Joy: rediscovered

It’s been a while since you heard from me, and there’s a good reason for that. As you know, I tend to speak only when there’s new work to celebrate or when I’ve something worthwhile to say. However, having shared so much of myself online in the last couple of years, I took a bit of a step back to re-evaluate my life. Yep, another re-evaluation. As if multiple bouts of cancer and brain surgery weren’t enough, losing Mum and Sam in such close succession meant the last three years have been….well, challenging tends to be the current term of choice. But to me, a challenge is something you choose to take on.

Never in all my worst dreams would I have chosen to lose my mother and husband within a year of each other. So ‘challenge’ just doesn’t cut it for me. It’s been beyond shit.

It hasn’t exactly made me question myself, but I did question where the ‘old me’ went. The joyful, celebratory, optimistic Jeanette. The one I failed to recognise despite the many times I looked back at pictures of myself cuddled up next to Sam or my precious Mum. What I’ve learned from the hard lessons of grief is that the ‘firsts’ are hellishly tough: the first birthdays without them both, the first wedding anniversary as a widow, the first Christmas without the world’s best gift-giver. And Sam was annoyingly good at both finding and wrapping gifts. The pain of those firsts began to define who I was, or at least I’d started to let that happen. Starting conversations with “my husband and Mum died” created an expectation that all you are is a sad, grieving entity, and the weight of that was making my heart ache. So I chose to do something about it.

I needed to re-frame myself as an individual. As well as a knitwear designer, writer, maker and founder of BIPOC in Fiber, I was also a sister, daughter, aunt, grand aunt, friend, primary carer to Mum and a life partner to Sam. Those last two roles had played such a massive part in my life that I’d lost my sense of self without them. As a result, I felt rudderless. And that needed to be addressed if I was to move into the next phase of my life.

Taking myself away on a retreat seemed the most helpful thing to do, so I set about searching the internet. I quickly decided against a grief retreat. They may be appropriate for others, but having come through the raw immediacy of Mum and Sam’s deaths, I didn’t feel that sitting amongst strangers and discussing my saddest losses was the best thing for me. This may well be oversimplifying the process or doing those types of retreats a great disservice, but the thought of someone possibly telling me ‘they were in a better place’ meant I gave them a hard pass. So instead, I looked for a wellness retreat. Something that would offer me space to breathe, to look after my physical and emotional health, perhaps even get a bit of sunshine and hopefully rediscover my joy. Perhaps a new joy.

After a week of searching the web, I eventually found the *Glow Retreat. And having just returned from it, I can’t think of a better name for what it is and the magic it’s worked on my life.

Susie Howells (above left) and Sarah Oliver (above right) run Glow Retreats at various villas and venues in Ibiza, Greece and the UK. What I hadn’t noticed when searching (despite it being clearly stated on the website) was that the retreat was focused on yoga. However, looking back, it was meant to be. I’d zoomed in on the mention of daily mindfulness and breathwork, and the retreat taking place in Ibiza – somewhere I’d never been with Sam – offered my first opportunity to travel alone to somewhere new and start making my own memories. Yes, those firsts just keep coming.

I chatted with Susie and Sarah over email, and they assured me that the yoga sessions would be within my capabilities. When teaching, they encourage each person to only do what they can in order to make the practice their own. This was exactly the encouragement I needed, but I finally committed when Susie assured me there’d be plenty of laughter. They say it’s the best medicine, and I was up for an overdose.

On Thursday, May 11th, I was up at the crack of dawn, heading for Gatwick and into the Ibizan sun. Completely out of my comfort zone and with my big girl knickers pulled up high, I dived into five days of yoga, breathwork, mindfulness and mouth-tinglingly delicious veggie food. Each day began with a gentle wake-up breakfast of overnight oats/yoghurt and fruit – eaten around the pool – before we eased into the morning yoga session. What I love about Susie and Sarah is their ability to hold space for everyone while making each person feel like they’re the only one in the room. Even an unbalanced, tight-shouldered novice like me.

At this point I should mention the villa we stayed in because stunning doesn’t begin to describe Can Verru. It’s away from the hippie/clubbing nonsense that Ibiza is so famous for and instead it offers a haven of peaceful calm set among wild fennel, lemon trees, rosemary and olive trees. I couldn’t get enough of the plants and flowers as you can see from the pictures I did take. More importantly I felt able to immerse myself in each moment spent in these grounds rather than mindlessly taking hundreds of ‘Gramworthy’ pictures just to ‘check in’ and say I was there. I really WAS there.

The yoga felt inclusive and achievable, not posey and worthy. And I mean, I’ve seen posey yoga; I live in Hove, remember. But, above all, it was enjoyable, so much so that I’m still practising daily now I’m back home. With the fantastic food prepared and cooked by Rakhee and Martha and the gentle presence of Marta, who seemed to know my needs even before I did, I feel restored to a new me. As well as the complimentary full body massage, I also treated myself to a session called ‘Energy Transformation, Trauma Release and Somatic Re-Integration’. This treatment works on the Meridian channels and reflexology points in the feet and hands. I really can’t begin to understand how it achieves results, but after nearly two hours at the hands of my therapist Marin, something changed. And I mean dramatically.

Without going into further detail, it’s enough to say that despite not knowing what to expect, my openness to the process allowed me to heal. I feel like a new part of my heart has been unlocked. Of course, it was emotionally and physically exhausting, so much so that I went straight to bed afterwards. But within me, something has definitely shifted: for the better. I feel lighter, I’ve lost weight, and I look different, according to friends I’ve seen since coming back.

Much to my surprise and once again out of my comfort zone, I also discovered I like kayaking. After supper on the beach on Sunday night – our last – we paired up and took to our kayaks with our superb guides, Paolo and Christian. According to Mel, one of the other ladies on the retreat, I looked petrified getting into the boat (well, I’m a crap swimmer, and the sea was FULL of jellyfish). But I went for it, and after a few minutes of paddling with my kayak buddy Sarah, I loved it. Watching the Ibizan sun setting for the last time, this two-hour trip hugging the island’s coast gave us all a chance to admire its beauty from a new perspective. Perhaps I should have titled this blog post, ‘Lost Weight, Gained Perspective’?

Thanks to Susie, Sarah and their glorious retreat, I’ve connected to a new joy and rediscovered my love of food and cooking. Those precious five days have proved that:

I don’t need to eat (so much) meat.
I like drinking lots of water.
The occasional tea and coffee taste better without the synthetic taste of sweetener.
Not eating in front of the telly means I can focus on the taste of what’s actually going into my mouth.
I like kayaking!

Since coming home, I’ve eaten a lot of salad and finally found a use for those dates lingering in my baking cupboard for so long. It seems Date, Orange & Cardamon Energy Balls don’t take long to prepare; even better, they stop me from reaching for the junk while I’m working. I’ve bought lots of healthy snacking ingredients from Grape Tree and even dug the dehydrator out of storage to try making crackers and other snacks to keep me away from the Pipers (sheds tear). I’m not saying I’ll never eat certain foods again, but I’m riding this change for as long as possible.

Right, I’d better go do some work. Have a great weekend,

J xx

*This post is in no way sponsored by Glow Retreats and is an unsolicited account of my experience as a genuine paying client.


One thought on “Joy: rediscovered

  1. Jimi

    This sounds like a fantastic retreat! I’m so glad that you had a great time. Glad also that you’ve re-evaluated your need for (less) meat! 😅💚

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s