Mum guilt – love, loss and living in the moment

img_1668One of the things that tips petrol onto Mum guilt, turning it from a glowing ember into a ferocious fireball is the belief that we ‘should’ enjoy every moment. Here is my battle:

On the one hand I’m trying to live in the moment with my boys, fuelled by the very truthful platitudes of:

‘Make the most of each day’

‘You never know what’s around the corner’

‘One day, when they’ve flown the nest, your heart will yearn for these days’

‘You’re so lucky to have them. So many can’t’

But on the other hand, I’m stretched by the reality that amongst the heart-warmingly lovely, the beautifully mundane, and the ‘can this moment last forever’ it’s tough being a mum. The days can be long, meeting your needs becomes so second place that it can be hard to articulate what they are. There’s teething and whining, and snot for miles. There’s fighting and warring and sleepless nights. There are dark afternoons and tears and rage and loneliness.

These two things co-exist together in messy heap of mum guilt. We feel something negative, or moan about tiredness, and then there’s an internal stab of ‘well, you’re lucky to have kids that can make you tired. Because it means you have kids’. This is immediately followed by a familiar wave of silencing guilt. Nobody is telling me this, apart from my own mind. How can we balance the truth that having children is a wonderful honour, a miracle and ultimately a joy, with the day-to-day trials, the ups and downs and exhaustion? It’s hard to always live in the moment when the moments aren’t always breezy. It’s hard to exist in this tension of ‘it’s good, but man it’s hard’ when it’s so loaded with guilt.

I remember the tragedy of my sister’s cancer diagnosis at the age my boys are now. We lost her. I bet my mum would kill to watch us scrabble and fight for toys, I bet she’d sell a kidney to hear Emily whining at her legs for dinner. This adds clout to the shadow of guilt I’ve felt during the days of being irritated and exhausted by kids in tricky moods. How dare I wish for bedtime, when I have the living and loving kids that many have yearned for or lost? How dare I bemoan my kid-sapped energy when my own sister’s voice has long become a distant echo that I struggle to put tone to.

Even in the days we knew Emily had cancer, it wasn’t possible to swim around in a sickly sweet cloud of #soblessed. That’s not real life. We were living in an in-between time, the waiting room of her loss. It was painful a lot of the time, but not all of the time. Amongst the tears and the heart wrenching knowledge, there was joy and laughter, there were childish words and rough play, and there were tantrums and naughty steps.

I did have stabs of clarity, I did have moments where I looked at her and I just felt the weight of the future, the ripples of grief that touch you even before the loss happens. I remember our last family holiday to Centre Parcs, a family friend had generously paid for us to go. I remember waking early, excited to go and swim with my siblings in the kid-heaven pool. I went to her room and saw her sleeping peacefully, her face puffed by steroids, polka dots of historic cannula marks on her outstretched six-year-old arms. I gazed at her, I was a ten year old who knew that life was going to change in the most unimaginable way, and I thought I would NEVER fight with her again. I would never say a cruel or impatient word. I promised myself, and her sleeping form that I would spend the rest of her short life only loving her, being kind, and letting her monopolise my treasured Polly Pocket collection.

And then she woke. And we played. And we swam and we fought and I’m pretty sure she pinched me. Because that was real life, and that was living in the moment. Because that’s what kids do. They don’t suffer this existential weight of guilt that we’ve picked up along the way, like a downhill snowball building momentum, layered with ‘shoulds and ‘coulds’.

There will always be someone better or worse off than you. There will always be a heart aching tragedy to hear or read about. Oh man, and don’t they hurt even more when you’ve got your own children? You can’t help but slot yourself into the story, imagining what it might feel like when you hear of missing children and heartbreak. There will always be a reason to cast a shadow of pettiness over your feelings of irritation and your rants over the disappearing naptimes. If we negate and squash our human feelings with a constant stream of ‘yeah but’s then we will never process them, we will never reach out for help, we will never allow ourselves to be affected, impacted, changed and shaped by our circumstances. You are not a robot.

You see, even in living in the moment, you’ve got the invisible pull of the future and the weight of the past. Living in the moment isn’t about devouring it, swallowing it down, tattooing every word and smile into your memory. No, living in the moment is about being authentic to your experience, letting yourself feel even if that feeling is ugly or resentful. Even if that feeling is to wish that very moment away.

Living in the moment it’s about trusting that ultimately, you know you are grateful, you know you love and you know that those feelings will always be an undercurrent to whatever is going on. Living in the moment was about fighting with a sister I knew I was going to loose, because I trusted that I loved her, and she trusted that I loved her too. And in that moment, we were mad, and that was real, but it was fleeting as it mostly is.

Practice gratitude when you can. With practicing gratitude you’ll strengthen a trust that you have cultivated that undercurrent of ‘I am grateful’, like a stream that flows no matter what the surround is, or how bad the day is. You can trust that you don’t have to reprimand yourself every time you shout or glance at the clock wishing it would tick a little faster to bedtime. Something can be good, and hard, wanted and tough. A blessing and a trial.

My memories of being with my sister, Emily, are unsullied by the sense of pressure to enjoy and absorb it all that I seem to struggle with now. They were the rich spectrum of emotion that comes with relationship, the loving, the fighting, the impatience, the hugs, the highs and the lows. I think we could learn lots about living authentically from our kids. They feel what they feel in an authenticity that I seem to lack. They don’t seem to fear the fleeting feelings because they know that the foundation on which they can feel them is strong and unchanging. I love them. I can be mad and tired and frustrated, but I love them and that river rages stronger than any flitting sense of anything else, that in time ebbs like the waves receding from the shoreline.

That’s living in the moment.

The other side of tidy

IMG_2817My house is tidy. Pretty much always, generally tidy.

(I am having to claw my fingers in order to stop writing ‘I’m sorry’)

Obviously there are pockets of chaos when the kids have just emptied the toys everywhere, or the husband has been at the kitchen, but generally, my house is fairly neat.

Through instagram, I’ve discovered that there’s a mixed attitude towards tidiness. Some believe that I have hours to sort and tidy (not true), other’s think that I tidy purely for Instagram photos (not true). Some think I’m just presenting the tidy corners in order to communicate the best sides of my life and home (not true). I honestly don’t care about you seeing my mess, it’s just that most of mine is in my head!

If I’m utterly honest, I’ve felt shame about my tidy home. I make myself vulnerable daily in order to present the real and rougher edges of myself in the hopes I can challenge comparison and assumptions and empower people to do the same. However, a tidy house seems to call this to question. Is she really authentic and accessible if her house is neat? That’s not real life.

Isn’t it? But, what if I am being ‘real’ in my tidiness? What if you can have a tidy house and that’s just your ‘real’? What does that say about those who fight to keep on top of the mess that kids bring? Am I saying that they are failing? What about those who are content in the chaos of a family home that looks a little less like a show home and a lot more lived in? Does that say that they are wrong for not being compelled to chase around their offspring, whizzing toys back into their places and scrabbling under the sofa for the missing shape sorter cube. I’m not setting a standard here, I’m sharing life.

I want to tell you about the other side of tidiness.

So here’s the other side of my tidy..

I moved to Loughborough University from my little family home. There had been five of us living in that beautiful three bed cottage, and then four after Emily died. Space was sparce and my room was a cosy box room with a window the entire length of my bed overlooking a green valley. There was no space for a chest of drawers but I didn’t care. My clothes were in my sibling’s room. I loved my little nook.

Anyway, I was dropped off at University with my bags and a case of cheap french sparkling wine (friendship bait). Everything was unknown. I laid out my new room with the bedding chosen during an exciting traipse around Dunelm. It was far more spacious than my childhood bedroom with much more storage in which to tuck things away. I stood back and felt a huge sense of calm at this new level of order.

Tidiness quickly became yet another outward expression of my perfectionism. It was a soothing way of controlling my environment amidst the chaos of getting to know life as a student, out in the big world. We went out, partied, studied (sometimes). Life was a chaotic haze, but my room was a sanctuary of order. I’d find myself a little edgy on the evenings my room filled with friends as they innocently (although sometimes teasingly) disturbed things from their places. I’d tell myself that once they’d gone, I could restore order and all would be well.

Neatness can be a soother to many people as it is to me. A way of soothing anxiety, stress and other uncomfortable feelings. It’s an assertion of control when control is somehow lacking in other areas of life (isn’t it always lacking somewhere?).

We moved home last year, so on one level my tidiness is due to the fact that I can just enjoy my home and relax a little more when everything is put away in it’s place. However, it’s not just about that. There’s a deeper need for order that I can identify. This Christmas we hosted 9 people in our home for three days. It was fun, but I found the chaos tough. This is such a difficult and sad tension for me, as hosting people in our home is one of those things that we just get so much joy from. But at the same time, there’s a part of me that finds the physical chaos and disruption unsettling. I tidied around people, I tidied gifts away mere moments after they’d been opened. I didn’t sit down a huge amount. I was like a buzzing bee sweeping away Christmas as it happened. I was bloody annoying.

However, there is a level of emotional chaos that often comes with lots of family in one place. My way of coping with this emotional chaos was to seek order in my physical environment. But keeping a tidy home around 9 people who are just enjoying the festive fun, was like throwing water out of a sinking boat with a thimble. I told myself that I could keep the kitchen as my ‘domain’ of tidy, and let myself tidy as freely as I wanted whilst trying hard to relax about the remainder of the house!

Tidiness is a relentless, perfectionist pursuit in a house where people, ya know… live. I cannot flop into bed after a dinner party until it looks like it never happened at all. It’s second nature, I barely even realise I’m doing it. Perfectionism can be seen as a blessing but really, it’s mostly a curse. It’s a driver and a motivator for excellence, but the goal of perfect will simply never be met and to continue working to meet such standard is utterly exhausting, like chasing a mirage of water in a hot desert. It doesn’t exist and it never satisfies. No matter how tidy my home is, it will never bring total order to the chaos of my mind.

So, yes, I’m tidy. Maybe you are too. Maybe you aren’t. Maybe you’re somewhere in between. Maybe you skid up and down the tidy spectrum dependent on energy and time and how much you actually care on any one day! That’s fine with me.

We can so quickly demonise or idealise qualities about each other that make us question our own lives or ways of being. Weight is another one I see often that gets both idealised and demonised in the same sentence. It can be as if someone who is slim and fit is quietly deemed self-obsessed or actually not that accepting of their own physical body, thus striving to change it. They can’t be ‘real’ because they are inhabiting someone else’s ideal and perhaps unintentionally body shaming others as a result. But if I feel those things about a beautiful girl in a bikini on my feed, that’s my response, my projection, my thinking, my insecurity, not her intention. It says more about me and where I’m at, than it does about her life choices and inner world.

Because when we single out and idealise a single quality in another person, we miss the whole of who they are. We miss the stories, the neuroses, the pasts, the reasons, the personality type, the dreams and drives. Those are what make the bigger picture. And in light of the bigger picture, that desirable quality becomes real and less idealised, and it keeps people accessible. 

Maybe we should challenge ourselves to accept that other people’s seemingly desirable qualities may be because their priorities are in different places to ours, or because their genetic makeup and personality are different. Maybe they have more time or energy, or it’s just the way they are wired. Maybe it’s the flipside of a character trait, or a symptom of a struggle for them, maybe it’s a coping mechanism. 

Whatever we see of people in Insta squares or in black and white on blogs, when we idealise certain qualities, we just turn them into a ruler to measure ourselves up against to tell us what we’re worth, or how we’re doing at being us. We’re all more beautifully complex than that which can be measured against someone else’s singled-out qualities. And the full stories, which we may never have the honour of hearing, would explain it all.

Note…

Neatness can extend into compulsive disorders, and OCD. If you are finding your need to be neat comes with an urgency in order to abate fear, then it’s definitely worth talking to someone further about this. 

Contemplating pregnancy after PND

I have recently announced my third pregnancy! I am due in the middle of February next year. From the outside, it looks like we’re just completing our little family, but those who’ve followed my Instagram account and blog, will know that the decision to try for a third child, wouldn’t have been an easy one to make.

Since my announcement, I have had many a request for a blog post on pregnancy after PND. So here’s a blog article for those who’ve experienced post natal depression, and whilst their heart would like another, their head is filled with anxiety about feeling like ‘that’ again. It’s a long one, but it’s jam-packed with tips and insights.

 

My experience

When I first became pregnant, I had a history of depression, and a number of years of therapy and Psychotherapy training under my belt. I guess my medical records were a reflag for risk of postnatal depression as I was automatically allocated a Mental Health Midwife. She was sweet, but pregnancy and the early hazy months passed with little more than a hint of the baby blues and some overtired meltdowns. I coped, I socialised, I drank coffee at softplay and chatted sleep issues with buddies. ‘I’ve got this’, I thought. ‘I was made for this’. I was quickly discharged from the mental health oversight team.

I was pregnant by Oscar’s first birthday. I had an inkling as he blew his candles out on his homemade (slightly wonky) monkey cake, that next year he might be celebrating with a younger sibling. I was right.

My second pregnancy was different, not that it contributed to PND, but it wasn’t an easy start. Acute morning sickness made parenting hard as I warmed retch-inducing wheatabix for Oscar between rushing to the loo to be sick. I also had appendicitis which required emergency surgery and a truck load of drugs into my incubating body (cue the maternal guilt already kicking in).

Charlie came into the world in the very same pool as Oscar. Another long labour with a short and sharp ending. Textbook.

In a nutshell, we experienced undiagnosed silent reflux, tongue tie (twice…it can regrow, who knew?!), chronic sleep deprivation, horrendous feeding issues that I stubbornly battled through despite family begging me to stop (I felt it was the only single thing I could do for Charlie and I couldn’t bear to let it go). Meanwhile we were enduring a long-drawn out house move that wasn’t happening, a smashed up car, and other things I like to forget! All these things formed a perfect foundation upon which PND could thrive.

I rebuffed all offers for help and support, of cooked meals and the opportunity to nap. I’M FINE. I felt like a failure, and people offering innocent help gave me the incorrect impression that they too, thought I was failing. I felt my baby hated me, I hated me. I didn’t deserve him, or anything else good. I could barely string a sentence together, I stopped being able to hide my sore, red-eyes, and the terrified, weeping phone calls to my husband at work became a common occurrence. I went from thinking I could cope, to pretending I could cope, to believing I never could (here’s an article I wrote in my dark days)

On my 31st Birthday, I threw my hands up in surrender. You know what? I haven’t ‘got this’ at all. I went to my GP and wept as he asked about my bond with my baby.

I don’t need to go into vast detail of my post natal depression as this blog article is more about helping the future look a little more hopeful and less about the suffocating debilitation that post natal depression can grip you with. If you’re reading this article, it’s oh so likely you know that feeling, and for that, I give you the warmest and most compassionate hug. You made it. You might have dragged yourself through with faltering steps, but you made it mama.

In time, things changed. The sun slowly came through.

 

What helped me

There were three predominant factors to my recovery from PND:

1 – I forced myself to be open to a select few (namely a couple of close friends, my husband, my mum, my health visitor and my GP) about how I was feeling. ‘Forced’ seems like a strong word. But I really did have to battle against the fibres of my being, in order to open up. I knew something had to change. I was scared. Most of them, who’d seen me slowly unravel, weren’t at all surprised. In fact they seemed more relieved that the dropping of my weak façade meant that they would finally be able to step in, instead of watching helplessly from the sidelines. It wasn’t easy, but once I started talking, the words tumbled out in relief and slowly the shame ebbed away.

2- I started to accept that I am simply not created to do motherhood myself. Nobody is. Nor are you. I seemed to think I was an exception to the rule. I began to believe that seeking and accepting support of any form (be it practical, emotional, mental, physical) was not personal failure, but was in fact VITAL to good mental health. Letting friends be friends and family be family. Letting those who love me, love me in the way that I love them. Taking steps to learn to say ‘yes please’ instead of ‘I’m fine thanks’.

3 – I worked relentlessly at my cruel, bullying internal voice that was keeping me in that dark place like a millstone settling in the bottom of a lake. The voice that told me I was useless, hopeless, worthless. I did what I train others to do as a day-job! I started to challenge this voice with kinder and compassionate words that felt like lies at first, but slowly began to gain volume and power. These words are now stronger for me than my inner critic, and that, well that has changed everything. That has changed my life.

We moved house, Charlie’s reflux was medicated and improving, sleep was more plentiful, life became more do-able. I was in the swing of parenting two and working part-time in a job that I adore. So what next?

 

The ‘Shall we have another?’ question

As time went on, and as Charlie’s first birthday rolled around, the topic of trying for a third child kept cropping up. We’d always dreamed of having three kids. Tarun was one of three, I was one of three. Despite losing my sister to cancer before her seventh birthday, despite the fact I’ve lived through more of my life without her than with her, I still feel like one of three.

But this topic was loaded with abject fear. How would I ever cope? What if we had another reflux baby? What if the baby blues weren’t a fleeting tear filled couple of days, but months of deep dark blackness? I was scared of tipping my very new life balance that was filling me with purpose and contentment. For a long while, both my husband and I agreed that I was still healing from the trauma of that long, dark year, and that I needed more time.

I can’t say I ever got to a point where I proclaimed ‘Right. I’m READYYY. Let’s do this!’. And neither may you.

Charlie was nearing his second birthday, when I realised that the ground I’d covered had changed me. I was much better at seeking and accepting support, stronger at saying ‘yes please’ and ‘no thank you’ without fearing what people thought. I had become more naturally open, and my friendships more two-way streets (rather than me gladly offering support but refusing theirs). I had grown used to the concept of childcare and comfortable with utilising nursery. I realised that self-care habits had become an ingrained part of my life instead of a vicious internal battle. Little realisations like this, that the things I’d tried so hard to instil, had become a comfortable new normal for me, reassured me that whatever might lie ahead, I was more equipped with support than ever before.

So now, I’m pregnant. Nervousness and trepidation are woven through my excitement, but that is okay. That is to be expected.

This time my determination is more ‘I’m ready to do what I need to do to make it through’. Not in terms of expending every single ounce of my waning energy to battle through alone, but to call in the reinforcements, to go out and find the support I need, and to accept the support I have. It takes a village, and I am not a village no matter how capable I feel after a large coffee and a good night’s sleep.

 

My advice to you

So, here is my advice to you as you read these words with your own journey sitting heavily on your chest:

1 – Think about how you are now. How are you coping? How do you feel? Do you have residual or active depression that has not been properly addressed? Perhaps you need to invest in some personal therapy via your GP, or via the Find a Therapist page of the Counselling Directory. If you’re often feeling low, you deserve to address this sooner rather than later. And if you’ve experienced any level of trauma whatsoever, from what you’ve been through, please seek therapy in order to safely address this and enable you some freedom.

2 – Ask yourself how you feel and what you need. It’s likely that this has been a challenge for you. It is a challenge to any mum who’s focus is on the needs and feelings of their children, but if you’re going to be attending more closely to your emotional, practical, mental and physical needs, you need to ask yourself what they are. Get familiar with your needs, wants and feelings so that you can begin to act on them.

3 – Practice asking for and accepting help. Be it the offer of childcare for an hour so you can get some jobs done, or asking for a glass of water at your friend’s house when she’s forgotten to offer. Grow confident in stepping out to get your needs met. This is a hugely vital tool in the armour to fight PND. It’s not a comfortable task, but as your confidence increases and your needs are more likely met, you’ll find it easier I promise. This is so important.

4 – Carefully review your support network. Who’s there on standby, who’s standing in the wings? Who are the friends or family members that offer support? Does your hospital have a mental health midwifery service you can access? What did you struggle most with in your postnatal phase? What support might you have benefitted from had you been in a place to ask for and accept it? Have you found good online support? Is there a nice friendly network of baby groups and classes locally? What is around you already and what might you have to seek out?

5 – Take steps to speak with close friends or family members who you trust (if you aren’t already). Start letting them know how you feel in the little, day-to-day ways. The ups, the downs, the frustrations. If your usual response is to ‘keep calm and carry on’, this isn’t going to serve you well, just as it didn’t last time. Vulnerability is uncomfortable at first but entirely necessary for good mental health. Entirely necessary. Those first faltering words I spoke to a close friend, felt like shards in my throat, but now I speak more freely about my feelings. It gets easier as you get the kind and compassionate response that you’ve been denying yourself.

6 – Address your internal dialogue. If your internal voice is critical and strict, you need to really start trying to introduce a more compassionate dialogue over time. That critical and strict voice is the kind of cruel that will hit a girl when she’s down, and you certainly don’t need that. No matter what you think you deserve, you don’t deserve a little bully on your shoulder berating you and throwing petrol on the embers of mum guilt. You have to speak back to this voice. It might feel like a relentless argument at first, but imagine you were speaking those critical words to someone you loved. They need to be challenged because they are damaging. Retorting with a kind response (in the way you would to someone you love), feels unnatural and a little ridiculous, but never underestimate the power of doing this. In time, with work, the critical voice will be chipped away at and will slowly lose power. You need self-compassion. It’s a very powerful tool in the battle against PND.

7 – Consider practicalities and timing. There is rarely a ‘right time’, to try for another child but there can be ‘better times’. For example, Charlie has just turned two and is going to be starting our local nursery with Oscar next month. Therefore, I will be able to climb back into bed with the baby after doing the nursery drop off. I will be able to get cosy in my dressing gown and put on a box set, and recoup some energy. Last time I had a busy 19 month old and never once got to luxuriate on the sofa, but was instead rushing out to playgroups and feeding on plastic chairs in cold halls. What timing might be kind for your family and enable you best to get snippets of rest?

8 – Be kind to yourself. Take the pressure off. If the conversation of having another child fills you with fear, make a decision to leave that conversation on standby for a few months (we left it for six months), and instead, focus on implementing some of these points instead. Regardless of what decision you make and when, you’ll benefit from investing in these things.

8 – Talk this through with your partner. You need to be in this together. You need to be able to lean on them a little, and get used to leaning. Ideally your partner would form part of this support network, and keeping them in the loop about your true feelings and thoughts around another baby, better enables them to do this. 

Final words

I hope this helps you. There is still so much more I could say. I feel a podcast coming on (I’ve never done one before so you’d have to bare with).

Whilst I feel a little anxious about experiencing PND again, I know that having learnt to be more open, both about how I’m feeling, and in accepting support, my next postnatal stage simply cannot be the same as my last one, and that I am confident of.

You’re worth investing in these things. Regardless of whether you believe that to be true.

Anna xx

Ps – Feel free to drop me a line to book a coaching session where we can chat about this in further depth. Or, you might benefit from my Nice Girls course where many of these qualities are worked upon.

 

 

My number one anxiety tip

IMG_4277I’m, going to share my top tip for those trying to address their anxiety. As you know, I LOVE a metaphor, so bear with me on this, it will make perfect sense in a moment.

My husband badly hurt his shins running a marathon. He couldn’t walk and had to temporarily re-locate to the creaky third-hand, musky scented sofa bed in our little London flat because it was ten yards closer to the bathroom.

 

He took medication. He saw physiotherapists. Nothing worked.

Soon after, we had a summer holiday booked with my parents and he still couldn’t walk unaided. We arrived at our stair-filled holiday home wondering how on crutches he was going to navigate the cobbles of the sweet Greek streets that surrounded us. My Mum happens to be a physiotherapist, and under her encouragement and guidance (and strict physio schedules…I mean he was gonna do what she said right? Mother in law and all!), he did certain exercises three times a day. It felt fruitless to begin with. These tiny little movements he had to make whilst gripping onto the crumbling wall of our apartment, over and over and over again as Dad and I watched on, sipping Sangria. Dull and relentless.

He carried his crutches home, walking totally independently.

It was the seeming relentlessness that did it. The tiny movements, over and over with tiring commitment. They seemed too small to be irrelevant, but over time, they changed muscle and sinew. Over time, the pain was replaced with strength. Over time, not overnight.

You know, you can try all the techniques and approaches for anxiety you like, you can dip your toe in the water of every single theory going…but what makes the difference is the seemingly relentless, daily application. THAT is what changes things, THAT is what will turn the anxiety from the raging bull into a small yappy dog that nips at your heels.

Let me use an example from my own life. My intrusive thoughts are anxiety driven, they pop into my head like a mini assault on my mind. Some days, I let them pass by, other days I turn the flash of fearful thought (usually someone I love dying) into a whole scenario, adding colour and words and feeling. Before I know it, I’m feeling a small stab of realistic grief as if the death of my child has actually happened, or I’m freaking out about how the hell I’d pay the mortgage if my husband died on the way home as I feared.

What works for me is noticing the thought and imagining it passing through my mind like a silk ribbon rather than a gripping, flesh-tearing fish-hook. It’s there, I’m not going to force myself to deny it, but it passes. I also use breathing to ground me and calm those physical anxious feelings (see this site). I try to practice it even when I’m feeling A-OKAY so that it’s a familiar tool on standby for when I need it. I have to use this imagery every single day. Sometimes a shed load of times. It’s my tool. It helps. I don’t ‘arrive’ at a point where I’m utterly anxiety free and go ‘WAHOOOOO. Seeya breathing techniques and imagery. Bye old friends’. No, I will be using techniques for many years to come, but the more I’ve used them, the easier they are to access at an earlier point (rather then when I’m down some anxiety hole where everyone I love has died and I’m the only one standing…oh I end up there sometimes, but less than I did)

Here are some tools that will be beneficial no matter what your circumstances are:

  • Learning to access the parasympathetic nervous system through breathing. This is undoubtedly a physiologically powerful tool that counteracts the stress and anxiety response in the body  – find out more here
  • Not waiting until you ‘feel’ worth it before you introduce acts of self-care. They can be as simple as making sure you’re drinking enough water and eating food that nourishes you. Self-care isn’t all about massages and  manicures. These acts directly oppose the critical and internal voice that often fuels anxiety.
  • Start small. Habits of a lifetime aren’t broken in a day. Small, continuous steps will get you there in a way that is more sustainable than short, sharp change.
  • Get used to asking yourself what you need. Within anxiety there is often a fear, a need and a feeling. Learning to identify them helps you in finding ways to meet them. The more you do this, the more sensitive to your needs and feelings you’ll become, and the easier it will be to acknowledge them. When my feelings are fuzzy and hard to determine, I ‘try on feelings for size’ by listing them until I feel like something clicks – ‘am I feeling, sad, lonely, angry, hurt, scared’
  • Be kind to you! Start challenging the inner critic/abuser/bully. If you’ve got a constant, cruel dialogue going on internally, it will be chipping away at your self worth and value. Start noticing how you talk to yourself in your mind and start thinking about how you’d respond to someone you love if they said those things. Start introducing a more compassionate internal voice. Read this
  • Speak to someone who might understand. Not everyone will, but someone you know to be kind and compassionate may be able to help you talk through some of you anxieties, introducing a kinder voice. Sometimes just verbalising what goes on in our minds
  • If you are finding that your anxiety is taking over to any extent, please seek an appointment with your GP, or a Counsellor/Psychotherapist to chat this through further.

I’m sure you might have a few to add to this list as it’s nowhere near exhaustive, but those are the ones I use the most.

But, my TOP tip for addressing anxiety is..

Start small. And keep going.

Even when it feels silly.

Even when it feels fruitless.

Even when it feels like nothing is ever going to change.

Even when you don’t truly believe it will help.

Keep going.

And if you forget? Or you have an anxiety filled day where things have taken over and not one coping mechanism has been accessed, be kind, DON’T beat yourself up. This is a process and it’s a tough one, and often a long one, but a wholly worthwhile one. Carry on. Carry on.

If you’re someone who likes imagery, find a metaphor that encourages you. I like to think of a motorway that has closed down! No cars are allowed, and they are forced to drive beside it on grass and mud. Wheels get stuck, flicking up mud and requiring pushing out. It’s slow and bumpy and downright annoying. Drivers glance at the empty motorway beside them, it’s so familiar, so easy, so smooth. BUT. Overtime, the wheels carve a new path. The ground impacts, the bumps are smoothed. The journey is getting easier. And as for the motorway? It’s has gradually run to ruin. The tarmac melted in parts by the summer sun and never addressed. Weeds poking through the lanes, tree roots tearing up what was once flat.

Whatever your battle is against and whatever your techniques are (as long as they are good, healthy ones), I want to encourage you to keep utilising them. Use them when you’re feeling okay, use them when you start to wobble. The deeper you are into the hole of anxiety, the more effort required to use the tools that pull you out.

Every time you speak back to that familiar, cruel voice that has you questioning life and future, pick up that tool. No matter how successful it was, pick it up again next time too. Yes, maybe sometimes introduce a new tool or an additional tool, especially as they slowly become second nature and less effort, but make sure you have SOMETHING to hand. I introduced breathing for anxiety, and then once it became almost second nature, I introduced a gratitude journal. And now that’s part of my daily life, I’m trying to drink enough water in order to tell my body it’s worth being hydrated no matter how many times I need to pee. See what I’m saying?

When I speak to coaching clients, I don’t make false statements. I don’t promise them that their worst fear won’t happen, I’m not God, I don’t have the insight. I’m not going to promise them that everything will be okay, because nobody can promise them that. But I DO promise them that if they pursue relentlessly, regardless of feelings, the tools we speak about, then the voice of anxiety WILL get quieter over time.

Sometimes change is about driving in the rain and suddenly realising that this would have made you panic a few months ago. Sometimes it’s about you having a nice long bath and suddenly realising that a few weeks ago, this would have felt like an utter, worthless waste of time because you weren’t of enough value to do something kind like this.

Find the tools that fit you, whether through therapy or apps, research or reading. Value your tools. Use them relentlessly and be kind to yourself when you forget, or they don’t seem to work. Keep keep going and change will come, slowly but surely.

Ax

 

Take your space – A poem

A string of ‘sorry’ falling from my lips,
An unconsidered reflex,
For brushing your leg with my bag as I walked by.
A single seat left on the tube,
Tired legs and pregnant bump ignored,
By myself but not by others,
Standing resolute,
A teen with a confident swagger collapses into space I didn’t claim.
She knew she was worth it.

Imposter syndrome.
You’ll discover I’m not worthy of your cost,
Of time and energy,
So I’ll not rudely shatter your momentary illusions,
I’ll just sit quietly.
You’ll find your own way to my conclusion soon enough.

Swallowed words,
Too many spoken over,
Mown down by a barrage of other people’s noise,
Misunderstood,
Leaving me with echoes of my own dialogue in my mind.
Louder voices drowning out stuttered attempts to verbalise.
Step back and shut down.
It’s so much easier to be less,
Than to relentlessly fight for space amongst the more.

Silenced needs,
I’ll meet them myself,
Why burden another with my words and wants,
When I can silently scrape together my own resources?
Furious self-sufficiency,
Maketh man a lonely island.

Words of others like sticky post-it-notes,
Assumed as truths and ruminated over,
Until they became tattooed onto a heart that couldn’t fight them as false.
Surely the minority,
Uttering spiky words or causing unintentional pain,
Are better placed to tell me who I am,
To see the bad in my good.
Hey,
I’ll let you assign my price.

Accepting gifts with an awkward shuffle and blushing cheeks,
Compliments ricocheting off the heart like pebbles skimmed off a taut sea,
Bending a burdened back backwards,
Spewing saccharine sentences I don’t even believe,
So that you like me.
You could write poetry about your like for me,
It won’t be enough for me to believe that that’s your truth.

You wish you were older,
A little bit taller,
Somewhat quieter,
A lot more wiser,
Much more patient,
Less outrageous,
Lower maintenance,
More contagious.

I need to be more.
I need to be less.

STOP.

No more envying those walking,
Taking space and talking sentences without apology,
Claiming seats without a sorry,
Requesting quenching water without a tensing of the shoulders.

No more swallowing words out of fear,
As to whether they will be mistaken or misunderstood,
Which they may,
In fact they will,
But that is not a reflection of the value of them being heard.

You’re a messy complexity of humanity,
With needs and wants and sometimes profanity,
Of ugliness and sweat and space and pride and love and need,
And that’s okay.

Flex the muscle of your voice,
Throw out your arms and claim your space that was yours all along,
Stop ending sentences with questions and prefixing with ‘just’,

Because
You
Are
Never
‘JUST’
Anything

Exercise the sinews of your voicebox,
No speaking in whispers and avoiding confrontation,
Don’t devalue your innate worth with apologies and intonations.

Learn to grow to love your powerful voice,
As a lioness recognises the authority of her roar.
The thoughts and feelings of others about you are neither facts nor your business,
Just seen through their scratched grey lenses of experiences,
The one you see them through too mind you,
We all do.

Unshrug those shoulders you don’t need,
To shrink into yourself anymore,
Stop chipping away at a body that takes up precious inches,
Because you are of more value than all the space you could ever inhabit,
Laugh freely regardless of snorts and tears,
Your joy is worth experiencing,
And each peal of laughter will become easier,
Even if it’s only you who understands the joke.

Walk stronger,
Hold your head higher,
Line lips in crimson red and wear colour,
Or don’t.
But if you don’t,
Don’t because you don’t want to,
Not because you want to but fear being seen.
Your purpose might feel entangled and confused,
But you have purpose all the same,
That’s a promise.

You don’t need to be less,
You don’t need to be more.
Take your space.

Take your space without apology,
Without bended knee or slipping into the comfort of the background,
Grow slowly but surely in to yourself.

You
Are
Never
‘JUST’

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