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Last night I slept properly for the first time since my best friend died. For five months now I’ve essentially just napped fitfully between nightfall and morning, never getting enough sleep to function well, certainly never deeply enough to dream properly. My dream life is typically very vivid, colourful, and memorable. But for months now it has just been the odd surreal flash of imagery. Turtles instead of hair, that kind of thing.
But last night I had my first proper dream, and in it he was alive. I dreamed that he had faked his suicide, and when meeting him again I was able to tell him how angry I was. How much it hurt, how selfish he’d been, how abandoned I felt, and how conflicted I felt while having all of those feelings right alongside my understanding, my empathy, and my love.
I woke up 15 hours after falling asleep. I woke up thinking he was alive. I was in my friend’s house, a seaside retreat. Her home, that sea, the full moon and the salty air… they finally let me sleep. The last time I was there, he was with me. We had a perfect weekend with seaside fire, music, laughter, coffee and croissants. But this time I went alone, so he showed up in my sleep.
Nothing is permanent. Not love, not life, not friendship, not sadness, not pain. Nothing is forever, and everything ends. Take comfort in this. When you feel suffocated by grief, remember it will pass just as everything does. You can not avoid it, so feel it. Sit with it. And then let it go. When you feel joy, the cuddle from a sleeping newborn, the first kiss from a beautiful face, a perfect afternoon… you can enjoy it even more when you remember it is impermanent. You can savour it.
Nothing lasts and we all die. Seeking comfort is an unnecessary distraction. What if, instead of trying to constantly soothe ourselves from the side effects of being human, we just…. didn’t. What if we just sat in the middle. Stopped trying to prove anything. Stopped trying to forget. Stopped trying to distract ourselves with food, alcohol, being busy, talking too much, constant noise, complaining, obsessing, work, reading, arguing, organising…
I sat in my loneliness this weekend, I sat in it and didn’t try to fix it. I sat in my grief and didn’t try to shush it away. I was gentle with myself. I ignored the clock, ignored the phone, and didn’t speak. No music, no painting, no television, no company. I sat with my loneliness and grief as they came and went like the waves. I sat with my contentment Nd my happiness as they came and went like the waves. I sat in the middle without drama, without running, without avoiding. Without clinging on to hope that something might get better, and just being content with What Is.
It was a beautiful weekend.
And I still miss him very much indeed.
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I’m writing this the day after the terror attacks in Paris. I’m writing this because there are so many angry voices right now, so much emotional, angry, online commentary. I love social media, but in order to maintain my mental health I have rules about taking a break from it every now and then, about privacy and sharing, about not even looking at places like Facebook on a day that I know all I would see is negative after negative after negative.
I wanted to avoid social media today, thinking it was going to be horrendous, but I’ve been surprised that it has actually done the normal Post Tragedy On The Internet thing. Mostly people sending prayers and love, some people using it to justify their their political beliefs, a healthy dose of reminders not to blame a religion but to blame the extremists.
I know there are more awful things out there. I know racists and xenophobes and incendiary opinion mongers exist. But I choose not to follow them. I mute people who talk about them. In order to stay on social media, which I love, I’ve had to change how I curate what I see. And I ignore A LOT. Someone said something horrendous? Ok, but I’m super not going to read an article about it. Because ALL that achieves is me feeling unhappy without any ability to feel better about it. My mental health is more important to me than any curious desire I might have to follow extremists, the lunatic political fringe of any party, anyone who is constantly angry or ranting, or anyone who only makes me upset.
I am glad to see that my curating is working. It isn’t perfect. I still see and hear things I wish I could erase from my mind. A photo of a dead baby, a video of someone getting shot… the internet is a minefield. But rather than avoiding it completely (and therefore missing out on all the good it does as well) I curate it. I manage it. And largely I think I’m doing well with it. I am, at the very least, happier with it.
But something that does get through, not matter how well I manage things, is humanity hating. And while I’ve been ok with the majority of what I’ve seen on Facebook and Twitter today, I’ve also seen an awful lot of:
The world is in utter shambles.
Humanity is awful.
People are a disease on this planet.
Our future as a human race is so bleak.
Things used to be so good and were never this bad.
People are monsters.
And well… no.
No all of that is wrong.
I know I’m in the minority here and you’re more than welcome to tell me to fuck off with my optimistic view of humanity, but no. For all the hatred of humanity being expressed, I’d like to counter that in my own little way with an alternate way to see things.
I know sometimes people need to hate something. I know that people feel helpless watching tragedy unfold, and to be fair the internet means that FAR more people watch helplessly as FAR more tragic events unfold in real time. It isn’t natural. The internet has given us so much goodness, but it also puts us by the millions in the frontline of viewing some really horrible things. Not only that, but we then have an instant onslaught of opinions to wade through, reactionary dialogue to try to ignore, and idiots with megaphones provoking our already sensitive moods.
Of course people will react with hatred, anger, helpless rage. And it is easy to blame humans. People. Humanity. Modern Life. The world. But actually there are only a handful of people to blame. Those with their fingers on the trigger, those shouting the orders in the background. A tiny, tiny minority of people. Horrendous people, people who are more like monsters. But individuals nonetheless.
I suppose it is a bit like someone saying “don’t hate all muslims because of the actions of a few”. Well I’m saying the same… except about people in general. Don’t hate humanity because of the actions of a few. And it IS a few. It is very easy to fall into the trap of thinking people are awful. We see so much of it. The invention of countless 24 hour news stations, the politically manipulative newspapers, the viral stories about kidnappings or murders, an endless internet stream of showing people The Worst, because we buy it.
Because it is more interesting.
Because being quite and nice and helpful and decent would be an utterly boring lifestyle to report on.
So all we hear about are the sociopaths and criminally deranged. But it feels like lazy thinking to me to then assume the world is filled with sociopaths and the criminally deranged. It feels like lazy, defensive thinking to – in the face of tragedy – just say “yeah well people are just awful aren’t they”. It is just basically looking for a generic force to blame so you can put the situation in black & white, deal with it, and get on with your life in a few days without really thinking about it very much again. It is an uncomplicated viewpoint. People suck. Easy. Next question.
It is much harder to think that people are wonderful, because then it hurts more. It seems more random. It feels chaotic. It scares us. It makes us wonder what our neighbours are capable of. It makes us wonder who we can trust. It makes us question things. It makes us care about politics. It makes us feel things.
A lot of people avoid thinking deeply when they can avoid it. Fair enough. I’ve certainly been there myself. And it doesn’t make them bad. But I’m certain it does make them sadder than they need to be. And that is a shame.
(I have a belief that if you’re disappointed in humanity for being awful, that’s only because you think it is capable of being much better. That a part of you knows that people are good, which is why it is so tragic to see them go so far against their natures and be so globally brutal. So hating humanity in this framework actually makes you an optimist. That is a stretch, I know. But give me 3 good beers and a quiet place to chat and I’ll convert you.)
So. Let me address the points I made above that so many people are making.
The world is in utter shambles. Things used to be so good and were never this bad.
Nope. Yes there is war. Yes there is poverty and crime and abuse and a lot of these things act on a global arena and affect millions. But there are cures for diseases now. The internet has given us the ability to create grassroots campaigns to get normal, every day people out helping. Making care packages to send to disaster victims, driving tents and food over to refugees in Calais, sending money online and instantly to people who can help. None of that ever used to happen on such a global scale. If badness is rising and terror seems more global now, my counter argument is that their opposites – the helpers and carers and nurses and volunteers – are also more global. No one is dropping nuclear bombs. There aren’t any plagues wiping out full thirds of a continents population. Yes, some things are horrific. Genocide still happens as it always has. Terrorism happens as it always has. These are not new problems. So are you SURE the world is falling apart? Or is that you just feeling despair. I think it might be. There are ways to soothe that, but casually succumbing to negativity and choosing to hate things is, I believe, counter-productive.
Humanity is awful. People are a disease on this planet.
Nope. Some people are, yes. But if you think everyone is awful then you aren’t looking hard enough. If you are complaining about no one smiling on the train platform… well, are you? People smile when they get smiled at. I don’t actually think it is normal to walk around looking pleased and smiling all the time. If you are complaining about everyone on the bus just looking at their phones and think it is a disgrace… well, 20 years ago they’d all still be doing the same thing, but with books. They are still reading. They are playing games, talking to their family members, doing work, looking at cat videos. Riding a bus is BORING. Why is it a bad thing that people amuse themselves? If you are complaining about the world not being safe for kids anymore… well you’re just wrong I’m afraid. It is no worse then it ever has been. Modern life has not seen cases of neglect and abuse and kidnapping skyrocket. Just the REPORTING of those things. Just because we hear about it now doesn’t mean it never used to exist. If you are complaining about that awful person you saw do that one awful thing… well, what about the hundreds of other people you saw that day just minding their own business and being lovely and non-abusive? You are choosing to ignore (boring) nice people because (interesting) dramatic shit heads stand out more. I think that is probably part of our nature. But it is also a choice. And something you can change. As for the planet? You are underestimating the massive, massive, gorgeous power of this planet to think that we could possibly, as tiny little ants on it, actually ruin it. Harm it? Sure. Change it? Temporarily. Ruin it? Nope. Not unless we could literally set the entire whole thing on fire. And even then, like a wildfire in a forest, new life would come up. The Earth was fine before us and she would be fine without us. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try ot make an effort, but don’t give the human race so much credit as to be Planet Destroyers. We aren’t gods.
Life is ok. It is shit and it is hard, but it is ok.
Literacy is the default for people now, instead of just for the wealthy or religious.
Elderly people are more connected to friends and family (and new online companionships) than ever before in history.
You can get your groceries delivered to your door now.
It is now a minority of countries where women can’t vote, gays can’t marry, and races are segregated.
Slavery is no longer widely accepted.
People being brainwashed and subjugated now have avenues for information, hope, and escape.
We can fall in love with people all over the world now.
We have video phone calls and living away from family isn’t so isolating.
When tragedy happens, people – humanity – jumps up and helps. Supports. Funds. And it is beautiful.
We are able to socialise digitally now, and can always – somewhere – be heard.
We have online & phone crisis lines, rape support networks, and suicide hotlines.
I could go on for days. Being optimistic is HARD. It is a pain in the ass and complicated. But it is, nevertheless, a viable alternative and option… one that I’ll happily talk with you about over 3 good beers. Or more. I quite like beer. Actually add that to the list of things to be thankful for okay? Craft brews. And the popularity of beards. And easy access to ice cream. And being able to send mail across the world. And fireworks. And those people in your life that you love.
So yes. It would be easy to say the world sucks and people suck, it would be easy to hate. I choose not to, now. It takes some work. But for all the tragedy, all the horror and all the deaths… there are ways to not let that define us. Hate is what starts all of these horrors to begin with. Things aren’t all that bad. Honestly. But you might have to look for things to lift your heart and make you believe in goodness again.
Might I suggest doing a google search for baby goats? It won’t solve the world’s problems but it will make you feel less despair about global tragedy for at least 2 minutes. Baby steps, you know?
Ok thank you for reading, I love you. I haven’t read through this or edited it yet.
Maybe I won’t.
Maybe stream of conscious is best?
I’ll have a look tomorrow.
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One of the scariest things about going through intense therapy is thinking of everything you’ll lose by doing it, and of how unknowably weird the journey is. And I don’t mean normal therapy here. Not the 6-8 week sessions for the average healthily-inclined person who just needs a bit of guidance getting back on track. Not the issue-specific therapy that you do in short term sessions to deal with a major life event with no need to dig any deeper.
I mean proper, long-term, Gut Exploring therapy. When your life is a total mess and you need consistently deep help. It is the kind of therapy I’m in. Referring back to this blog post, it is the kind of therapy that comes with having a Pond: https://nunnthewiser.wordpress.com/2013/10/10/for-emma-carol-and-jackie/
I’m now 9 months into this journey of mine. It has been SO hard. SO rewarding. SO all-consumingly bat-shit crazy. 9 months is long enough to grow another complete human, and in a lot of ways I feel as if I’ve done exactly that. It is impossible to articulate how I’ve changed inside, mainly because it is impossible to articulate the kind of thing that is never designed to be shared. That’s MY business. MY guts. MY growth. But I can articulate other parts of it, and in a sort of weird anniversary of my therapy starting, in that unusual way my brain works, I’m celebrating 9 months of gestating this More Authentic Sara… and giving birth to this blog post. (gross)
I’m sharing with you some of the scarier bits, the bits that makes people say HELL NO to this kind of therapy even without knowing they are doing it. The obstacles you will set up for yourself. Much like a new mother wants to comfort a newly pregnant woman and say “oh hey, I was just there, its SO WEIRD but look you’ll be okay”, I guess this post is about me doing that to you. Not all of you, that would be weird. God I hope my small, tidy readership isn’t 100% Intense Therapy Needers. But I’m sure someone out there will find a little truth to this, so here you go. This is for you. Over there. The one that feels like it matters.
You will eventually pull your thumb out of your ass, find a therapist, get going, and be utterly consumed with terrifying self-awareness.
You will lose your balance. You will work to peel away your destructive habits, your coping skills that once served a purpose but now just weight you down. Once you shine a light on your dysfunctional behaviours, you automatically start to let go of them. At least a little bit. So in your next crisis, you don’t know where to turn. You begin the great Hit And Miss experiment to find new ways to cope with the inevitable shit life will throw at you. In the meantime, you lose your balance. The things you used to lean on are gone. The ideas you used to have about yourself are challenged. Every time you hit an obstacle you feel new, raw, confused and vulnerable in a way you aren’t used to. This eventually ends, because you eventually find your feet again. And it will still feel scary as shit to have to lose your balance in the meantime, to feel yourself falling and crawling. But you have to lose your balance first, before you can regain it. And it is worth it.
You will lose your self. You will begin to question why you do everything and anything. Why do you eat so much? Why don’t you do that thing you love? Do you actually even love it? Maybe you want to be the self YOU want to be, not the self that your partner expects you to be, the self you were 10 years ago, or the self you THINK you should be. The path to self-discovery is arduous and weird. You’ve let your personality and your idea of yourself be compromised little by little throughout your whole life. You wanted a nose piercing but convinced yourself otherwise because of your church/partner/parents/kids. You wanted to travel but convinced yourself not to because of your fear/loneliness/anxiety/friends/career/responsibilities. You close your eyes sometimes and fantasize about a new self where you wear whatever the fuck you want, do what makes you happy, and follow your dreams. Therapy is about making that fantasy of yourself a as close to reality as you can, without using magic. Of following YOUR voice, not other voices. You will feel lost, blank, confused, and unable to remember what you like or don’t like. This eventually ends, because you eventually find your inner voice and your true self. And it will still feel scary as shit to have to lose yourself in the meantime, to feel yourself deconstructing and rebuilding. But you have to lose your Self first, before you can regain it. And it is worth it.
You will lose your friends. People around you who bring nothing but negativity and annoyance to your life, you’ll soon realise they have no place in your future. You’ll still love them, but you’ll start to let them go. Sometimes without even knowing it. If you want to stop using food as a drug, you’ll naturally start to loosen ties with other dysfunctional eaters and you’ll start to make friends with runners. If you want to stop smoking, you’ll naturally start to loosen ties with other smokers and start making new connections with people who share a different hobby with you. If you want to stop being such a histrionic, over-emotional Drama Queen, you’ll naturally start to loosen ties with other people who use Drama as their drug, and you’ll start making new connections with calmer people who do things like Yoga or running. You will attract and be attracted to new kinds of people. You will lose a lot of others. And you will feel the fear too. You might even avoid the hard parts of therapy because you don’t think you can handle the guilt of a loosened friendship, or the triggered abandonment issues that come along with friendship changes. You will feel the fear with your closest friends as you worry if they will still be there in the end, if your friendship can handle a huge paradigm shift. You will feel the fear with every new friend you make, second guessing your intentions and making a lot of mistakes. You will question how much of your identity is wrapped up in other people, and how you could cope without them. This eventually ends, because you eventually find out which connections are healthy and which don’t need your energy anymore. And it will still feel scary as shit to have to lose your friends in the meantime, to feel yourself isolated and comfortless. But you have to lose your friends first, before you can regain them. And it is worth it.
You will lose your mind. You’ll think you are the only middle aged person in the world going through this kind of crisis and you will reprimand yourself harshly for feeling so naive, stupid, or broken. You will feel hyper and positively lucid with excitement about your new life one day, and the next day you will feel like undercooked squid. You will be introduced to a new kind of mood swing that defies definition and will leave you feeling dizzy and lost half the time. You will feel ashamed. You will feel proud. You will basically FEEL EVERYTHING. You may even invent a few new feelings, I know I certainly have. Questioning everything, second guessing it even more, over-intellectualising, over-sharing, under-sharing, you will feel like a mental newborn and genuinely question your sanity. This eventually ends, because you eventually find a kind of peace and acceptance that quiets it all down. And it will still feel scary as shit to have to lose your fucking mind in the meantime, to feel yourself crazy and confused. But you have to lose your mind first, before you can regain it. And it is worth it.
This journey is insane, beautiful, painful, and soothing. It is every feeling, all of them contradicting each other, and it is all everythings. You’re defining yourself, after all, and that is no small feat. It is giving birth. It is making a New You, and going through the arduous task of being pregnant with your new life first, before you have the strength to birth it. And ask any woman who has given birth after feeling the agonising bone-crunching, sleep-stealing, hormone-swirling, body-invading, utterly painful and uncomfortable last few weeks of a pregnancy. The birth is worth it. The journey looks beautiful in retrospect. And I’m saying the same thing I guess.
It is WORTH it.
Truly and Genuinely.
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For months (years) (lifetimes) now, I’ve been asking myself why I can’t let go of my food issues, why I overeat, why I don’t seem to care about looking good, why I allow myself to be overweight, why I sabotage my weight loss attempts, why I felt fat when when I was skinny, why I feel fat now even though not everyone would consider that to be the truth. Why despite being intelligent and self aware I just can’t seem to bring any sense and logic into this issue. Why this issue of self image, health, weight, and eating is so Overwhelmingly Constant and so Overwhelmingly Overwhelming.
I’ve come up with a lot of theories over time. And ooh do I love theories. None of them rang completely true for me but they still seem pretty universal in the body image & weight battles which affect so, so, SO many of us. So here. Let me share a few of them.
Control and Obsession. When life sucks, obsessive thinking and behaviours soothe us. Food gives us SO MANY ways to control things! We can obsess about health, freaking out when we eat 7 more carbs than we think we should. We can obsess about intake, and keep our frames as tiny as possible. We can obsess about maintenance, with bulimic tendencies literally balancing the Ins and Outs of what we consume. We can obsess about vegetarianism. By reading nothing but cookbooks. By feeding the world. By micromanaging nutrients. By learning every little detail about every new diet out there. Obsessions sooooooooothe the dysfunctions we don’t even know we have and food is the most convenient tool to use. (Also hey… if you’re obsessed about something? It means you’re avoiding something else.)
Disgust. When we hate ourselves for emotional reasons, we hate the whole package too. Who gives a shit if we look like hell because we feel like hell too. Insides matching the outsides. Obesity or lack of self-care that matches & reflects our self-loathing.
Avoidance. If we have been hurt beyond comprehension in our love lives, then sometimes we can trick ourselves into thinking we will avoid attention from the desired gender by looking horrible. A protective shield of obesity or being unapproachable.
Fear. Fear of how we’d feel and who we’d attract if we were healthy – inside or out. Fear of failing at it anyway. Fear of losing weight not actually fixing anything. Of discovering weight wasn’t actually the problem at ALL.
Excuses. We can use being overweight or unkempt as an excuse to avoid people, to avoid love and friendships.(Avoid them because we’d just mess them up anyway, you know?) We can blame our weight for our sadness when the reality is that weight is just a symptom of a different sadness. But we have good excuses – we are poor, in pain, unloved, unhappy, stifled, helpless, unattractive failures because of our weight. That’s the easiest excuse there is because our society agrees. How many times have you been told your weight is the problem? (Guess what. It isn’t. Something else is. You need to go find that thing first.)
So yeah. Despite endless searching, frustratingly none of these theories made sense for me. Years of obsessive unraveling and analysis has brought me nowhere nearer to healing this part of me. But it turns out that sometimes when you have a big problem to solve, constantly poking it with a stick is the wrong way to go about it. Turns out sometimes you need to go the opposite direction… to go from compulsive analysis to quiet release. To calm down, put your hands up in liberated surrender, to give your tiny inner voice the calm auditorium it needs to be heard. To take off your exaggerated problem solving hat, and to just shut up, calm down, let go, and listen to yourself.
One of the best (and most unexpected) results of my time in therapy is that I can hear my inner dialogue now. Those dysfunctional thoughts that would narrate my life unconsciously have now become conscious. I can hear my negative self talk, realise how silly it sounds, and therefore finally tell it to fuck off. I can hear what I say to myself, and this alone has been one of the biggest changes I’ve experienced, one of the best tools I’ve harnessed. When you can hear how ridiculous your self-talk sounds, you can change it. Or when you hear how damaged and raw your self-talk sounds, you can focus on healing that bit… because you can’t deal with something you’re keeping hidden.
Last night, while tootling around the house tidying up random craft supplies and thinking about nothing in particular, I had a sudden clear, pure thought. Distinct as a bell in a quiet room. All my work in healing and becoming emotionally quiet enough to hear my real self talking… it worked. And this thought that came to me was so simple, so utterly true, and so painfully real that I burst into tears and had to sit down. My tidying could wait. I needed to let this thought happen. After an awkward evening trying to both focus on it and ignore it simultaneously, taking care of the boys and allowing myself to be gently distracted, and after a broken sleep filled with nightmares and wakefulness… I woke up knowing I needed to write this out. That I’ll spend a few days, weeks, and therapy sessions properly unraveling this with close friends, my therapist, my ghosts and my self, but first I needed to take that initial step which, for me, is so important… which is, quite simply, Articulation. Naming and identifying a problem takes my self-talk from a quietly dysfunctional narration of destructive behaviour to a manageable, measurable issue I can deal with.
And my issue is anger. Hatred, even. My simple, unambiguous thought was “I’m angry with my body and I don’t want to take care of something I hate.”
Funny that a Body Image issue wouldn’t involve image at all. That had never occurred to me before. But I don’t hate how I look, I just know I don’t look like my true self right now. But apparently this is a small but important distinction. This hatred and anger I’ve only just realised I’m holding onto isn’t about sight or image or appearance… it is about function. Hating my body for what it has put me through. The pain it has given me. And just stubbornly not wanting to forgive it.
My body. It was my first vessel of abuse. A tool and a weapon used against me as a young girl. An excuse and target. So many of the deepest, carving pains in my life were because of my body rather than my mind. Rape and abuse. Years of chronic agonising disc pain. An abjectly horrific birth experience that, ten years later, still causes me pain. My body. My stupid fucking body. It killed my babies. I felt three lives inside of me be extinguished for No. Reason. At. All. and my body failed me utterly and completely, over and over again. My body rejected and self-aborted three heart beats. How could I not fucking hate it for that? Even this long after the fact. And it isn’t just my body. My mother’s body failed her as well. Diagnosed with terminal cancer when she was only 54, her astonishingly bright personality fought and fought her stupid fucking body for 7 years before her body finally won. And killed her. My stupid fucking body then asserted its will again and failed me. My lungs filled with fluid. My placenta detached. My body ejected my son far too early and nearly caused both of our deaths.
So yes. Yes this is it. This is the root of my body issues. And jesus this feels raw and vulnerable to articulate, and I want to hide it and suffer quietly and forget it and ignore it and ….
And no. No, it is ok to say this, to share it, to find strength in allowing myself to be open and vulnerable. Because I’m a better Me now, my mind is healthier now, even my body is healthier now. I will share this because my strength lies in my openness, in my sharing, in my sensitivity. I’m embracing that now, remember? Yes.
Yes. So. Now that I’ve realised how much bitter, biting anger I’m holding onto, I think I can finally start letting it go. This will take time, of course. And crying. And silliness. And resilience. And art and twitter kindness and music and writing. But I already feel better for articulating this, for simply realising it in the first place, and I already feel equipped to tackle it. I’m strong. I’m capable. I’m self-aware to the point of almost being two selves. And I’ll learn to forgive, to calm down, to heal, to nurture, to let go. To sort this out. Of course I will. I already have for so many other things, and this is no different.
Well… no, that’s not entirely true. This is something I’ve held for nearly my entire life, and Goodness Me does letting go of a lifetime dysfunction feel vulnerable and intimidating. This is why people don’t fix things, why they’d rather suffer through a problem or unhappiness they find familiar. Because changing something that feels so utterly fundamental to your personality means changing almost everything around you too. Who you turn to, where you find comfort, how you act, what you do with your time. It isn’t as simple as JUST changing a habit, or JUST giving up a disorder. It is hard and complicated, and not everyone is prepared to go through that process despite the end result being so desirable. But I’m not one of those people, never have been. I don’t shy away from change, and those inevitable feelings of insecurity and uncertainty and feelings I can totally manage now too… so I’m good to go. I can do this. (I already am.) Right? Right.
Off we go, then.
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I hadn’t noticed until recently, but I’ve apparently spent quite a lot of my adult life apologising for existing. Being so afraid of rejection or being misunderstood, I’d apologise for the parts of my personality that were the strongest and that stood out as the most obvious reasons (to me anyway) (subconsciously of course) for someone to use as a reason to dislike me.
Being the type of girl who couldn’t figure out how to control her emotions, I’d get teased or insulted for being too dramatic. Enough of that, along with damaged confidence and a traumatised psyche, lead me to apologise for any strong show of emotion. If being dramatic whilst upset made so-and-so not like me, than I needed to be less dramatic. When that failed, I needed to just apologise. (Sorry sorry. Sorry I got worked up, I don’t know what to do with myself, please don’t leave me, I just want to be loved, I just want to be normal.)
Also being the type of girl who was prone to blame everything on herself, to shoulder all the blame and responsibility for every relationship failure or pain or loss or ANYTHING, it was easy to believe that if it was my own stupid fault for everything, then it was my own stupid NATURE to blame for everything, and again. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, so sorry, it’s just how I am. Please don’t leave me, I just want to be loved, I just want to be normal.)
A lot of this is familiar territory for an abuse survivor, the whole Blame Absorbing thing, but a lot of it was just feeling everything too much, being overwhelmed by emotions and not handling it well, seeing the problems it would cause, and then hating that very sensitivity that made me such an emotional mess to begin with.
And so part of my growing up, my healing, and my weekly therapy work has been to stop apologising for existing. To stop saying sorry for my personality. To accept my nature and my Self, and to roll with it rather than fight it in a battle that’s impossible to win. Learning to not just tolerate the aspects of my personality that cause me grief, but to embrace them and see them as tools instead of obstacles.
So here I am. Emotional. Sensitive. This is me and I am this. Yes being this way comes with obstacles. I don’t just feel happiness I feel EVERY HAPPY EVER. I don’t just get sad I get morose and cave-dwelling. If you are sad I will cry with you. If you are angry I will feel my blood boil on your behalf. I don’t just feel my own feels, I feel the feels in the room and this can be utterly exhausting and confusing – sometimes leaving a situation not really sure which emotions are mine and which have clung onto me like little psychic hitchhikers. This makes me hard to read sometimes. It means I have easily changeable moods. It means I’m in a constant state of self-analysis that other people can find tiring, boring, or ridiculous. It means I cry almost every single day of my life, (since I cry with happiness, sadness, confusion, anger, laughter, memory, exhaustion, basically any strong feeling gets tears from me) and a lot of people, men in particular, find this difficult to cope with. They see tears as sign of a problem to fix, when actually I’m fine and can sort myself out I just need to cry a bit, talk it out in a one sided way, and get on with it. It means I often feel like rolling into a little ball and screaming GET THE FEELS AWAY FROM ME. It means as much as I love people, and meeting strangers, and being with people I love… I need an awful lot of alone time to keep myself grounded. It means a conversation can exhaust me more than running. That I need a good sleep to avoid an emotional hurricane. That I need to be alone sometimes. Not everyone is cool with that. It means I don’t connect very well with negative people, that I connect too well with some people who don’t want this level of intensity or softness, and it means I’m very lonely a lot of the time. Google the word Empath, and hello – nice to meet you. But.
In this process of learning to love myself & live my best and happiest life, again and again I come back to my sensitivity as one of the reasons I’m my own little gem in this big weird life of ours. It is one of the biggest things that makes me Me. And I like me now, most of the time anyway (it really is a journey, isn’t it?) so I must have started to like what all this hyper-emotive, touchy-feely, Emo Girl stuff brings to the table, yes? Yes. And what does it bring? LET ME TELL YOU.
Intuition. Perceptiveness. An ability to read people’s emotions often better than they can, and along with a gift for being very articulate it means I can often put into words how someone is feeling when they are struggling to do so. Not so much putting words in their mouth, but just sort of knowing how they feel without having to be told, and therefore saving them a lot of effort and fear. It means I have a healthy and reliable sixth sense. It means I choose my friends carefully and wisely. My proper friends. I have a lot of friends but I’m talking about the ones who get to see my guts. My intuition is good about people and I am drawn to (and connect with) the right kinds of people when I let my intuition speak. I can often sense when someone is in a bad mood without talking to them, just subconsciously gathering tiny details and making an (almost always correct) decision that they need to be contacted for a hug. To know what kinds of words or advice someone might need before they even ask for it. These qualities make me a good friend to have. A bit of a know-it-all at times, occasionally pushy, but still. A good girl for your team.
Creativity. I wouldn’t be so creative without being so sensitive, and my creativity is one of the things I prize most about myself. It penetrates every aspect of my life. I’m able to be creative because I can emotionally tune in to things. Inspiration comes easily to me because I am easily inspired and my heart & mind are always ready to be tuned into something interesting. My moods make my art interesting, because it means I’m always searching for new ways to express myself because I have so much to express. It means that what I create – my words, my music, my speech, my home – are infused with meaning. Everything has a sentimental story or attachment. My creativity thrives when I let my emotions happen, when I stop fighting my moods and just say FINE OKAY and let my mood swing do its business before moving on and getting back to normal. When I stop fighting myself I can make such beautiful things. And all of that comes from the same huge emotional place.
Empathy. Goodness me, do I forever smell of empathy. A trait that often gets people into trouble, myself included, because without strong boundaries you can empathise with a person to the point of becoming part of them and forgetting who you are. You can empathise so much with someone that it almost becomes giving them permission to be horrible… because you understand WHY they are being horrible so you can let a lot of shitty behaviour slide. But in this case, in the context of embracing my nature, empathy is beautiful. My heart has always been in writing, in sharing and in communicating. But in my sense of Life’s Purpose, my heart is nestled in charity as well. My empathy brings me here. My plans that run around in my head like happy squirrels, my plans of how I can help people now and as I age, and my actions. How I already DO help people, including my sons. Empathy. It hurts! Proper empathy shakes your bones. But it brings SO much good stuff along with it, and I’d never give that part of myself up.
Passion. Intensity.You do not GET better intimacy, connection and fire than you do with a sensitive person. This is where the good stuff really is, when hearts burn into other hearts, when you turn friends into fiercely protected family, when you protect your children like a lioness, when you practically bleed with feelings to people who need it, share it, reciprocate. This is sensitivity at its best, where people like me shine, where like-minded people can see our gigantic blazing hearts and feel more loved, understood, and wanted than they ever thought possible.
These are all the things I’m learning to love. Traits that can cause ages of agony, but also provide all the best happiness. These benefits are the things I’m allowing myself to see more and more in myself… and have started seeing in my children as well. Particularly my middle son who shares the same Vigilantly Sensitive nature as his mother. This whole emotive package. My middle child, Henry, is me in boy form. We share so much softness, intensity, emotion, creativity, silliness, and need for expression.
This morning he came into bed with me for a cuddle before we started our day and I told him that since we were calm and quiet and happy, now would be a good time to talk about the problem we’d had the night before. He had been sent to his room to calm down (being hyper, shouty, over-stimulated, emotional, annoying) and had taken it as a punishment which made him unhappy. I explained to him that I hadn’t been punishing him, I’d been trying to give him what he needed which was SPACE and QUIET and TIME and a safe little environment with his favourite things in which he could calm down and turn back into Balanced Henry. I said that people like him (and me) feel everything Times A Hundred. And sometimes our feelings get so huge they cover us like a blanket and we can’t get out. So I’ve learned (and am trying to teach him) ways to still feel things but without getting suffocated and lost in them. He hugged me. I told him how much I love him, all the things we have in common, why he’s wonderful, and that as I continue to learn how to handle my moods that I’ll promise to share the information with him – and he promised the same.
Hopefully he grows up more likely to use his nature rather than fight it, and has more of a chance for a happy life because of it. I know that the more I’m learning, the happier I am. Not apologising for myself, not making excuses for How I Am… and just rolling with it. Using it. Embracing it. Treating it as a tool instead of a disability. A strength not a weakness. Just accepting myself completely. And the happier I am, the more whole I feel, the better chance of happiness these boys have too. It makes all this self-evaluation and growth in therapy so very, very worth it when I can see the benefits not just for ME, but for these boys I adore like crazy. Like. Crazy. ALL the crazy in fact. All of it.
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I normally like to have a fairly cohesive idea of what I’m going to write about before I put something in this blog, but this is going to be a little different. I had an interesting therapy session today that set my mind racing, like it had split into a hundred little mice and each mouse had an excited look on its face & a plan of action & a little happy flag to wave around while doing it. It wasn’t a lightbulb moment really, it was a lightbulb party. An orgy of luminosity. One major idea came to me and with that one idea came wave after wave of the tiny clicks that come when you fit puzzle pieces together.
The paragraph I just wrote is exactly why I like to have a cohesive thought or plan before I write. I had what, 4, maybe 5 different metaphors working there? Flag waving mice, lightbulbs, orgies, waves and puzzles. All in one paragraph! But given that this blog post is going to be about working with my unique nature rather than fighting against it, I suppose that’s a perfectly appropriate way to start it all off.
When I went into therapy today I told my therapist that I felt overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of things I’m working on in my life right now, especially when compared to how much I’ve accomplished. That I felt like I was in a constant battle of improvement and things to get right, but with nothing to show for it. I felt no sense of accomplishment for anything because I never got to the finish line of anything. I’d been setting goals for myself that I resisted despite wanting them, and I felt no sense of achievement about anything despite working so very hard. So. Very. Hard. to improve my life and the life of my boys.
We started out doing the logical thing, and making a list of what I’m actually accomplished during my time in therapy versus what I still felt like I wanted to achieve. She gave me a pen and paper, and I began making a list. Goals and Achievements. But oh did the scribbles start coming out fast, and my writing became complicated and messy. Lots of arrows pointing here and there, things in circles and things in boxes, and I made the comment that I didn’t feel like I could put ANYTHING in the accomplished category because, basically, I don’t believe in things ever finishing. How can I say I’m done with anything at all if I don’t believe in the concept of Done?
For instance. I bought a car this last weekend. That seemed like an obvious thing to put on my Accomplished List, as it was proof of my financial stability increasing, a problem being solved, money being saved, and a real actual physical solution (newer car) to a long-held problem (old piece of shit car) that I could be pleased with myself for achieving. But… but I’ll always have to have transportation. Yes I solved this most pressing need, but I’m already planning on saving up for a few years to buy myself something much newer in the future. So Is that solved? Is that really accomplished if the entire issue doesn’t actually disappear? Or is it really just managing a lifelong situation?
And also. I need to lose some weight. Divorce & singlehood & parenting 3 small boys one of whom is autistic & being a bit isolated & loving my food… well. I’ve put on about 20 pounds of weight in the last 2 years, and still had a little bit to lose before that garbage even started. But every time I set myself a goal or a target, I just get pissed off and seem to sabotage every effort I make. We’ve talked about this a lot in therapy and I’ve unraveled a lot of the psychological issues behind keeping weight on (which is something else I intend to write about soon), but I still wasn’t getting at the very root of my issue. I still knew there was a nugget of absolute truth in there somewhere, some tiny but powerful reason why I can’t seem to bring myself to lose weight in the typical manner. To know how to do it, want to do it, set a specific goal, have a plan, follow the plan.
You know. How normal people do things.
We kept working on my list but we couldn’t come up with the right words. If the idea was to write down things I want to accomplish or are working on, and to also write down what I’ve achieved, it doesn’t seem that complicated does it. To Do & Done. Goals & Achievements. Targets & Rewards. But damn it if I wasn’t getting frustrated by every word I was coming up with because none of them truly captured what I was trying to get across.
Words MEAN things. One word makes a massive difference in your perception. Don’t agree? Start calling your husband or boyfriend Sir for a little while and see how it makes you feel. So I was writing and writing, trying to find the right language to represent how overwhelmed I was feeling with my personal To Do list being massive and my Done list being nonexistent.
It wasn’t long before the thesaurus was pulled out.
“Why are you being so hard on yourself” is a question I hear with enough frequency that it may well be permanently burned into my psyche. I don’t know why I’m so hard on myself. Why I expect so much and can’t give myself credit for progress. Even during today’s session my therapist asked why I was being so hard on myself, pointing out numerous reasons for me to be proud of myself in the last 6 months or so. But I don’t KNOW why I’m so hard on myself, which makes me feel a bit dumb and so then I’m hard on myself about the fact that I don’t know why I’m being hard on myself. Can you SEE why I get headaches??
These thoughts were running in the back of my mind as she & I were doing our unplanned thesaurus exercise. And then two words jumped out at me and hugged my weary brain. And These two words click click clicked with it all. They clicked with why I struggle with deadlines, why I hate being told what to do, why I’m hard on myself, why I get no joy in goal achievement… the whole package. In the first category, instead of To Do, instead of Needs Work, instead of FIX THIS STUFF… I wrote one simple word. Projects. And in the other column, instead of Done, or Finished, or Accomplished or Realized or Congratulations You Did It, I wrote another simple word. Chapters.
I then wrote this underneath it all:
I am not linear.
The last six months have seen massive changes internally. And the reason I was feeling no sense of accomplishment despite having SO MUCH to be proud of and having experienced SO MUCH growth, is because I don’t work like average people. I’m creative beyond what is normal. I am not linear. I come up with 5 plans for every problem I have, and bring my creativity into all of my problem solving. It makes me very flexible as far as goal posts are concerned. And it is the process that I enjoy the most, the learning and the growing, not the bit where I get to the end. Because I don’t believe in endings either, remember? So here I am in this deep and thickly meandering journey to personal wellness, and feeling incredibly overwhelmed because I’ve been using very traditional means of measurement to derive my sense of success. If my goal in life is to grow and progress, then how can I possibly expect to feel a sense of pride in that if I give it a very finite end? Even something as small as cleaning my kitchen. If I write Clean My Kitchen on a to do list, then clean it and tick it off the list, I feel no happiness. Because I’ll just have to clean the damned thing again tomorrow. So why am I even putting it on a To Do list? It isn’t like I don’t KNOW I need to do it. Or take something as big as lose weight. If I set a goal of losing 20 pounds and then I lose them, there is no satisfaction. Not mentally. Because I know weight management is a life long thing, health is an ever-present need to attend to.
So I guess what I realized is that philosophically nothing can ever be truly ticked off a To Do list because nothing ever ends it just changes. In my little world-view anyway. So why in the hell am I expecting myself to feel accomplished using a system that doesn’t fit?
Thinking any of my issues have Ends just makes me feel like I’m not succeeding. Thinking of them as PROJECTS, however… well. Projects don’t end. They grow and twist and change, and you can acheive things within a project without needing to wipe your hands clean and say Yep! All done. I can look at my Projects and feel pride in my growth, while still recognizing and respecting the fact that nothing truly ends and that acts of self-improvement and self-care are permanent.
I left therapy today feeling energetic and accomplished. I could see my progress now! Buying a car. Exercising my personal boundaries in a new friendship. Finding a support group for parents of autistic kids. Cleaning my bedroom. Losing a pound. Getting through the anniversary of mom’s death happier this year. Saying no to someone who needed to hear it. Feeling less fear about the idea of falling in love with someone. Softening my shell. Learning so much about my unhealthy self-defense mechanisms and losing many of them. Sleeping better. Having more happy days than sad days.
These are things I can be proud of! And finally am. Whereas this morning I just felt like, because I couldn’t tick anything off my list as DONE, that I hadn’t done anything. I forgot what I’m like. I don’t care about the end, I care about the story itself. So that is where I need to find my pride. Projects. Finishing up chapters and then working on the next one. Never ending, just changing. Judging myself by my terms and no one else’s.
There is very little that is traditional about me. And I’ve discovered that artificially forcing a traditional way of gauging my emotional success just leads to sabotage, anxiety, and a feeling of scattered purpose. My idea of being successful is a beautiful, illogical, non-linear, creative little thing that changes depending on the day. So I’m going to respect that, embrace it, and stop trying to make it be a measurable thing. It isn’t. You can’t put clouds in a box. You can’t paint a smell. And I can’t take my sense of accomplishment from a logic-based system that believes in Done and Not Done.
I’m sure this post could have been 9,000 paragraphs shorter. But this is how my brain works, it belches out paragraph after paragraph of exploratory thinking, all to get to one or two well formed thoughts. Lots of metaphors, interesting diversions, creatively parsed verbs, traditional grammar avoidance, a seemingly endless waterfall of thought after thought after thought. This is how I work. This is my constant mind-state. Constant creative evaluation and recalculation. But it all sort of proves my point. That it doesn’t matter when I hit the “Publish Post” button down there, the traditional END of the writing, the Done bit. That isn’t when I’ll feel done, that isn’t where I’ll find my satisfaction. I found it during the process. In the project. The expressing matters more than the expression. The writing matters more than the publishing. The progress matters more than the results. In fact, the progress IS the result.
So there you go. An interesting day of therapy where I basically learned that while I love a good Word Parade and will List-Make compulsively about everything… when it comes to my mental health and sense of satisfied well-being, To Do lists piss me off.