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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.

I want to shout less. I want to drink less.

‘I shouted at Charlie. Like, really shouted at him. He cried. I cried, and now I feel bad’

Oh Anna, we all do that.
Don’t worry about it.
It’s tough.
Everyone loses it sometimes.
It’s not like it’s all the time.

‘I can’t remember the last day I didn’t have a drink. Just one the evening, but I need to have more booze free days’

Don’t worry about that.

Everyone is doing it.
It’s necessary, it’s needed.
You deserve it. What else do you have to look forward to?
It’s not like it’s a bottle.

I’ve uttered both of these things over the last few months, many times in varying ways. To friends on walks, on the phone.

Both are normalised, the shouting, the losing your rag. Oh those days when I gaze at the small, sleeping form of my child, stroke a cheek and promise to do better the next day. To be more present. Oh the days I climb into bed, my body softened by wine, promising to replace the next day’s pouring of a glass with the rolling out of a yoga mat.

But it’s all hard. Because it’s hard. And whilst my heart knows what I need, my mind and body are challenged by the upheaval of time, support, friendship, change in context, and adventures beyond my postcode.

So I swallow down emotions. I ignore a need for space because it’s not easy to find it, practically, logistically. I hold it all in, my edges taught and stretched like an overstuffed bin-bag. But sometimes it all comes pouring out, a broken damn, spilling everywhere, causing flood damage in its wake.

But those things require intention and intention requires discipline.
And discipline requires energy.
So I sink into habit, because it requires so little of either.
I continue. I fill up, I spill out.

Oh the release. Oh the guilt.

I flop onto the sofa. Knowing I need to talk, to be heard, to process. Knowing I need to rest, not scroll, talk not stare at yet another episode of a programme who’s plotline I have long lost. I need to wind down, to slow down, to calm my wired mind.

But those things require intention and intention requires discipline.
And discipline requires energy.
So I sink into habit, because it requires so little of either.
I pour a glass, I sigh, my shoulders drop.

Oh the release. Oh the guilt.

But in reaching out to friends, I get support. It all gets normalised. I am not alone, we are not alone. In the shouting, in the pouring of a glass. In all of the things.

Yet the guilt never softened with the utterances of ‘we’re all doing it’.

Because, underneath, whilst I know I am not alone, I also know we need to be gentle on ourselves, I am stepping beyond my own sense of what is okay for me. I do not want to let loose on my kids, I do not want to join them in their tantrums. I do not want to be reaching for daily wine as a means to a chaotic end.

In the normalising of things that deep down, I know aren’t right for me, I’m not falling to meet an unreachable bar, I’m lowering a valid one.

Sometimes, our minds want to hear ‘It’s fine’ whilst our hearts are whispering ‘will you stand with me as I seek better?’.

When we are full, and tired, and stretched and wired, it’s easier to spill out and fall into our own cracks.

I spoke to my husband about my overstuffed bin-bag. And we planned and we juggled, and I battled with the guilt that rose when he pledged to take the toddler for a daily walk so we could focus on home learning. I coach myself to accept the offer of an extra ten minutes in bed, or head up for an early night even though we’re half way through an episode.

And I fight the guilt, and do it anyway, because half an hour’s reading in bed can be the difference between having a messy meltdown, and the ability to breathe through the stress instead.

And as for the daily wine, I found a couple of friends who said ‘me too’, who echoed my ‘it’s understandable but it’s not what I want either’. And we’ve been doing a month of consistent booze free weekdays and it feels good.

But it’s a dance, a dalliance between what I want and what I need. Where compassion and care collide with, zig zag and cross over ease and gentleness. But it’s a dance I’m glad I’m dancing, all the same.

If the relief of normalising no longer hits the sweet spot that silences guilt, then perhaps your heart is whispering ‘will you stand with me as I seek better for myself?’.

Sometimes our yearning for ‘better’ isn’t driven by perfectionism.

It’s driven by a deep desire for freedom from the things that keep the flames of guilt alight
And for someone to stand beside you as you reach for it.

Dear Charlie – Letters on Motherhood

I’m sharing this letter in honour of Gi Fletcher and her beautiful book, Letters on Motherhood.

I wrote this to my son Charlie, when he was 5 months old. It was typed through tears as  I spent New Years Eve of 2016 alone on the sofa. It’s a stark reminder of how things always move and change, even though during the tough times, you fear it may last forever. It wont.

As this year closes, I sit alone on the sofa, full of last night’s dinner reheated, and a miniature bottle of bubbles. Just because, you know, it’s ‘New Years Eve’. The clock will chime and I will be asleep. At least, I hope I will. You, my restless babe lie upstairs in your cot; our wanted child, our second.

I’ve eschewed a family get together because I am empty. I’ve spent myself. I have nothing left to offer besides tears held behind heavy eyelids. Maybe you can trace them down my cheeks; the little telltale tracks of makeup not yet reapplied. Those that escaped earlier, as a friend gave me a hug.

This year has been the hardest one thus far. I feel a pang of guilt as my fingers chase the keys of my laptop. My mind begins to verbalise what my heart has been feeling. The guilt settles like an unexpected snowfall. I’ve known death. I’ve known death of a sibling, as a child. Cancer. So, how can I call this year the hardest yet? It was not full of prognosis and CT scans. Nor final words of ‘I love you’ uttered down a hallway. How can I negate the loss of a loved one, for a year of tongue-tie and colic, of restless nights and reflux?

Because with grief, I had my ‘self’. I knew myself. With grief, there was a cause, a reason for escaping tears and guttural cries. Missed functions were excused, explained. My heartache had a name. It was understood.

You, my wanted second child and I, we’ve been on a journey this year. Your birth bought with you a whirlwind of why’s and what’s. Why are you not feeding, or sleeping or seemingly content? What am I doing wrong, what do you need from me that I cannot seem to give? You can have my all, yet I am not enough for you.

Up and out of the house. I have two children. I am a ‘coper’. Makeup on. Sunglasses on. For they hide the fact that the smile on my lips is a lie that my eyes cannot sustain. I am tired. I am scared. I am drowning in pretence, desperation to hold together the very thing that I wished for.

You screamed and you cried. You clawed me. My thin-lipped smiles became increasingly translucent, as fat tears would escape beyond the rim of my wide framed sunglasses, no longer able to contain the swell of dew that lined my bottom eyelids. What else do you want from me? You want sustenance and comfort, yet you scratch my chest, now displaying scrawny, pink scratches at various stages of healing. Who are you? You do not know me nor like me, and you resent me for bringing you into this world that seemingly makes you so distressed and tormented.

My birthday is marked on a green prescription for antidepressants. Penned by a concerned GP who asked me to return to ‘check in’. I never took the tiny white pills. Promising a happier mind-set but a terrifying list of side effects. They still lie in their foil blisters, un-popped. It wasn’t the chemicals of my body that saddened me, just the fact that you seemed to fail to find your home in me; a simple sadness that my baby will not be loved nor comforted by the very one that grew him.

Tongue ties, snipped twice upon my living room floor. I held you tight. Blood shed. My desperation to encourage you to find comfort at my breast. I found myself taken aside by well-meaning friends and family. Try a bottle they said. But no, in my stubbornness, I sought to continue. I needed you to want me amidst the screams. I needed you to find solace in my arms. I needed you to feel like mine, and I, like yours.

So now, we find ourselves half a year in, at the year-end. Finally a diagnosis for your discomfort. Syringes of sweet, sickly liquid administered into your cheeks. Reflux. Seasons take no notice of the years. Desperate for this season to draw to an end, I know full well that I will wake tomorrow and again, you will scream at my breast and I will cry in exhausted despair as I spoon puree into your puckered mouth. They say it might help. But really, only time will.

Reflux is a bitch. Six months passed, undiagnosed. It has unknowingly taken me to the very edge of myself. Chipping away at my self-assuredness, my self-confidence. Never have I second-guessed myself so many times, so much so that the self-doubt is written upon my face each time you cry. The persistent discomfort, the screams of pain teemed with a whining two year old that have led to a splintered door and pummelled pillows paired with raucous roars of frustration. The roars of a mother who does not know how to comfort her child. A mother who is exhausted, and still seems to find something left to give despite claiming herself empty.

Your older brother was easy. Kisses fell from my lips, wonderment in my eyes. You, my precious, second child, are my labour of love.

I’ve never used such bad language. I’ve never felt despair and frustration so physically. I’ve never denied myself so much so that I regularly forget to eat.

I’ve never loved so desperately and so furiously. We are growing together, you and I. We are finding each other and falling in love. One day, this will all be but a distant memory, and the months of screams and frantic Google searches, will be but echoes. But for now, I wish that the clock chime would usher in overnight relief.

But no, the years take no notice of the season, and ours is not yet over, but it will be soon. And you will smile more easily, and you will laugh more readily. And the joy will come.

And you’re teaching me that. The wild, ferociousness of love. My heart will never be the same again.
Charlie, this is just the beginning of you and I.
You are worth it all.

I can’t carry on like this

IMG_2233Vicious cycles are just that, vicious.

You get used to the rhythms of your life and mental health. You know the things you do to make yourself feel better and give you a spring back into your step be it momentary, and you know the things that take you down or set you off into a spiral. Or maybe you don’t even know what they are, but you know that sometimes life just feels like an exhausting rollercoaster. Even if it does have the ups amidst the downs, you know that what you’d really like is a little more consistency and a little less stomach churning variety.

Yes, I’d quite like to get off now.

I have a couple of these cycles in my life. I’ve grown to know them, to predict them, to see the affect that they have on those I love around me. But that isn’t always enough to do the things required to enable me to hop off the bloody rollercoaster because those things often require energy and effort, whereas on the rollercoaster, you’re a little more passive I guess. I don’t mean to speak in riddles, but metaphors are the way my mind works.

Here are my cycles –

Drivenness and perfectionism….

Get inspired. Work. Get enjoyment from what I do. Work harder. Lose balance. Feel like I’m spread too thinly. Half heartedly try to find balance. Instilling logistics required for balance is time consuming. Carry on regardless. Fall into an emotional, confused, highly-strung heap. Get sick or run down because I’ve ignored the warnings to slow down. Be forced to stop. Take step back. Gain perspective. Rest…………Get inspired. Work…..(and thus the cycle begins again)

Self sufficiency…

Cope well. Feel like I have all the resources. Get tired. Feel like I should be coping. Feel like I should have the resources. Judge myself for not coping and not having all of the resources. Get tireder and worse at telling myself to reach out. Get a little rude and defensive to the voice that says I’m not made to do it alone. Continue to try to do it alone. Feel like a failure for not being able to. Fall into an emotional, confused, highly strung heap of supposed failure. Reach out for help. Tell people how I feel. Feel better and normalised. Wish I had spoken about it earlier……Cope well. Feel like have all the resources (and thus the cycle begins again).

I bet you have cycles too. Your own little rollercoasters that you know the ups and downs of, they are familiar and sometimes, even in a dysfunctional way, that’s what keeps us on them. We know what it feels like, the drop in the stomach, the same old same old internal battles. The world is an unfamiliar place, and even if the feelings are hard and we hate the predictability, that in itself can be a comforting certainty. They work for us whilst also working against us. I mean, I’m pretty damn great when I’m inspired and feeling like I have all the resources…but that’s not a sustainable feeling, and it’s not okay just to plough everything into what feels like your truth at that time. You’re not a machine. You’re a human being with needs and feelings and resources that run out – all of which need to be attended to with care! Not rinsed for their benefits and hung out to dry.

BUT……

We are worth more than these consistent cycles that keep you swimming in the same spot of stagnant water. Like being on a treadmill, you feel like you’re going somewhere when actually you’re not experiencing anything new, just the same old walls and windows. You’re really just getting knackered and going nowhere.

Yesterday I messaged a friend and said ‘I just feel like I should be feeling more content. I feel unbalanced and highly strung and I’m sick of it’. I mean, there are many problems with that phrase. Who ‘should’ be feeling anything in particular? We feel what we feel and as soon as we start to tell ourselves that it’s not acceptable, we cause problems. And as for contentment, that’s often something we feel in special snapshots rather than a continued state. But…what I was saying really, if I think about it, is that I’m tired. I’m tired of this rollercoaster. I’m tired of the familiar dysfunction. I’m tired of doing the same thing over and over and getting the same damned result.

And then, a lightbulb moment. I wouldn’t say it was a rock bottom, but that one was perhaps in sight, and that I’d hit a few mini ones in quick succession. I guess I was at the end of both of my destructive cycles at exactly the same time – feeling a bit worthless and a lotta bit highly strung. I decided that I was just going to do something different. I suddenly experienced some wind in my sails as I lit a candle, dug out a journal, unrolled my yoga mat for the next morning and planned in some exercise.  I’m going to carve some new habits. All of these things work to increase seretonin (happy hormone) and re-anchor and re-engage. I’m going to do things that break these cycles rather than feed them. I’m going to dare to believe that i’m worth more than just treading the same old same old paths. Because I am. And you are too.

I’ve been resistant to the concept of new years resolutions. A little scathing about them perhaps. I think it’s because I wasn’t ready to make changes, I wanted to move away from all of the buzz, the forgoing and the fresh starts. It sounded like a lot of hard work and I didn’t have the energy to even consider it. But now I am up for it – because I have even less energy, but that’s the point. These things make us tired, and we don’t like change when we are tired. And on it goes, until one day you’re sick enough of it all to be too impatient to wait until you have energy to make changes. I’m a few days late, but it’s not really about the date. It’s really just a collective ‘hey, let’s make changes that stop the cycles that suck the life out of us. Let’s drink less, move more, be kinder to ourselves and others, do more of the things that re-invest, re-engage, re-ground’

So, what you going to do? Are you going to wait until you get to some messy sort of rock bottom, or until all your cycles come to their tricky end at some sort of incredibly uncomfortable but heaven-sent, change-inspiring moment? Or are you just going to take the risk in starting to act like you’re worth stepping off the treadmill, even if you don’t believe you are…yet. Because trust me, make some tweaks and some changes, and then, in time, you’ll believe that you’re worth all the positive, life affirming changes you can ever make.

This feels like a brain dump really. But I’m hoping that some of my words might resound for others. Here goes…

Ax

People-Pleaser in Recovery

I don’t care what you think.

Well, I do really, but I care a lot less about what people think than I used to and it’s been life changing. People-pleasing is like being on a hamster wheel and not being able to hop off when you’re knackered. No amount of ‘thank you’s, or compliments will ever satisfy an insatiable people-pleasing hunger, but provide only momentary relief.

It’s tricky because what will please one person may irritate another. What might be graciously received by one person, might be misunderstood by another.

We are hardwired, culturally, to seek to please others. I mean, it’s not all bad because it gives us a moral compass and encourages us to be aware of the impact of our actions and words.  But allowing yourself to consider what is pleasing to others, is different to being utterly ruled by it. How other people perceive us is so damn subjective that it’s like trying to accurately interpret someone else’s dream. In the process of attempting to please everyone, you swerve from, deny and twist your own wants, needs and opinions. You might please someone but in the process you’ve chipped away at your authenticity by saying and doing things that you know aren’t ‘you’. Respect for ourselves ebbs away a little at a time and we become less and less sensitive to the little nuances, dreams and needs that make us who we are.

I remember going shopping with friends as a young teen, expressing like at everything that they did – the clothes, music, makeup. I probably even spent pocket money on things I didn’t like in order to ‘fit in’ with what I thought was acceptable to them. I thought that the way to please others was to validate their own choices, but in the process I totally denied my own. This has continued into adulthood where I’d go to bed with that dropped-stomach fear that I’d annoyed or hurt someone, replaying scenarios over in my mind, wondering how I could have been different, been somehow less.

What’s the worse case scenario of doing something that is authentic to you but might not please someone? They might not like me. They might not ‘get’ me, I might irritate/hurt/annoy’. Yes, these feelings are uncomfortable, but the thing is, we’re going to do that anyway even if we bend ourselves into pretzel knots to fit our idea of what people want of us. Not everyone will like or understand me despite my best and continuous efforts.

It’s far better to input my energy into being kind and authentic without needing to deny my character and opinions. They might be different, but they still have value.

Difference is enriching. Debating, arguing and disagreeing doesn’t necessarily break a relationship, it adds dynamic and perspective. I might do something that doesn’t please my husband, but it doesn’t necessarily break us. I might unintentionally hurt a friend, but it doesn’t mean that it’s unforgivable, and that our friendship can’t be deepened by talking it through. I might have differing music tastes, fashion choices, opinions to someone else, but it doesn’t mean that the void of difference is too big for there to be any level of connection.

We see people through our own lenses of experience, history, assumption, and there is nothing we can do to change other people’s lenses. Characters clash, people make immovable snap judgements, they may be irritable and angry, but it’s less about you and more about them. You have a responsibility only to your behaviour and response towards others. Trying to win everyone over is a bloody knackering, relentless pursuit that will take you to your grave unsatisfied.

You are you. Be authentic to you. Care enough to be kind, but not enough to deny the beauty of your individuality and your uniqueness of character. Be giving within your resources, but without giving yourself totally away.

How the heck do we begin this? Especially for those of us who’s people pleasing boundaries are so far from where they should be that we can’t even see them anymore? This is how…Work on accepting yourself and loving yourself, because then the hunger for other people to affirm, love and accept you becomes softer, and you’re less likely to look to others to tell you what you’re worth. Loving yourself well helps you step off the rollercoaster of other people’s supposed value of who you are, and gives you the confidence that many love you, many like you, but not everyone does and not everyone will. And that’s okay!

Just because someone doesn’t like you doesn’t mean you’re unlikable.

Just because someone doesn’t understand you, doesn’t mean you’re entirely misunderstood.

Just because someone is annoyed by you, doesn’t mean you are annoying.

Just because someone doesn’t accept you, doesn’t mean you’re unacceptable,

Test it out. Take risks in expressing yourself in ways that you’ve held back on before. Start small. Play music that you like, speak out an opinion that differs from another, wear something you’ve been desperate but afraid to wear. Every time you do this, you’re disproving your theory that you are not acceptable in and of yourself. Every time you do something authentic, and people don’t run for the hills, you’re taking the power and life away from this people pleasing drive.

And the more the power ebbs away the easier it becomes. And the more you realise that not being liked by everyone, and not pleasing everyone isn’t as devastating as you might imagine, the more confidence you’ll develop. And the more confidence you have in yourself and who you are, the more authentic you’ll be.

And you know what’s funny?? Authenticity is such a gloriously, accidentally, magnetic characteristic! So often, by addressing our desperation to please people, we end up being more authentically ourselves. And your authentic self is often far more attractive to others than the you who bends and twists yourself away to suit them.

Don’t let a look, an utterance, a misunderstanding tell you what you’re worth to the world. You’re worth far more than that. I assure you.

How do you KNOW you’re loveable, acceptable, likeable?? Because you dare to love, accept and like yourself. Everyone else’s feelings are just an affirmation of that truth, not a dictator of it.

Ax

Mum guilt – love, loss and living in the moment

One 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.

Seasons Come and Go

The turning of autumn leaves, the burnt oranges and reds, always remind me of how nothing is permanent. No feeling is permanent. No depression, no mountain top high, no plodding along…nothing is permanent. It’s as if our life has seasons beyond the turning of the earth. I’ve had winters that have lasted days, months and years. Winters that have felt never-ending and hopeless. Dark clouds hanging, the air stagnant, thick and suffocating. I’ve had summers that have lasted minutes, hours, weeks. Where my heart has felt light and I’ve felt a swelling gratitude. Where I’ve felt carefree and excited.

So, are you in an Autumn? Where things are feeling stripped away and you just want to turn in and feel safe. Perhaps you’re in a Spring, a time of growth and change.

So if you’re in the midst of a winter, take stock. It will pass. It will. It simply can’t not. For nobody can stop the ticking of time that moves the seasons regardless off how still we stand. Or maybe, for you, the storm has passed, and it’s about standing and being grateful that you’re through it, and richer in experience and empathy than you ever could be had you not weathered that storm.

The Truth of being Human

One of the most difficult thing about being alive, can be the acceptance of our humanness.Humanness, by it’s very nature, is imperfect.

We all have a dark side, a tricky bit, a part we don’t like people to see. The ugly parts, the grumpy moods, the judgemental, critical, shouty bit. The messy, the angry, the downright irritable. The bad choices, the pain inflicted on others knowingly or unknowingly. The humanness.

Perfectionism believes that if we are good enough, work hard enough, say all the right things, then perhaps we can bury the messy side. Perhaps if we are perfect, nobody will know the hidden parts, the human parts.

Perfectionism constantly moves the goalpost because we’re relentlessly fleeing a part of us that will always be a part of us.

That’s bloody exhausting (oh how I know). We see of other people what we want to see. See my face? You think you know what you think about me, about everyone else. You think you’re the only messy one. Oh friend. If only you knew how true it were that you are not alone (Part of the reason I’m so candid with the information I share is because I know the projections that happen within these small squares, and I want to inspire others to be open too. We’re all together in our messiness)

Maybe it’s time we learnt to accept the messy side as as much of us as the presentable bit. It’s a little more openness about the rougher edges that enables us to empathise, sympathise and meet with others on a deeper level. It’s the honesty and sharing of human experience that enriches relationship.

Acceptance is the ‘Really? Me too!’ I’m not saying we don’t need to challenge ourselves to grow and change (for that is always a good thing when done gently!), I’m challenging that we slowly need to learn to accept (and one day maybe even love) themessy, raw-edged part of us instead of stifling our humanness with perfectionism and shame.

So, you perfectionists out there (my hand is up), we’re all a mess. A messy mess. A mix of ugly, beautiful mess. For that, my fellow perfectionists, is being human xx

Eat For You

The way we eat is often a direct insight into our relationship with ourselves. Woah…that’s heavy Anna! Yup, yup it is.

Tonight I had a healthy dinner planned. A sweet potato and chickpea scenario. However, I had an argument in my mind (or on stories) because I just wanted to grab the emergency pizza out of the freezer and inhale the damn lot (Husband: HANDS OFF). Anyhow, it got me thinking about how self-care comes hand in hand with eating well. Spending the time planning, making and eating good, wholesome food is a statement of care for yourself. It’s saying ‘hey, I’m worth the effort. I value my body’. I’ve totally lost that recently. During the week, my ‘three meals a day’ become caffeine, snacks and toddler leftovers. Basically anything that keeps that hunger pang at bay, shuts it up as if it’s an inconvenience and not a basic bodily need. I’m not trying to loose weight, I simply can’t be bothered. Enough need comes my way from small people, so therefore I refuse to listen to the needs of my own. I make and serve dinner in the evening, but thats when my husband is coming home. I feel challenged. Why do I deem him ‘worth’ the effort to plan, chop and stir, but when it’s just me, it’s grabbed mouthfuls and sugary sustenance.

I know that it’s not this black and white. It’s complex! Food is as complex as we are! I’m saying that it’s worth thinking about a little more. I’ve not been loving myself in the way that I’ve been making food choices recently. Have you?

Eating is a form of loving, its an indulgence, it’s a way to celebrate happiness, and a way to devour down difficult emotion. It can be enjoyed, shared, created. It can be denied, abused. It can be a constant source of anxiety.

For one person, eating a pizza can be a treat. For another, a self destructive binge. For another, a painful battle. Oh do I know all of these angles.

Let’s take some time each day to mindfully prepare and eat something. To tell ourselves that we are worth the time, creativity, effort and enjoyment of sitting down to nourish and fill our bodies.

PS – we’re eating the healthy dinner. Chips due Friday (always)

Lean On

Needing help is a weakness. Asking for it is shameful. That’s our cultural lesson. Self sufficiency is king. If we can’t fix ourselves, we’ve failed. If we ‘need’ from another, we’ve lost something of ourselves.This is my constant battle. My raging self-sufficiency is both a blessing and a curse. It can make one driven and resourceful, but the pressure on yourself is layered so thick that it can be hard for others to see you struggle, knowing that any offer of support will be rebuffed with a sharp defensive ‘I’m okay thanks’. It’s as if an offer of help is a statement of failure, or evokes a fear that someone has seen a chink in the armour.

And then I look at my kids. So quick to ask for help, and accepting it without hesitation. The simple, childlike acknowledgement that we aren’t made to thrive or survive alone. My three year old doesn’t falter behind layers of shame and fear of failure. What broke? Why did it become so complicated? Why did we become so individualistic? It’s not just sad, it’s not just missing the point of relationship itself…it’s destructive.

We are NOT MADE to do life alone. Vulnerability does NOT equal failure. Fighting against these truths leads to burnout and a loneliness in feelings because nobody else has been involved in your processes.

I challenge clients (and myself) to start to say yes to the offer of help and support that comes their way, whether it be help with a buggy in a tight doorway, some luggage up some stairs, or childcare. No matter how big or how small, how much you feel you do or don’t need it, exercise grateful acceptance. In many countries, people are part of close-knit, enmeshed communities where energies and resources are shared, and the line between friends and families are blurred. Help and support are seen as forms of love to be given and accepted, and not statements of failure and shame.

You’re worth someone’s energy, someone’s time. You’re worth help and support. That is what community, friendship, relationship and love is about.

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