Here’s to being OPEN. For openness leads to FREEDOM. Here’s to the end of secrets and shame. Here’s to hugs and kindly faces. Here’s to the TRUTH that we aren’t alone. Here’s to the END of silencing our own anxiety, depression and neuroses. Here’s to HOPE that THERE IS A WAY through. Here’s to the tentative budding choice to believe that WE ARE WORTH IT. Here’s to tears of RELIEF that comes when we take the risk of talking to the right people. Here’s to the beginning of the END OF STIGMA. Here’s to the start of VALUING our own processes. Here’s to RECONCILIATION. Families and relationships REBUILT. Here’s to RECOVERY. Here’s to the investment in making KINDER choices. Here’s to SELF CARE even if it feels unnatural at first. Here’s to picking up the phone to SUPPORT NETWORKS. Here’s to daring to LEAN ON others. Here’s to learning more about what it feels to be ACCEPTED and the conscious act of letting yourself be LOVED. Here’s to chipping away at the power we’ve given abusers and bullies and CLAIMING BACK our ground. Here’s to TAKING UP SPACE in the world and recognising that we DESERVE it as much as the next person. Here’s to starving the critical voice and FEEDING the one that says I’m INNATELY VALUABLE. Here’s to STANDING ALONGSIDE EACH OTHER, brothers, sisters, just finding our way through. Here’s to STARTING THIS JOURNEY. Here’s to CONTINUING THE CONVERSATION about mental health. I cried writing this. I truly believe that every word is possible. If I can spend my entire life sharing, writing and talking about this message in the hopes some of it may provide people with increased freedom and understanding of their worth, I will.
Sitting in the car on the way to the airport, my 3 year old Oscar fell asleep on my shoulder. His little hand relaxed in mine. I looked at him, his hand, his face. I felt an overwhelming, aching love for him. A roaring wave of gratitude. What did I do to deserve my children?
Nothing. Having a child is not about ‘deserving’. Just as nobody deserves the lack of a desired child, or the loss of a child. It’s not about entitlement or fate, good or bad behaviour, oh no. It’s about cherishing what we are lucky enough to experience.
Do you know what immediately chased this ferocious wave of gratitude? A barbed stab of anxiety. Fear of the unknown, of all the possibilities ahead. My sister Emily was diagnosed with terminal cancer at the age Oscar is now. An utterance by a glassy-eyed consultant, like a lightening bolt that shook the foundations of our lives and changed us irreversibly, in the most unimaginable ways. A cheeky little toddler with bouncy yellow curls and a life sentence of treatment and drugs. A life sentence to her family of her absence.
In that moment today, this was my fear. Nobody can promise me that my children will outlive me. Nobody can swear on a bible that I won’t have to go through that heartbreak. It was many years ago now, but the echoes of experience are tattooed into my heart. And now, as a parent, it adds a dimension of insight into how it must have been for my parents. It provides fresh opportunity for fear.
Anxiety is when we rush ahead in our minds, whizzing through possibilities and fear their coming to fruition. Anxiety gives us a sense of control. We subconsciously lie to ourselves that if we project mentally through the worst case scenario, if it were to happen it would hurt less. It doesn’t. It saves us from nothing but succeeds only in robbing today of it’s enjoyment and robbing us of the ability to soak up the ‘now’ in gratitude.
This isn’t a post about making the most of every moment, as we know that whilst many moments are enjoyable and easy to be thankful for, many are mundane, tough or painful. This post is about increasing awareness of when anxiety tips the balance of gratitude into fear.
To hold in tension the enjoyment of these precious things we cherish within our lives, and the fear of the unknown is one of the challenges of life itself. I will let the roaring wave of gratitude be followed by the stab of anxiety, but I will try not to court it and to dwell on it, to walk in it and be consumed by it. Oh how two contrasting emotions can sit so closely side by side. That is love.
So (if you’ve made it this far), love and be thankful. I can’t tell you to love without fear, but I can encourage you to acknowledge the fear rather than immerse yourself in it. Notice it but don’t court it. I know this is far easier said than done! How can you change this? Well becoming aware of it is the first step. Awareness enables us to have a conversation with this dynamic, to talk to it.
So go, and love. And know that it’s okay to fear. How can we say it is worth loving if the idea of absence has no impact? But enjoy the love you have now – for that is all we have.
Sometimes, when we live life too fast, stepping out of the day-to-day isn’t enough to slow down. Turning off the engine doesn’t force the wheels to an immediate stop. You can stop the sprinting, but the heart continues to race. Sometimes, slowing down has to be more intentional than we could have ever imagined it should be.
The antidote? Introducing slowness into each day somehow. Schedule it if you must. You either slow down purposefully, or life has a way of forcing you to stop. One is intentional and controlled, the other is messier. PS. I’m totally preaching to myself here.
Here is a 3 minute video on this topic for you.
At the start of Yoga this Saturday, our teacher read a script telling us to ‘start where you are’.
We are where we are. That’s all we are now. We’re not the us of yesterday or the us that we may be tomorrow.
It got me thinking about how often we delay doing things that will benefit us somehow because we tell ourselves that we need to be a in a certain physical or mental headspace first.
We may think, I can’t face the gym until I’ve lost some weight. I will start to try and think better, eat better in January. I’ll change things tomorrow.
You are worth making changes, moving, doing, starting now. Not when you are thinner, happier, more energised. Not when it’s sunnier or when the New Year clock chimes midnight.
To keep putting off making kind and positive changes is to procrastinate our way into self-sabotage where things pass us by. Things get harder and worse, and then we end up making changes out of hitting a messy rock-bottom rather than a motivation for self-care and investment.
To act is an act of self-love. And if self-love feels an alien concept, do it anyway and choose to trust that making changes will actually feed into a new cycle of worth.
I’ve ventured to You Tube and am doing a 3 minute series on various motherhood and mental health topics. Here’s on on how to be a ‘perfect mum’. Hint hint….it doesn’t exist.
Self-care isn’t as simple as taking a long bath or booking in a manicure. It’s about value, self-worth and believing you deserve treating yourself with care and respect. It’s about recognising the difference in what one day may be self-care, can be self-destructive procrastination the next. It can be a fine line.
It’s about how putting the to-do list aside one day can be an act of kindness to yourself, whereas the next day it can be an act of self-sabotage. Self-care can be working out, or it can be giving yourself a day off the gym when you actually want to go. Self-care can be a large glass of wine in the sunshine, or it can be forgoing the alcohol altogether. Self-care can be taking a day of solitude away from the world, or it might be encouraging yourself out the door to interact.
Self-care is about knowing what your needs are (this can be a challenge in itself for many), and how it is wisest to fulfil them. We need to know ourself to know the difference, and we need to love ourselves to act. The good thing is that one feeds into the other. Self-care fuels self-love. Self-love fuels self-care. You just need to take some challenging first steps to start a new cycle. A new way.
Today, I’m wearing bright, red lipstick and I’m not even dressed. Self-care for me at the moment is about not hiding from the world, not apologising for myself. It’s about daring to believe that I can use my passions and skills to encourage others to be more open about mental health, and start to engage in some new behaviours that I believe can change their world as they know it. It’s about indulging in the simple things that make me smile and give me joy. Today, it’s a rich, red, eye catching pigment on my lips, to remind myself how far I’ve come from the days I used to hide.
Self-care cultivates self-love. The best investment you can ever make. For the love you have for yourself is the gateway of all other loves.
If you want to know any more about these topics, or want to chat them through in the light of your own experience, take a look at my therapy and coaching page here
I’m the first to acknowledge that I’ve spent the majority of my life as a perfectionist. An insatiable demand placed over myself, by myself. A desire to be the best, with little room left for my humanness. I never believed I was enough. I could write a whole post on how I have begun to let go of perfectionism in the last few years as a parent and how freeing I’ve found it, but that’s for another day.
This post is for us Mum’s who often don’t feel good enough.
When did ‘good enough’ stop becoming good enough?
As children we welcomed a ‘tick’ on our school work. Little validations in scrawled marks telling us that we met the standard. Good enough used to be good. It used to be enough.
‘Good enough’ has been steam rolled by perfectionism and comparison. Good enough is now substandard. Pah! Who’d want to be good enough when you could be GREAT? We see snapshots of other people’s mothering, and we merge them together into one supposedly attainable ideal of what it is to be a ‘great mum’.
Perhaps it’s the increase in social media. Tiny little Instagram squares feeding this belief that others are mothering better than we are. They are coping better, parenting better. They shout less, cook more, look nicer, never argue in front of the kids, gaze at their phone less, and NEVER ever want to run away and hide in the kitchen with wine.
How come when we compare ourselves to others, we tend to come off worse?
Winnicot was a Psychoanalyst and parenting expert in the 1950’s. He studied thousands of mothers and knew the emotional, physical and mental energy required to raise these small people. He summarised that the way to be a good mother, is to be a ‘good enough’ mother.
Good – acceptable, positive, satisfactory, valuable, worthy, agreeable, admirable
Enough – abundant, ample, sufficient, suitable, acceptable, competent, decent, sufficing
Mother – source, origin, creator
Good enough takes into account our humanness, with all of our failures and our limits. Imperfection becomes positive.
It’s healthy for children to be failed in tolerable ways in the context of relationship with a loving parent. We are teaching them how to survive in an imperfect world that will fail and disappoint. Parenting is a long-haul job, it’s a daily grind. We mother through sickness, highs and lows, sleep deprivation, PMT. We need to have more grace for ourselves.
Guilt fills the void between the mother we think we should be, and the mother we are.
I should be more patient
I shouldn’t be letting my little one watch so much TV
I should be doing more,
I should be more.
I am not enough
The very fact that we feel this guilt says that we are probably doing a fab job. But perhaps we need to change the language we use.
‘Should’s are aggressively critical, pointing the finger, breeding guilt and stifling action. This language slowly chips away at self-acceptance and worth.
Perhaps the ‘should’s are alerting you to areas for change and tweaks. Turn it into a “hey, let’s grab a book”, an encouragement for action, rather than an an action stifling criticism.
When you offer your children consistent love as a base, no matter what the day holds, or whether sleep deprivation induced impatience leaves you snappy and highly strung (my hand is up here!), or the TV does the babysitting whilst you tear around the house tidying yesterday’s chaos…. you are good enough.
So, beautiful Mum’s. You are enough. You are so enough. It’s unbelievable how enough you are.
I wrote this on New Years Eve as the calendar switched to 2017. Reading it again now, as life feels far fuller of hope and enjoyment, it breaks my heart that I felt so low and desperate. I wanted to publish it incase it might be helpful for anyone – feel free to share. I want to break the taboo of ‘instant newborn love’ and encourage mothers for whom the love doesn’t flood so freely so quickly. It’s okay. You’re doing an amazing job. One foot in front of the other. This happy pic was taken on C’s first birthday. A time of joy and celebration that I made it through.
The assumption is often that Mothers experience an instant flood of love for their newborns. An unbreakable, incomparable, maternal bond. Is this always true? Is this a healthy assumption? Or does it just add pressure and negate the fact that it’s not always about the immediacy of falling in love with your baby, but it can be something that grows and enriches. After I’d had little O, I couldn’t have fathomed it being any other way than an overwhelming sense of adoration. But my second experience was very different.
I caught you in my hands and swept you up through the water, hugging you into my chest. Your first cry escaped from your little, gaping, blue mouth. Your scrawny body, your folded limbs and wrinkled skin flooded with a soft pink hue as you took your first, hungry breaths. You rose and fell with the sobs that escaped my exhausted lips. I did it.
I fell into my hospital bed after cold, anaemic toast and sugary, tepid tea. Such an unappealing meal never tasted so divine. Despite being awake for 2 solid days, I ushered sleep away that night. All I wanted to do was to stare in pure wonderment at your sleeping face, bathed in the blue glow of my hospital room. I lay gazing, to the soundtrack of soft footsteps and distant digital beeps. I was high on a ferocious love in which my heart groaned with a sudden, stretching increase in capacity. It would swell every time my eyes met your face, or each time you came to mind. You’d not done a single thing, but you’d won me wholeheartedly.
I loved you immediately, hopelessly, vulnerably. And just when I didn’t believe I could possible love any more, I fell more in love as I discovered you.
You entered the world in that very same pool, a mere 20 months later. Instead of winter darkness veiling the windows, summer sunshine danced in slivers through the slatted blinds. Your quiet birth gave way to chaos as people crowded the room, urgently attempting to remove a stubborn placenta. They were successful, and we carried you out, small and so new, a mere 5 hours later. Moments down the road, we arrived home to the welcome of family. We sipped champagne whilst your brother cooed over your blinking little face.
I didn’t devour a night alone with you or gaze upon your face in soft blue light. There were no lazy lie-ins. We didn’t spend your Daddy’s paternity leave recovering from long nights with box-set binges whilst you lay nestled between us on crumpled white sheets.
The first three weeks at home passed, fuelled by adrenaline, and a crash course in learning how to manage two young children. I had extra hands of support, before all help left, back to work and normal life. The usual toe curling, breastfeeding pain of the early days didn’t stop. And your frustration and pain became increasingly evident. Health Visitors, lactation consultants, midwives and GP’s were kind, and well meaning, but none could explain or understand the cause or effect of your constant cries. It took months to label your distress.
I wanted so desperately to love you more, to feel compelled to nuzzle your face and neck. I felt a fierce, lioness protectiveness. You were my young. On one hand I had your chatty, affectionate brother, and on the other, a baby who did little more than scream or claw at my chest. There was little reverie, only survival. I didn’t know you, and it seemed that you didn’t like me.
Your first six months sauntered by. A mixture of troubleshooting, frantic google searches, confusion and second guessing.
And then, one day, the sun broke through the clouds. A rainbow of rich and potent colour threw a prism against a grey and stubborn sky. Change, world-changing change had been just a breath away and I didn’t know it.
Suddenly, your smiles brightened your face more freely. Your back arching screams ceased You gobbled up hungrily every morsel I put in front of you. I delighted in cooking for you, finding such joy that my efforts pleased you. You started to look at me with a look of love, as if you were finding your comfort in my presence. I started to know you, to enjoy you, to see flickers of character in your generous giggles, and the way you gazed at your brother. I began to learn that you adored your baths, that lots of kisses made you grin a big, old man, toothless grin, and you delight in being naked!
Your brother shocked me with an increased capacity for love, whereas you taught me the incredible lesson of perseverance and alerted me to a strength I never knew I possessed. My love for you has grown, as deep as it has wide. You are my labour of love. We have won each other, and found our way deep into each others hearts.
But, my darling, you were worth every single moment.
And I cant, for love nor money, stop kissing your gorgeous little face.
If you want to contact me for a telephone PND/Anxiety/Depression coaching session, please find more info here.
We often think about how we talk to others. We watch our language and re-play our words. We care.
We jump to defend if someone speaks cruelly to someone we love. If we were to witness the bullying of a friend, our heart would leap with a desire to protect and argue against words viciously spoken.
So, why is it okay to bully yourself?
Why is it okay to criticise yourself? Why is it permitted to speak harshly and for cruel words to trip off your tongue in the dialogue hidden within your mind?
We have a constant, internal dialogue with ourselves and that’s what I want to encourage you to think about. It’s something you may not even notice or think to change, but I believe it’s the single, most powerful, ongoing conversation of our lives. In the eight years I’ve worked with clients in my Psychotherapy practice, this has had a part to play in every single one. It’s vitally important. It feeds directly into self-esteem, value and worth. It dictates how we love ourselves (or not), and how much we allow ourselves to be loved (or whether we sabotage it). For how can we allow ourselves to be loved, and to revel in affection from those who love us when we believe at our core we are unloveable? And when we speak to ourselves as if we lack such worth?
This secret, ongoing, internal voice dictates so much. Arguably, everything.
What tone does yours take? Is it forgiving, compassionate and patient? Or is it critical, bullying and quick to anger? Does it remind you of someone in your life who’s had impact and authority perhaps? A parent or a teacher? We start to develop this internal dialogue as a child, approximately between the ages of three and five. I could go into the physiology and science of it, but I don’t want to lose you (here’s a scientifically grounded article). We build this internal voice out of our experience of the way people speak to us. If your parents or caregivers were kind and loving, patient and reassuring, that’s a great start! But if there has been verbal abuse or bullying, then the work is a little harder.
Think of someone you love. Like, really love. Now imagine that you heard someone speaking to them in the manner you speak with yourself. Is it okay? How does it feel to consider that? If they heard that dialogue day on day, year on year, would it benefit or damage their sense of self-worth and esteem?
So, what does it do to your sense of worth and self-esteem to hear your dialogue and to have certain messages reinforced?
What can you do?
I will talk about this in more detail in other posts, but I believe the first stage is to start becoming aware of this dialogue, and asking yourselves these questions. The second step is the most valuable but hardest undertaking you can make, but can be one of the most life giving and affirming efforts you can invest in.
- Start talking back to the negative voice. Start introducing a kinder, more patient, more loving dialogue. If you have to think of the most loving person in your life, and how they would respond to you speaking out these harsh words, then imagine what they would say, and repeat itto yourself!
- Do this over and over until it the compassionate dialogue becomes more intentional and more familiar. Do it when you can and when you remember, even if you don’t believe it for a long long time, even if it feels stupid. Trust me, it will gradually chip away at your low-self worth and low sense of value, and you’ll start to believe it, feel it, live it.
- Imagine a tractor ploughing the same field daily – etching great furrows into the soil, deeper and deeper as the days go by. Its wheels slide comfortably into these self-made trenches. Then imagine that one day, you turn to the farmer and ask him to direct the wheels only to turn over the apex of these ditches. What a challenge! The huge, muddy wheels slip and slide into the familiar depths. BUT – over time, as the farmer perseveres, he forms new furrows bit by bit. That’s what you’re asking your mind to do when you address and desire to change the way that you talk with yourself. It takes time and perseverance. It’s uncomfortable and awkward. But…one day the balance will tip and the grind won’t be quite so hard. And then, you’ll start living in more of a belief that you’re so so worth (oh, EVER so worth, the good things in your life, the love that people give, the time that people give), and life will become less of a dialogue about how ‘if they only KNEW me’…)
So, a little something to think about, and a taste perhaps of what’s to come.