. He also saw me. I run to him and he gave me biggest, most sweaty hug. The shock, the surprise and most of all happiness. I have not seen him since the very start of the way. He has changed. He grew in confidence. He was louder. He also sounded happier. Instantly I felt like my old lost friend has came back. Little did I know that we would walk to the end together. That we would grow so much closer together. That he would become someone very important.

That evening we went to a dinner in the city before officially starting the second part of our Camino.  I liked company of those guys. In days to come we would spend pretty much every evening together. We shared day’s walk, the stories, the ups and downs. The struggles and the highs. When walking with Francesco, we would listen to music, we would talk how lyrics fit with our lives. Discussing the difficulties each one is facing back home. Telling stories, talking about our friends and families.

And then came the third, Elisabeth. Most lovely girl, pastor from Germany. She had the worst time choosing if to walk with us three or stay behind with others. I kind of forced her to walk with us. We needed and wanted her in our little group. Elisabeth was my rock in my hardest days. When I was missing home, crying that I want to go back. She was there, holding my hand, praying for strength. She was also a lot of fun, when the going got tough and we could no longer walk up the hills, I’d tell her to count….hearing the “eins, zwei, drei, vier” was just priceless. And funny.20180820_105648-01

As a four we made it to Galicia, the fourth and final country in North of Spain. That’s where Kari met his Camino angel, who helped him on the road. We would then talk how few of us would do such selfless act. To help a complete stranger. But there are still some amazing people out there, who will think of others before themselves.

Last days felt shorter, walks faster…times always seem to move quicker towards the end.

Final day was going to be our toughest walk. We all knew it. I wasn’t ready to finish the Camino. And 22km wasin’t far. Francesco played a song. Tears slowly started to run down my cheeks. Emotions were brewing inside me. I was really fighting not to burst out crying. Thankfully soon we found a caffe and stopped for some breakfast.  We ended up stopping in pretty much every single bar on the way. This day had to last longer. We could not rush it. We would not rush it. When we played “our” song “Have you ever seen the rain” we sang on the top of our lungs. And then other pilgrims joined in. They sang too, they danced. Shivers run through my body. On the last leg of our journey everything was shared with others. Nothing was just for me.Screenshot_20180910-220241_Dropbox

About 8 hours later we entered the city of Santiago de Compostela. The emotions were growing even more. I was in almost a state of a trance, I know I walked, I know I breathed, but it felt so unreal. Like I was not really there. We were all silent. Walking hand in hand. We reached the town, the little roads leading to the passage, Scottish pipes playing in the background, we walked under it and entered the plaza. The sun was still covering the stones, I didn’t look up, I didn’t turn towards the cathedral. I could feel it behind me but i could not turn, not yet.  We walked to the middle of the square. And there it was, this grand, amazing, mesmerising Cathedral. It was sandy almost golden like colour, tall reaching the sky. I started to cry, tears finally finding a way out. I cried, cried like a child that found their home, cried remembering all those days, all those kilometres, all those paths, remembering all the people, the places, all the feelings. Every minute of “My Camino” at that moment was flashing in front of my eyes. I could not believe I was here. It wasn’t my life dream coming true, this only started as a challenge, nice journey to do. But now, at this exact moment the Camino became my dream and my reality. I stood there by the feet of this beautiful place, where other pilgrims stood centuries before me. This was my most precious moment. I not only walked for over 850k through the Basque, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia to get here. On the way I have met so many people. I made so many friends. I shared so many memories. I became a pilgrim. I earned my shell.

 

My Camino, in The end was made by the people:

The Italian who choose my song and then sang it for me

The Pole who pushed me to get up that bloody hill in the pouring rain

The German who prayed for me in the middle of the bar when I was at my breaking point

The Spanish who made me lunch in the middle of the Bilbao square

The 70 year old Australian who kept forgetting his poles and then stillw overtaking me with ease

The American who tought me about history, culture and traditions of the Spanish towns I was passing

The French who brought me water and sat with me when I was ill

The Irish who had the best sense of humour and made me best dinner

The Columbians who slept next to me outside the church

The English who pushed me to look deep into my soul and pointed me to the best paintings in the church

“I exist because I have friends. I survived because they were there on my path ” Paulo Coelho 

 

 

Why was it so hard to love my body?

There is so much emphasis put on how we should love our bodies no matter the size and the shape. That we should be kind to ourselves. That we should feel best in our own skin. And with the social media support more and more women show off proudly their petfect imperfections. Slowly killing the idea that we need to have bodies like models to be perfect.

But regardless of all that, for many years I thought that my body wasn’t all that great. I thought that my legs should be slimmer, boobs bigger and belly flatter.

For some strange reason I didn’t like my own body. And I didn’t know how to change it.

As it turned out, it was not just me either.

I was sitting with my friend in a bar when she got few photos from her younger sister who recently got engaged. We ohhed and ahhed at the pictures! She looked stunning.

But then seconds later a message followed. The pics are fine but my chin is fat, my face is big….and the list continuoud. Eventually the message ended with. I know I should be happy…

Yes, yes you should

So why aren’t You?

It’s not that I blame her. I was very much the same.

On my 25th birthday I went to Florida. I had fantastic time. And when during shopping I bought new jeans I didn’t even think that I just picked a size which didn’t even exist in the UK. Size 0. What’s worse they fit me well, not too tight. Just right. This is half the size I am now. What’s worse I was still not happy. My legs were still fat. End of.

I look at some of those photos now and see very skinny girl. But I still can’t help but to think that my legs could be better. Why? I don’t know. I see they are slim and there is not a gram of fat on them but for some strange reason my brain says that those legs are still fat and ugly.

Few years before that birthday I was much bigger girl. In fact I was chubby. I went back home first time since moving to the UK and my uncle said to me “you look well!” Of course I took it the wrong way. For me what he said was that I was fat. I had to do something about that. I went on a diet the following day.

It took me some time to get to my healthy weight. I never forget my mum crying one day when I was very skinny. But I didn’t see it. I still felt fat, with ribs sticking out and showing on my back I still thought of myself as chubby.

I am not the only one with those thoughts. Pretty much every female I know is not happy with her body. Every time I meet my girlfriends we endlessly talk about our bodies. If only my belly was slimmer, my boobs perkier, nose smaller, legs finner, arms stronger, hair thicker.

Why is It? Where does it starts and Why?

My mum was always so positive, always said how pretty me and my sister are. How lovely we look. But no matter how much she said it I never believed it to be true. But how could I believe my mum if  the glossy magazine talked about  5/10/15 secrets to a perfect body. If you only buy this or that. I could never afford to buy it. So I could never have that great body.

In media, celebrities always looked perfect. No wonder as a young girl I looked at them and thought that to be successful I would have to look like this.

Boys in school, the mean comments and silly jokes. All this sticks at the back of your head and never leaves.

It is funny how we believe the negative and never the positive.

It took me years to stop caring about how media believes I should look. Only once I understood what I need my body for, I started to acept it for what it is. Once I saw what my body is capable of I started to admire it.

I know I am the lucky one. Because not everyone can turn around. Not everyone will find the way out from the vicious circle of trying to be perfect.

Sport and running played the biggest part. Once my body got strong I no longer cared what it looked like. If I managed to run 40 miles in one go my body simply was amazing.

But I also stopped buying beauty magazines. I stopped watching reality shows where looks, makeup, clothes are their daily worries.  I found something real and this was my path to happier self.

I also realised that I should be kind to others.

To never say anything bad about anyone’s body. Because I might just ruin their self esteem by that comment, and no matter how many “I was just joking” I say, the damage will be done.

I will try not to listen to what others are saying. It does not matter what someone thinks of me. Their opinion isn’t important. And their opinion won’t change my life. Only I have control over it.

I hope that I will be able to pass this on to our youngest generation. To those who still think of themselves in the positive light.

So let’s try to be kind. As words can really hurt. And to reverse it isn’t all that easy. Let’s support one another. Because there is more to life than an image which will change in time no matter what. Let’s focus on what really matters. Let’s build strong, healthy bodies as those are the most beautiful ones. With strong body comes strong head. And with that we will be able to see what’s real and important and what’s not.

 

 

 

Modern talking

Ah, good conversation- there’s nothing like it, is there? The air of ideas is the only air worth breathing. 

Edith Wharton

This post isn’t about anyone in particular yet in a way it’s about everyone, including you and me. So don’t get offended. Don’t get defensive. Just pause for a second and realise that we are all guilty of it. Some more and some less but what I know for sure is that if we try things could be little better.

Some time ago I decided to declutter. Not my closet but my social media accounts. And I started with the big one.

Facebook.

I closed the account. And the hell broke loose. I got messages and phone calls from you, worried “friends” whom I did not speak in a while and some of you in really really long time. Why did you care? And why did you care now and not week, month, year earlier?

You said:

“I just want to know you ok!” Or,
“I want to know what you up to” and that
“I’m interested in what you do”

Very ego boosting messages and for a moment I thought that maybe I shouldn’t have closed the account. Maybe I was doing some greater good by sharing everything with you.
But, what you actually said was that you  wanted to know everything about me without ever needing to speak to me.

“Picture paints a thousand words”

This is more true than ever especially in today’s world.

I use photos to show my life. You do too.  But this life we sell isn’t real, it’s filtered, carefully selected and with special caption it sends a message. Very powerful one. It says, look at me. What I do is amazing, full, fun maybe even the best. I look at your profile with envy and think to myself “wow, there are people that have it all”. Then I realise you probably think the same about my life. But what you and me both know, life isn’t all that. There is more to it than just fancy dinners, new trainers, running records and best adventures. There are tears and sadness, loneliness and fear, depression and anger, there is mess and failures….but who wants to show that? Some of you do, and I’ll always admire you for that.

I am not saying that it is bad to share, not at all.

My biggest worry is that we slowly forgetting how to speak with each other in person. In fact we hardly ever talk. We avoid the situations where we might need to talk. You don’t know what to ask me when we do meet up. What’s worse, we often sit with our heads in our phones. Checking in what others are doing completely ignoring the person next to us. And only when we separate we restart our own conversation with a text.

I am guilty of this too and I see it everywhere, at home on the sofa, in the restaurant on a date night, I see it in cinema. Sometimes you say to me” put the phone away” and I do, but with a fear that I’m missing something that is happening out there, in an online world of others. Eventually we stop meeting up, or cut those gatherings short. And I’m not even surprised.Screenshot_20180522-234314You know so much about my life, no wonder you don’t bother to see me. What am I gonna tell you that you don’t already know? You know everything about my life from my photos, my posts! You know about my birthdays, my holidays, my family, my meals,  my shoe size….

At one point it made me feel closer to you.  Never really alone. But in reality, I realised it made me lonely.

I no longer have to ask how was your holiday, where you went what you saw and who you’ve met. I open your online album and there it is, hundreds of photos of your life. Some very private too. I know everything, in an instant. And maybe it doesn’t matter and feels good, but recently it started to bother me.

Don’t get me wrong. I do the same. I post pics of pretty much everything on Instagram and Twitter. And initially I thought that this connects me with more people. But I don’t think it does. Because now you don’t call me, you are not asking me about my life, you think you know everything there is to know. And that is my own doing. I showed it to you. You all know everything about me without ever needing to talk to me. And that, that bothers me.

Likes, kudos, hearts as nice as they feel should not replace the real word, honest conversation, a dialogue. Should not replace a one to one time. This is something we should spend most energy on.

I am still lucky as I have few of you that want to meet with me, that want to see the pics from what I’m up to because I still print them. Some of you call me and say, hey how have you been? What you’ve been up to and some of you are genuinely interested in what I have to say. Some will ditch endless whatsapp conversations with me and simply say we talk when we meet. Some of you respect my privacy for not wanting to share everything with you. Respect that some things I want to keep private. That some stuff is just for me.

Since I’m no longer on Facebook I realised that people call me more often, that we arrange to meet. You and me  realise that nothing beats one to one conversation. That this way we are building something special, something that actually matters.

And yes messaging and skyping is great, I call my parents who are in Poland, I call my brother who lives in Bangkok, I Skype with my friend who lives on Greek Island and bestie from old work who travels the world ; but you know what? I would still much prefer to meet them in person. So why am I not treating you the same way? If you were in different country we would cry that we can’t meet. So why don’t we meet? We are so close.

So from today, I declutter some more.
I will keep Twitter for communication with my running world and share some things with others. Social media can be wonderful tool if used wisely. So I will try to be little wiser. But no more Facebook, no more Instagram, no more very private stuff. I dont need to spend half of my time with my head in the phone updating every social platform.

If you are my friend, you have my number. If you are my family, you know where to find me. And if I am lucky enough to know your address, you never know you might even receive a postcard from me when I go away. You’ll know where I went, what I saw, who I met and what a great time I had.

I’ll make effort to talk to you. I hope you will make effort and talk to me too.

This way our communication will be deeper, more minigful. This way I might feel that you actually care…and maybe just maybe you realise that I care too.

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