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Ruby in the Rubble – We shouldn’t judge what we are not, but we do.

Ruby in the Rubble submission by Lauren Kaighan

A note from Anna: Pleasing others and ensuring they think I’m a good person has been a driver for so much in my life, and also the reason I’ve held back. Address this (I’ve written a course called The People Pleasing Course to help guide you in doing so too), continues to change my life in the most healthy and freeing way! I loved reading Lauren’s reflections and realisations as she comes to terms with the fact that her needs and feelings are just as valid and valuable as those of others.

We shouldn’t judge what we are not. But we do. It’s so difficult, it’s a natural reaction to form an unconscious bias, at least. So even when we try not to judge, I’m certain that most people will do it, even if it is unconsciously and as much as we try not to. What really irks me though is when people think it’s appropriate to portray that judgement though it was fact. Or use it to try and pull down another person. Or to shame another person.

But, we do all do it, judge things that we are not, I suppose it’s a natural reaction.

‘Her house is so clean’, ‘Her house is so messy’. ‘He eats too much’, ‘He doesn’t eat enough’. ‘Did you see what so and so did/said’…

Her house might be clean because it helps with her anxiety. He might not eat enough because he has an eating disorder. There is so much judgement, more so right now.

At the beginning of the pandemic I was so guilty of it. ‘They aren’t from the same household’, ‘They shouldn’t have travelled that far’ and then one day I realised that actually they were from the same household, they just went to and from their other parents’ house (which was within the rules) and actually travelling to the countryside for a walk wasn’t a terrible breach of the rules either and something that later saved my mental health. And I also realised then, we shouldn’t judge what we are not, particularly when we don’t know the circumstances. These judgements, I realised, came from a place of fear.

I think that’s important to acknowledge that judgement does often come from a place of fear, the unknown or jealousy. In my experience anyway.

I had a baby during the pandemic, the week before the U.K. went into what we now know as ‘Lockdown 1.0’. I was petrified. For my family, the world, but most importantly my newborn baby. I spent weeks inside the house, scared to go outside, making excuses to not go for our daily walk. When I finally agreed to be dragged out for a walk, I was navigating my baby in her pram away from lampposts, cars and walls. I was that scared of touching anything around me in case I caught the virus, forgetting that actually, I could quite easily have gotten run over by a car when I was avoiding people by walking in the middle of the road. I was so focused on not getting the virus, I wasn’t enjoying my newborn baby. One night, mid breakdown, I knew I had to get better, to be better. I focused on my daily routine and the things we could do and enjoy as a family. Most importantly I stopped judging other people and what they were doing. I stopped worrying about whether people around me were following or not following the rules, that didn’t need my headspace. I needed to focus on my mental health and my family. I prioritised the things I enjoyed and switched off from the noise of the media and looked only at the facts. I also realised you have to focus on what you can control, not what you can’t and that until you know someone’s individual circumstances, have walked in their shoes, you cannot judge someone else and what they do.

It was this particular lightbulb moment for me that made me sit back and realise all of the things I’d not done for fear of judgement. The things I’d not said in case it was misconstrued or somebody didn’t agree. For some reason, I have an opinion that when I meet people that they won’t like me, and that I have to work for their approval. It’s a basic setting for me and I don’t know why. That probably will take a whole lot more than just writing to understand. But what I’ve realised is I now ask myself; ‘do I care?’ and ‘of what consequence is it?’. Am I so worried to be judged that I won’t do or say something that I want to? So, in the same way that unconsciously we may judge other people, we’ve got to accept that people may also judge us. But does it matter?

We shouldn’t judge what we don’t know. But we do. Why do we judge people on how they raise their children? Unless there is harm coming to that child, what does it have to do with us? Why do we judge people on what they do for a living? If it’s not stopping our bills getting paid, what does it have to do with us? Why do we judge people that either wear too much make up or not enough? If you were truly happy in your own skin would it bother you as much?  Why do we judge those that breastfeed, as well as those that don’t or can’t? A baby needs to be fed, no matter how you choose or need to do it. True, we all have our own opinions, and that is fine. But the minute you project that opinion to become a judgement onto a person or the minute you cast doubt over someone’s integrity with your judgement, it becomes unfair.

As I’ve said, of course, it’s natural to judge, and I’m not saying it’s wrong to have those thoughts and opinions (obviously!) but it’s just being mindful about what you put out into the world. Especially right now. It’s all such a learning curve and I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been there, I’ve done it. And I still do it. But now I’m a lot more mindful and do you know what? I actually feel like a weight has been lifted. Why should I be worrying about what other people are doing if I feel like I’m doing enough?

I’m hopeful that this realisation is helping me on my way to not caring as much as what people think about me, to an extent. I’ll always care about some things and that can be a good thing too. I guess this realisation started for me when I finally started writing my blog (thirtyandfabulous.blog) I’d wanted to do it for so long and I put it off because I worried about what people would think or say. But so what. I enjoy writing and it’s like a version of therapy for me. This realisation has evolved so much over the last year, since having a baby, your priorities change, and through lockdown I realised going forward my energy needs to only go on things that I want to do. I’ve been so focused on what other people were doing and how they were living their lives, I forgot to enjoy my own (I say enjoy lightly there – we were/are in the middle of a pandemic after all!).

I’m working on letting go of things that no longer serve me and focus on the things you can control, and that certainly isn’t how other people will judge you.

Ruby in the Rubble – How do you eat an elephant?

Ruby in the Rubble submission by Laura Castree

How do you eat an elephant? With a knife and fork.

A note from Anna: Perfectionism can find us inactive, halting moving forward because the cost of getting it (whatever it may be) wrong in some way, is high!  For many who struggle with procrastination, the issue is less often laziness and more often the fear of failure. A task can feel so insurmountable when the desire to do it perfectly is strong. I absolutely love Laura’s story of how a simple question has become a weapon with which she repeatedly breaks through this barrier of stifling perfectionism.

From a young age I have been aware of two warring factions within myself, which so often are forced into uncomfortable co-existence in those they afflict: ambition and perfectionism. I never wondered how exactly I inherited this particular mixture of blessing and curse; I grew up in a home which was the product and reward of my father’s incredible ambition, which was anchored by my mother’s loving perfectionism. Seeing what these two traits had done for my parents and for me meant that I never once considered that they would be difficult to manage when combined within one individual.

In reality, it has taken years for me to harness and manage these impulses. School days are, of course, the best of our lives, but for me they often proved overwhelming. I adored writing, but a word limit often stretched out before me as a seemingly insurmountable challenge. I spent evenings crafting vivid and wonderful futures for myself, and found myself horrified at the thought of the impossible feats required to achieve them. This ebb and flow of ambition, so often stalled and defeated by perfectionist anxiety, became more of a burden than a blessing.

In the height of one such episode, I remember being stopped in my tracks when some unfortunate unpaid therapist of mine posed the question that would change my life: “Look. How do you eat an elephant? With a knife and fork.” I wish I could say that I remember the date, particular meltdown and wonderful individual who gave me this gift, but unfortunately it is only the memory of this phrase which has endured. The first remarkable impact it had was to force me to pause, frown, and then laugh. I am now a teacher of secondary school children and this is still a moment I truly adore. I have deployed this phrase to pupils gulping down sobs after friendship breakdowns, hyperventilating before exams, and proclaiming that they are simply unable to process German grammar. The first gift offered by this phrase is that it forces the recipient to stop, think, and breathe, like the moment’s respite you experience when passing under a bridge in the pouring rain.

The second miracle in this simple phrase, is that it begins to transform a perilous mountain pass into a series of familiar stepping stones, and to transform our journey into a sequence of one foot after the other. I have personally never endeavoured to eat an elephant, but I am generally proficient in the use of a knife and fork, and as such already possess the tools to contemplate such a mammoth task (pun intended). When we think of overwhelming tasks we tend to envisage them in their towering, terrifying entirety, like the notion of eating an elephant in one mouthful. In reality they are so often comprised of a sequence of smaller bites which may take time and grit, but are certainly within our grasp. At one point several years ago I found myself in a position where I was simultaneously applying for teacher training programmes, selling my first home and buying another, studying an advanced French course in the evening and working full-time during the day. Whilst I wouldn’t recommend this to anybody, it was made possible by my miraculous elephant mantra; if I had taken a step back to look upon the situation I would most likely have failed, but instead I planned and lived in week-sized portions and somehow emerged victorious.

For me, the elephant has taken different forms over time. My inherited blend of ambition and perfectionism often produces elephants of my own making, as above, but it also makes our current, inescapable situation very uncomfortable. The indefinite expanse of time spent in lockdown stretching out before us is an elephant in itself; a parallel universe where ambitions are simply on pause and perfectionism is often beyond our grasp. I have friends who are home-schooling whilst breastfeeding for whom the routine of every day is an elephant, and I have family in the process of grieving who cannot even envisage the size and scope of theirs.

Whilst we are all experiencing our collective trauma very differently, what we all have in common is our knife and fork. Some days we pick them up with relish, and others with a sigh, but we pick them up nonetheless. The final gift of my lifesaving phrase is the promise it makes that you can, and will, eat your elephant. It might take months, or years, and you might throw down your knife and fork one day only to retrieve them the next, but one day you will accomplish the feat which once seemed simply too gargantuan and absurd to contemplate. How do you eat an elephant? With a knife and fork.

Ruby in the Rubble – Love Sweat and Tees

Ruby in the Rubble submission by @lovesweatandtees

A note from Anna: As someone who’s world has been changed by a cancer diagnosis (of my Sister), I know how it can shake the very foundations we stand upon. Hayley brings us her ‘Ruby in The Rubble’ story. Her husband’s cancer diagnosis bought with it a reason to jump into some of the things that had only until then, existed as dreams. Be encouraged and inspired as you read her words, and then enjoy a browse of Love Sweat and Tees, her business that was birthed from a tough time!

“Just bad luck”. That was the explanation provided by my husband’s wonderful surgeon when we asked how it was possible that a sporty, fit, healthy 40-year-old could have been diagnosed with Stage 3 bowel cancer. It was April 2017. My husband Ben had been feeling unwell for around six months. He was passing blood in his poo, had stomach pains and night sweats. Many visits to the GP and a couple of blood tests during that period had seen him diagnosed with nothing more severe than a urine infection and piles but after insisting, he was finally referred for a colonoscopy to enable a camera to take a closer look at the inside of his bowel. The colonoscopy identified a 5cm tumour in his lower intestine that we were soon after told was cancerous and had spread to his lymph nodes.

The initial diagnosis left us in total shock. Ben was super sporty; you name it he could play it, from tennis to rugby. He didn’t smoke, wasn’t a big drinker and ate well. Not a normal profile for bowel cancer. Until then we had both led very happy, healthy lives with few bumps in the road that we hadn’t been able to overcome with hard work and the support of those around us. We’d both grown up with wonderful families and a close knit group of friends. The two of us had become friends at university, stayed in occasional contact as we both lived in London and got together in 2003 in our mid-twenties. We moved in together after six months, got married a few years later, moved out to the leafy suburbs of Buckinghamshire and had two wonderful happy, healthy children, Max and Arthur.

To be faced with something so totally unexpected that could not be solved through trying / training / working hard, and that was totally out of our control was devastating for both of us. It turned our lives upside down. It felt bigger than the diagnosis itself – it took away the certainty that we’d both taken for granted until then that life would be OK, that anything was surmountable, that we would bring our children up as a happy unit of four.

Our children were 9 and 6 years old at the time. Ben was a very hands-on daddy. While we both worked long hours during the week, our family time generally revolved around sport, largely led by Ben. He coached our 6-year old’s football team. He’d spend hours with the boys teaching them how to pass a rugby ball or bowl a cricket ball (and teaching me too!). He was the centre of our world. Trying to explain to the that daddy had cancer, that he’d need a big operation and medicine called chemotherapy and that he would be feeling very poorly was the hardest thing we’ve ever had to do.

Just three weeks after his diagnosis, Ben underwent a bowel resection. The tumour and lymph nodes were removed and Ben spent the following three weeks in hospital recovering from surgery. The children were desperate to see him but seeing him with many tubes, attached to monitors and often semi-conscious due to the pain medication left the children worried and confused. The worry about Ben and about the impact on the children as well as the practicalities of lone parenting, visiting, organising left me exhausted with little time or emotional energy to do much more than just keep going, let alone really process anything that was happening.

In the months that followed, Ben underwent chemotherapy that left him weak and sick. He did what he could when he could but was often unable to do more than lie on the sofa. A short walk each day left him exhausted. He was thin and weak and often looked a worrying pale yellow-grey colour. On top of the physical stress was the worry that the chemo wouldn’t work, that the cancer would come back and that he wouldn’t see the boys grow up.

Before Ben’s cancer diagnosis, our lives had followed a steady, tradition path: university, stable jobs, marriage, children, suburbia. We were conservative with money – always saving for the future when we thought we’d do something more fun, more meaningful that the steady 9-5. We had often talked about what we’d do when we had the money, the time, the freedom from mortgage payments and expectations about our careers. We often used the phrase “this time next year Rodney” – a phrase from Only Fools and Horses that basically referenced the fact that things would be different “next year”, “in a few years” “at some point in the future”. I had always dreamt of running my own business. We’d always planned to run the London Marathon. Our holidays had generally been UK-based to conserve money “for the future” but we dreamt of travelling with the boys. Until Ben’s diagnosis we’d always felt comfortable in the knowledge that we could do all of these things when the time was right. Cancer changed all of that. It took away the certainty of a future. “This time next year” might never arrive. But among all of those feelings was something positive – our ruby in the rubble. It was the sense that life is short and it’s for living now and despite the exhaustion for both of us it drove us to do more with 2017 than we could have ever imagined possible.

Fast forward to April 2018, just six months after Ben finished chemotherapy and Ben I found ourselves on the starting line for the London Marathon, having raised over £10K in sponsorship for Bowel Cancer UK, a charity that offered us support and advice throughout Ben’s treatment. I trained from June 2017, throughout Ben’s treatment. Ben started training in November 2017, just after his last course of chemo. He ran it in just under four hours. I took slightly (a lot) longer. He always was annoyingly good at sport. Had it not been for Ben’s cancer diagnosis that would have been a dream, something on our “this time next year Rodney list” even now.

The bigger ruby in the rubble for me was the launch of my business, Love Sweat + Tees. It had always been my dream to run my own business. I had worked in fashion retail for many years and I knew a thing or two about the power of a good outfit as confidence-giving, mood-changing expression of self-worth and self-care. When I had children I increasingly found that, while my work wardrobe expressed me and my sense of style, I relied on the same couple of pairs of jeans and plain hoodies whilst running around with the kids. A rare night out required serious thought to find an outfit that ticked the “cool, stylish but not overdressed box”. There were no effortlessly stylish outfits to hand. Growing ever more frustrated with the lack of good quality, hardworking “forever” pieces in my day to day wardrobe that expressed my sense of style outside of work, I dreamt of one day creating my own independent brand. I had business plans and roadmaps but it never felt like quite the right time to make that jump. Ben’s diagnosis gave me that push.

Despite a juggling a full time job, caring for two young children and a poorly husband, managing the cooking and cleaning solo, I decided that 2017 was the time to go ahead and start my business. I started Love Sweat and Tees in October 2017, after months of researching ethical production, testing the quality of sweats, poring over colour charts and learning about printing techniques. I launched with a small collection of six sweaters. Looking back, it was total madness to try to do this while Ben was ill and I don’t know what I was thinking. But Love Sweat + Tees has gone from strength to strength. I now have a collection of over fifty products, a huge number of wonderfully loyal customers and sell to eighteen wholesale boutiques. I still run the business alongside a full time job and plenty of games of football with a (now healthy) Ben and (now slightly older and more boisterous) boys. It took Ben’s diagnosis to make it all feel not only possible but necessary to get on and do the things that we knew would make our lives happier and more fulfilling.

That’s not to say that we don’t still have dreams that we put off, that now that Ben has fully recovered we don’t find it easier to add things to our list than to live in the moment. I think that most of us are like that. But I think the change of perspective that cancer brought with it will forever give us a little push whenever we get to comfortable with putting things off until “this time next year, Rodney”.


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