New year. New normal.

I’ve always loved Christmas and New Year, but January used to give me the blues. I craved the hedonistic, upbeat energy of December but these days I see winter as a time to re-group, set new intentions and course correct on unhelpful behaviour. 

Taking the time to reflect is something I’ve always done and knowing what you most want to celebrate or are proud of is a great place to start. But I also ask myself “What would I like less of?” and “What would I like more of?”. Observing the feelings that show up around my answers is always insightful. 

As a therapist and coach I’ve supported many women through change. I’m a great listener, naturally empathetic and hear what’s often not actually being said. I’m not afraid to challenge, I’ll help you rise and for the last 15+ years have helped many women feel ready for what was to come when starting a family. I’ve written countless articles around happiness being an inside job, boosting self-confidence and finding your self-belief. But when I was unexpectedly diagnosed with breast cancer 18 months ago I found myself in new territory. 

I’d thought nothing would ever be as terrifyingly painful as the unexpected death of the man I loved (possibly a story for another time) but losing a body part came close. 

Looking back I can see that 2018 started with a strange mix of confidence, fear and anxiety. One minute I was a bad ass about to slay my tumour, the next, terrified that I wouldn’t wake up from my surgery or I’d wake up too soon. I panicked that with my body changed forever I wouldn’t feel like “me” anymore. I held out hope that my periods would return and I wouldn’t automatically go into the menopause but it wasn’t to be. 

Day-to-day life is full of uncertainties and having an empowered and connected internal relationship to support yourself, come what may, can certainly help relieve anxiety and boost your confidence. But it’s easier said than done when the rug is pulled from under you and you look like Gollum from Lord of the Rings. 

Amazingly I managed to date through out my treatments but there’s nothing like facing your own mortality to realise who isn’t a good fit, or making good use of your time. Although I have 2 engagements and several relationships under my belt it was scary at first. 

Chemotherapy may have helped save my life but for a time it took away my hair and my confidence. I had a great wig and my skin was silky smooth but no eyelashes or brows made me feel naked and exposed. My long blonde hair, which had taken years to get just right, was gone in an instant and it was tough to look in the mirror and see a strangers face stare back. 

Going through cancer forced me to be my own best friend, get clear on my values and get real about what’s next. 

I was not back to my pre-fitness in 12 weeks (call me Little Miss Impatient), and have yet to meet anyone (including an military running machine) who has. But 10 months after being told I was cancer free I ran a 10k and didn’t come in last! Knowing I was able to ski down a mountain after 8 rounds of chemo still gives me a boost, and the long hot summer inspired me to take two impromptu trips to Europe. My passion for travel has reignited and my adventurous spirit is waking up. 

Family and friends have been amazing but the treatments were tough. I had a panic attack on leaving the hospital after my surgery and had to learn to “let go”.

This last year has taught me to trust in myself. I now know that somehow a stronger, wiser part of me will invariably show up when the rest of me is freaking out. I know that some days are better than others and sometimes you just need a duvet day or your pajamas. I’ve learnt to show myself a new level of respect, to value my wisdom and trust in my instincts. Treating myself with kindness and compassion has become non-negotiable and I now look at other women with newfound pride, and awe. 

Gradually I replace the negative thoughts and judgments that unconsciously pop into my head and smother them with love and gratitude; cherishing what I have, not what has unexpectedly been taken away. 

Self love and self care is not about taking spa days and silencing your inner critic (although both really help!) it’s about showing up for yourself no matter what and sending love to the unconscious, less-developed inner child that we ALL have, even when she’s feeling her worst. It’s about learning how to free yourself from insecurity, neediness and even self-doubt. And the results can be a real game-changer!

It took a sleepless night after my first chemo when I looked and felt close to death (my temperature plummeted, I was ice cold and hardly able to breathe) and after my first surgery (bald and with a very blue tinge due to a medical dye – not the best look) to know that I really wanted to live.

Last week as I sat at a department store make-up counter merrily chatting away and having my eyes made “glam” I smiled to myself as she asked me which mascara to try. My “new normal” is starting to take shape, as is my new wavy hair! I celebrated my “win” and know the best is yet to come. I’m letting go of fear and calling in more fun! 

New Year. New Normal. Bring. It. On 

Lisa Barnwell

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