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Maybe it’s hard because it’s hard

If you’re finding life, the struggle with the juggle, the rollercoaster… hard, it’s so easy to slip into a feeling of failure. To be blaming yourself for not keeping all of the balls in the air, shaming yourself for finding it tough when in many ways you feel very lucky.

I wanted to share with you a lightbulb moment (you know I love a lightbulb moment) I had at the beginning of the first UK pandemic lockdown in March 2020. It feels so relevant, and is something I keep returning to:

Something clicked last night. I cried tears that I knew would sting in the morning. Trying to work out why even though my home is FULL of the things I love, my family, my job, I felt so…needing.

Life has become stripped back. What has remained here, in my home is my family and my work.

Both require me. Lots of me. All the time.

I look into their faces and I want to see them, to hear them. But it’s like wearing headphones with the radio stuck on. My mind is busy and fast, and loud. I’m there but I’m not.

I answer questions on autopilot. Realising seconds later that I’ve agreed to chocolate as I serve dinner. Charlie, my son, calls my name 5 times. I hear him but I don’t.

I want to be here, yet my mind leaps like a confused frog, from present to future. The weight of the to-do list, food shopping, emails, people I need to check in on, sits on my shoulders and in my heart.

And then I realised what I was hungry for. Lazy discussion about everything and nothing. Being with those who don’t care whether or not you provide a snack or an email.

I miss the 23-second conversations had whilst leaning against a friend’s washing machine, interrupted by fights over toys. I miss the presence of a friend.

I know we have phones and zoom. It’s something. But it’s like being served a softening poppadum when you’re hungry for the full curry shebang.

I miss just BEING with. Just being me, with no expectation, request or agenda.

Those playdate half-conversations never felt long enough. The kid free supermarket dashes never felt quite enough space. But they clearly gave me more than I realised. And I miss them. Little mini respites from the intensity. Little things that fuelled and refilled us more than we knew at the time.

 I took a lone walk, called a couple of friends, and came home feeling so refreshed, and known. It helps.

Maybe it’s just hard because it’s hard. I know some people have it ‘harder’. But this is MY hard’

If this feeling resonates, here are some tips that might help:

  • Make time for yourself. Be it a snatched ten minutes here, an early retreat to bed with a book instead of a phone, a bath over a speedy shower. You might have to fiddle with logistics, to ask for support in facilitating those moments of space, but prioritise them as if your family depend on you being refilled and refuelled.
  • Try to avoid the temptation to invalidate your feelings with gratitude and positivity. They are powerful tools, but ensure that you’re bringing them ALONGSIDE your feelings, rather than forcing yourself to feel grateful INSTEAD of overwhelmed. You can feel both.
  • Breathe. Literally. When we are stressed, we our breath is impacted. You might breathe more shallower, higher in your chest, you might clench your jaw or skip a breath all together. Become mindful of your breath, slow it down and deepen it. It helps calm your nervous system.
  • Bin all the ‘should’s right now. I ‘should’ be doing more, I ‘should’ be better. Right now the focus needs to be on surviving and nurturing your mental health.
  • Adopt a mantra to help ground you. When I realise I’m slipping into a sense of failure I repeat ‘It’s hard because it’s hard’. It introduces a little compassion into my mindset! We all need more of that.
  • Seek support in whatever way you can. I spent many years of life fearing being a burden, but I’m realising that sharing the burden with the right people doesn’t mean I am one.
  • Work on your self-esteem. Often the reasons we find it so challenging to reprioritise ourselves is because, deep down, we don’t believe we are worthy of kindness, from ourselves or from others. Have a look at my Week on Worth Course as a great first step into sending your self-esteem on an upward spiral.
  • Check your inner dialogue. If you’re critical and bullying, try and imagine what a kind, compassionate friend would say. Introduce a kinder voice where you can to counteract the critic.

 

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.

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.

Say Yes to Kindness

On Wednesday we did our usual rush to football. My aim is aways to grab a coffee to sip whilst fielding Charlie as Oscar plays football. Time slips away at home and I always cast an eye into Costa to survey the queue. If it’s too busy, we dash on. If there’s no queue, it’s latte time.On Wednesday time was pushed. As my turn came, I glanced at the time…we were running too late.. and said not to worry and turned the buggy to leave.

The guy behind me, without drawing a breath said ‘I’ll pay for your coffee’. He thought it was money that was my issue, rather than time.

I thanked him profusely as I scrabbled my way out.

I felt emotional! That selfless, kind gesture stayed with me all day.

I’m historically horrendous at accepting kindness. Fabulous at giving it but, oh gosh, shufflingly, squirmingly awkward at receiving it. If it had been the lack of money, would I have accepted or would I have rushed out rosy cheeked and embarrassed?

What stops us accepting kindness? A sense that we are only worth giving, and not receiving? A fear that to accept kindness is some sort of defeat that we aren’t able to fulfil our own needs? A feeling that we will somehow be forever indebted to that person?

What if we made a decision to accept kindness when it came to us, and give it when we felt moved to do so? Maybe it would become a second nature? Maybe it would challenge and change our sense of self-worth and value (and my roaring sense of self-sufficiency). Maybe it would remind us that we aren’t alone, nor are we made to do this crazy old thing called ‘life’ from our own resources. Maybe it would be worth a try, to say ‘thank you’ instead of awkwardly murmur ‘no thanks’ next time kindness comes your way.

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