Becoming whole

This blog post, like me, is a work in progress. But I’m going to post it anyway. In fact, I’m going to write it in half an hour and post it immediately, so I have time for lunch, to get ready and to get out the door to catch a train to a meeting. I’m not going to stew or stress over it. I’m not going to edit it for hours. I’m just going to write it, read it once or twice and press send.

It’ll do. It’ll do for now because I know I’ll be coming back to this topic of ‘becoming whole’ many times. It’s what I’m about. It’s what my book is about. And it’s what I want my work, going forward, to be about. I want to become whole, as much as humanly possible, and I want to help others to become whole, through writing, coaching and speaking.

So here goes.

oakLet’s start with what I mean by being whole. Think of the oak tree, with its wide, solid trunk. It stands firm in the wind. It doesn’t sway, waver or bend. It’s grounded, solid, safe from the elements, from outer influences. It’s connected to the earth. It’s resilient. It’s sure of who it is and what it’s about.

Now think of a thin, scrawny tree with spindly branches. It gets blown about all over the place. It may get uprooted, knocked over, or its branches may snap when the wind blows.

Or think of a feather in the wind. It gets blown back and forth, up and down. It has no substance. It’s not able to resist. It’s vulnerable, flighty. It goes where it’s pushed. External influences decide its direction of travel. It has no course of its own.

I want to be like the oak tree, grounded, rooted, secure. I want to know who I am and what I’m about. I want to stand tall and strong, with my feet planted firmly on the ground, connected to Nature, to my source. I don’t want to be like the scrawny tree or the feather. I don’t want to be blown about. I want to decide where I’m going and stay on that path.

The oak tree is inside me somewhere. It’s growing, taking shape, slowly inhabiting my insides. But it takes time and effort to develop a solid core, particularly if we’re starting from a scrawny base. I want to embrace my inner oak and nurture it. And I want to help others do the same.

It’s hard to trust yourself when you never have before. It’s hard to believe you know what’s right for you when you’ve lived with so many years of insecurity and self-doubt. It’s hard to break the habit of listening to other people’s opinions and handing them authority over your life, thinking they’re right and you’re wrong. It’s hard to say No when you really mean No when you’ve spent a lifetime saying Yes to things you don’t want. It’s hard to stand up to ‘authority’ figures when your first attempt of doing so – perhaps as a child, standing up to a parent – went horribly long.

But we can learn. How do we learn? Through practice, by practicing being whole, saying No, standing up to people, trusting ourselves, taking up our rightful place in the world, even if doing so makes us scared, even if it makes us sweat, cry, shiver or start running for the hills. We learn by spending time with ourselves, feeding and watering our inner oak in whatever way works.

What works for me? Meditation, prayer, writing, walking by the sea, taking time to listen to the ‘still small voice’ inside, speaking to friends to build up my courage and by exercising the muscles that have been under-used (saying No, trusting myself, making choices and accepting my mistakes).

Becoming whole, or as whole as possible, will take time. I’ll be on this journey for the rest of my life. But it’s probably the most important road I will walk. And it’s a road that’s well worth travelling.

Whole. Authentic. Free. True. This is what I want for my life.

Becoming whole doesn’t mean I won’t cry anymore or I won’t make mistakes, mess up or get hurt. It means I’ll cry as much as I need to and want to because it’s healing and freeing. It means I’ll accept my mistakes and learn from them. Maybe I’ll even laugh at them.

I know I’ll have days when I feel less whole, days when I’m more like the feather in the wind than the sturdy oak tree, but that’s OK. The inner oak is there. It’s growing. My core, my authentic self is becoming strong.

I watched a talk the other day by a woman called Johanna Walker that inspired me to continue on this journey of becoming whole and to continue to share my story with absolute honesty. I’ll leave you with the Youtube clip of the talk (see below). I think it will inspire anyone who’s struggling to come to terms with a life that looks nothing like the one they thought they’d be living. Johanna talks of the power of storytelling to make sense of our sorrow, whatever it may be, and shares how she came to terms with her grief around not being a mum. Johanna says she was inspired to speak by watching Jody Day of Gateway Women do the same. Jody talks openly and honestly about her grief around not having children and helps other women come to terms with their infertility and lead fulfilling lives. Jody’s new book is out very soon. I’ve read the first edition and can highly recommend it.

So that’s me for today. I’ve written and edited my blog post in just under an hour, not quite half an hour but still quick for me, and I’m trusting it’s good enough. Perfectionism holds me back. Perfectionism is a result of not feeling whole. When I don’t feel whole, I need to be perfect; I need other people’s approval to feel OK, to feel good about myself.

I’m done with that.

Today, I’m embracing my inner oak.

 

 

Posted in Childless, Empowerment, Happiness, Infertility, Perfectionism, Recovery, Self-Acceptance, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Love is …

I wrote a first draft of this blog post a few months ago. I woke up one morning and felt moved to tell you all how much I love my boyfriend (OK, so I think I’m going to have to call him ‘partner’ from now on. ‘Boyfriend’ seems a bit silly as I’m nearly 45 and he’s nearly 50 and we’re looking to buy a home together).

But then I got sidetracked explaining why I hadn’t written my blog since August, reassuring you I hadn’t given it up, filling you in on my summer and autumn – lots of beach days, sea swims, good times, tough times, particularly as the winter nights set in and everything went dark and quiet down here on the south coast). And before I knew it, the day was over and I hadn’t finished my post – I must be out of practice. Then, when I came back to the blog a few days later, I didn’t feel quite as in love with my partner as I had a few days before and I felt very hesitant about declaring my feelings for him on the World Wide Web. So I stalled, returning to the post a few weeks later when I felt smitten again, but then somehow failing to finish it before Christmas arrived.

Now here we are in 2016 (Happy New Year!) and finally, I’m ready, not just because I really love him today but because I’ve come to understand that it’s natural for my love to ebb and flow. It’s nothing to be scared of. It doesn’t mean I need to jump ship. It doesn’t mean it’s not right. Maybe it just means I’m normal.

I’m also noticing that even if my love ebbs and flows, it also steadily grows. That may sound contradictory, but it feels true for me.

I used to have a very different concept of romantic love. I used to think that it wasn’t love, it couldn’t be real if it didn’t feel desperate, urgent and all-consuming; if I didn’t feel on edge and high on adrenaline.

I used to think it had to be like on Fatal Attraction (without the bunny boiling or sharp knife), or I had to experience an intensity like Baby on Dirty Dancing: “I’m scared of walking out of this room and never feeling the rest of my whole life the way I feel when I’m with you,” Jennifer Grey told a bare-chested Patrick Swayze, in a breathless whisper.

I’ve experienced crazy, breathless, got-to-have-you-right-now ‘love’ before, but it didn’t grow into anything. It went up in smoke or it fizzled out. Sometimes, it was all in my head. Once, I fell for a stranger over email. Over weeks, he wooed me with poetic words. I imagined us meeting and falling into a passionate embrace. But as soon as I saw him, as soon as he became real, the bubble burst. I felt no spark. I walked away. He was upset. (I’m sorry, if you happen to be reading this).

I see now that my understanding of love and the journey I’ve been on to get where I am today reflect my personality, my inner battles and my challenges. These may be unique to me, but I share them in the hope some of you can relate.

dreamstimefree_1054567I first had to choose to love. I had wavered and wobbled and been in and out of a relationship with my partner for a few years. I thought I needed to stay away but I kept going back. Tired of not knowing what I wanted or what was good for me, I made a decision to commit to the relationship for six months and to give it my best shot. I promised myself, a few dear friends and my incredibly helpful therapist that I would do my utmost not to doubt, not to question, not to find fault and not to look for ways out. I agreed, for that time, to stop thinking there was someone else.

Choosing to love in this way may not sound particularly romantic. It’s not very Hollywood. But I’ve had a lifetime of ambivalence, of push-pull, particularly in my relationships with men. ‘I want you, but I don’t want you. I want to love, be loved and be in a partnership, but I’m terrified of loss and of being hurt. Come close; now go away.’ My mixed messages must have left a few of my ex-boyfriends feeling bewildered (if you’re reading, I apologise).

Ambivalence plagues me in other areas of my life too – ‘I want my work to get noticed. Wait, no I don’t. I’m scared and I want to hide’ – but I’ve written about that before (Ambivalence) and I can come back to it, so I’ll stick to love in this post.

I chose to put two feet in and keep them in and every time my feet got cold and I wanted to yank them out and run, my friends reminded me of my decision, of my commitment. Stay with it, for six months. Those six months came and went and I felt ready to move out of London to the sea, where he lives. We’re now at 15 and I’m ready to move in.

So I made a choice and I pushed through my doubts.

I used to think he couldn’t be the right guy if I had so many worries and reservations at the start. I kept waiting for the man to come along with whom I’d enjoy an immediate honeymoon period. (For more on that, see my 2013 blog ‘Waiting for my honeymoon’). I kept waiting to meet someone and be instantly enveloped in a pink fluffy cloud. I’d heard others talk of love like that. I’d heard others say ‘I just knew. As soon as I saw him, I just knew’, so I thought that had to happen for me too. I thought, to misquote Michael Bublé, that I just hadn’t met him yet.

(“You had to keep looking, just in case,” my partner joked with me yesterday morning.

“You kept looking too,” I replied.

“I was just passing the time, sweets, just passing the time.”)

But I never found my honeymoon. I was always wracked with doubts, judgements, criticisms and reasons why it wouldn’t work out, often right from the start.

I’d judge men on their height, weight or amount of hair, on their attitude to work or their career choice, their shoes or socks or the way they crunched their Cornflakes at breakfast. I could go from feeling incredibly attracted to someone one minute to not being able to stand the sight of them the next – ‘Come here. No, get away from me!’ – and when I felt repelled like that, it had to end.

I used to think my turmoil meant there was something wrong with him, until I realised it was more likely there was something wrong with me. I read He’s Scared, She’s Scared and began to understand there was a reason why I was attracted to men who couldn’t meet my needs and who feared commitment – because I feared it just as much or perhaps more. I was the common denominator in all my failed relationships. I was the one who made these judgements, who pushed men away. So I began to try to understand myself, to challenge my own commitment-phobia and to tame my urge to run.

Do you push love away? Are you attracted to people who aren’t good for you? Are you still holding out for the instant honeymoon, for someone about whom you won’t have any doubts? It’s helpful to become aware of our patterns and what lies behind them. Only then can we change.

When I finally became ready and willing to push through my reservations, I chose someone who showed willingness to push through his baggage too. My therapist reckons we’re attracted to people with a similar level of ‘stuff’ as us, to people who are at the same level of maturity or emotional wellness, who have the same level of commitment-phobia. The key is to find someone who’s also willing to grow, who’s also willing to push through.

This process – the choice, the decision, the compromise, all the deep and meaningful conversations (D&Ms, he calls them) that we’ve had to have to sort through our stuff – isn’t how I imagined love to be. It’s not how they portray it in the movies and it’s not the message I heard from those people who ‘just knew’. But it’s my process. Our process. And it feels real.

I’d say be wary of the lightning bolts. Remember some of us get an addictive fix off men – or women – who are unavailable or unreliable or both. I did. We can be magnetically drawn to people who can’t meet our needs, sometimes because we’re subconsciously repeating a pattern from our childhoods when we craved love from our parents and it didn’t come. As adults, we replay the tape, hoping to engineer a different outcome. This time, he’ll love me. This time, he’ll stay. But too often, the ending is the same.

What if you find someone you think you can trust but something inside you still tells you to run for the hills? I’d suggest asking yourself if this really is your gut instinct or if it’s your fear. I reckon this is the hardest question to answer – gut instinct or fear? It’s so difficult to discern. But if love has left its scars – the love of a father, a mother or a previous partner – we may be reluctant to get hurt again. So we put up barriers, in my case in the form of criticism, judgement and ambivalence.

Processed by: Helicon Filter;These days, my wobbles about my partner are few and far between and, while I had to take a long-haul flight to get here, it feels like I’ve finally arrived on my honeymoon. Both my feet are in deep and all I want to do is sink them in deeper.

This love is different. It feels certain, long-lasting. I even feel able to write, here on the Internet, that I am ‘in love’ with my partner. I’ve always been afraid and embarrassed to utter those two little words. I never dared to. I didn’t think I was allowed. I didn’t think I belonged to the club of people who fell ‘in love’. I didn’t think my love looked like the kind of love I saw on TV, in movies or between other people.

But I’m owning those words now. And the more I say them, the more it feels true – and this isn’t about convincing myself of something that’s not real. It’s about challenging the harmful, self-sabotaging, ambivalent, shaming, ‘I don’t deserve’ messages that have inhabited my core for many years, embedded deeply in the same way the word ‘Blackpool’ runs through a stick of northern rock. This love feels good for me. I feel calmer, more grounded, I laugh a lot more. And there’s space to grow.

My regular readers may be wondering about the baby thing, by which I mean the fact I’m nearly 45, don’t have children, thought I wanted them, am unsure and ambivalent (no surprises there) about both motherhood and about childlessness and I’m wondering what will happen and how I’ll feel if I don’t have kids. It’s been a recurring theme on this blog as I’ve aged from 40 to nearly 45 and it will feature in my book, which I’m still writing and will finish this year. But that’s not something I’m going to tackle now.

Suffice it to say I’m focusing on one miracle at a time. It’s a miracle that someone who was once so obsessed with her work, her looks, her diet and her weight and who was shut down emotionally and unable to deeply connect can love like this.

If you’re reading this wondering if you can too, take heart. You can.

Posted in Childless, codependency, Dating, Love, Recovery, Relationships, Women | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

Taking the plunge

“… I have a dream to follow my heart to the sea, to write, to teach, to love, to cycle, to swim, to jump off rocks into the water, to stretch on the sand, to have endless visits from my lovely London friends (please), to have more spare time, a slower pace of life, more space to create and to make my heart and spirit sing – in a small or a big way – every day” – Ode to London, I love you … but I’m leaving, October 10, 2013

I’m here. It’s happened. That dream has come true.

Two weeks ago, I packed up my lovely little London flat, put half of it in a storage cupboard and squashed the other half into a small car and headed south to the sea.

Swimming off the rocks

Swimming off the rocks

Since then, I’ve swum off fabulous sandy beaches – once at night under a full moon – I’ve jumped off rocks into the water and I’ve stretched out on the sand in the sunshine. I’ve spent lots of lovely time with my boyfriend, I’ve worked on my book most week days and I’ve experienced a slower pace of life. I have some teaching work at Bournemouth University lined up for the Autumn and four of my London friends will be visiting here over the next few weeks.

It’s a year and ten months since I wrote on this blog that I was leaving London, so the move took a while, but as I write this today, I’m a little bit amazed that my dream to live by the sea has come true. For a long time, I think I assumed everybody else’s dreams came true, but not mine. But now I know my dreams can come true too. And I understand the importance of having dreams, of writing them down, of drawing pictures of them (which I did – I have a number of pieces of A4 paper with colourful drawings of me living by the sea) and of taking small steps towards them, little actions to make them happen.

It would be easy to dismiss or ignore my efforts in making this particular dream come true. I’m good at that – good at not celebrating my successes. But I had the courage to dream, to write that blog post, draw those pictures, to put the ad on Gumtree to rent my flat out for six months and, when a good tenant came along, to say ‘Yes’. I drew up the contract, sorted all my flat safety certificates, had the cracked windows fixed and did all the other grown-up admin – reams of it – that comes with being a landlady. I arranged a room to rent down here so my boyfriend and I could have a little bit of space apart from each other and I managed to pack up 13 years of London life and all the mementos from years before into large plastic boxes and, with the aid of my very helpful and patient boyfriend, squeeze a lot of it into his car. I knocked on the door of Bournemouth University’s Media School, a number of times, and found some teaching work, and, once here, I got myself out of the house in the early morning and at night under the full moon to go for a swim in the sea.

An early morning dip

An early morning dip

Sea swimming makes my heart and spirit sing. When I plunge my head into the cold water, something lifts inside me. I skip on the inside. I smile. When I lie on my back, looking up at the sky, or when I explore a little bit of the world under the sea, everything is put into perspective. No matter what day I’ve had or what worries I’m carrying, everything seems brighter. And the other day, when the wind was up and the waves were bigger, I went body boarding, which was such a giggle. My inner kid loved that. She felt truly alive.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing, though. Packing up my flat, separating the things I wanted from those I didn’t (I seemed to want and need everything with me – it was painful to let go of anything from my past), journeying through 13 years of notebooks, diaries and photographs as well as memories from my childhood, my university life or the days I spent living abroad, was hard and brought up lots of feelings.

Giving up my safe haven has been hard too – that space where I can be completely alone, where I can shut the door, pull down the blinds, eat whatever I want and watch whatever I fancy on TV; the first home I’ve ever owned and the first place I’ve invested in and made my own. It’s been tough to leave my cosy flat and divide myself between a rented room in a friend’s house and my boyfriend’s place – neither of which is my own; I can’t do exactly as I please or shut myself away from the world anymore.

And although living at the beach is a dream come true, there have been times in the past few weeks when I’ve felt all at sea.

I’ve felt grief, grief for all the things I’ve left behind. I’m missing my London friends a lot and all the networks I became part of over those 13 years – church, my recovery meetings and the huge number of relationships that sprang from those. I’m missing the Southbank, the Thames and St Paul’s, Clissold Park, the fab grocer’s on Newington Green and the buzz of Upper Street at all hours. Sometimes I cycle, scooter or drive around my new home town and ask myself, “Where has everyone gone? Where are all the people?” And I see my London friends’ photos on Facebook, of them out enjoying London things, and feel a pang.

But such a big change was bound to throw up grief. Choosing to come to the beach meant choosing to leave London. Every choice involves loss, leaving something behind, and if we’ve experienced a lot of loss in our lives, loss is going to be especially hard. I’m also still in transition mode, finding my feet, exploring friendships, groups, activities and meetings, discovering a routine that works, working out how to get around.

It’s early days.

The good thing about this particular decision, though, is that I’ve never really had second thoughts – and for someone who finds decisions so hard, that’s amazing. I’ve felt grief and sadness and experienced loss, but I don’t want to change anything. All I want to do right now is to get more involved here, make more friends, find networks that feed my soul and places that bring me peace and joy.

So far, I’m pleased I’ve found a lovely working space for a few days a week (The Old School House in Boscombe) and my Vespa is back on the road, so I can work in my lovely shared office – or at home – and then nip for a swim at lunchtime or in the early afternoon. Going forward, I’d like to buy a new (or second-hand) mountain bike, a wetsuit and maybe a kayak or a paddleboard (all of which involves finding more work and increasing what I earn, so that’s my next big challenge); and I’d like to make sure I swim in the sea as many days as I can, with or without sunshine.

Happy after a sea swim and snorkel

Happy after a sea swim and snorkel

Moving hasn’t been easy but it’s definitely been the right thing for me right now. It’s a fresh start, a move towards a lifestyle that I think suits me better than the big city. It also gives my relationship the space to grow, which is a good thing.

And if I ever do have doubts, I can jump on a train to London, which is only two hours away, and spend time soaking up the buzz and seeing my lovely friends. Or you can come and visit me, we can get up early, scoot to the beach, dip ourselves in cold water … and smile.

Let’s keep dreaming. Dreams, I reckon, are good for the soul.

 

Posted in Happiness, Health, Leisure, Love, Women, Work | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Authentic living

“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to their graves with the song still in them.”

That’s a quote by American author, poet and philosopher Henry Thoreau. It dates back to the 1840s but I fear it’s just as relevant today, if not more so, and, of course, to men and women.

I was heading that way, pursuing a career trajectory that, I only realised afterwards, was taking me further and further away from my authentic self, from my song. There were days of ‘quiet desperation’ when I’d stare at the computer screen, unable to muster any enthusiasm for my work, despite being in a job many people would have killed for. My soul had clocked off, my spirit had gone to sleep.

It’s taken years to discover who I am at my core, to identify the kind of work that makes my heart sing and understand the rhythm of life that’s good for me.

I need variety, flexibility and freedom – freedom to work how and when I choose (even if that brings its own struggles). I need to be creating – building, making or writing something unique. I need a combination of solitary and group activities in my week, to satisfy both sides of my personality, my introvert and extrovert. I need to be out there, leading groups, running workshops, giving talks, but then I also need to retreat, to rest, recharge and to create in silence.

I need to be fulfilling the side of me that loves to teach, coach, train and mentor, that wants to encourage, support and nurture, that wants to help others to fulfill their potential and live their dreams. I need to be working with people, writing things that help people or coaching them to live their best lives. And at times, I need to be at the front of the room, on the stage, in the spotlight, being seen, in a very visible role.

I didn’t know this before, or perhaps I didn’t need these things before. Perhaps my younger self was satisfied with the adrenalin buzz of news journalism. And my previous job did come with its fare share of highlights.

I got to tell stories, which is one of the things I enjoy most. I worked in a team and got to interview people from all walks of life. I got to travel the world, experience new cultures, speak my languages, give free rein to my gregarious self. All that was good, but there was always an undercurrent of low self-esteem, of “I’m not good enough”, which held me back and caused me stress.

Then, as the years went on and I climbed higher up the ladder, moving into political reporting, I spent less time out in the field meeting new people and hearing their stories and more time sitting in an office, writing what seemed like the same news stories over and over in a set formula, which began to feel like a straight jacket. And as my job became higher profile and my stories more widely read, the volume on the “I’m not good enough” voice went right up.

The more dissatisfied and bored I felt, the more I felt I was putting on an act and the more scared I felt that I was about to be found out, the more I fell back on the coping strategies I’d been using for years to mask my shame and fear – primarily binge eating, starving and compulsively exercising to lose the weight.

As I see it now, from this vantage point, my inauthenticity – an ever-widening gap between who I was on the inside and the role I was playing on the outside – caused a huge amount of stress. I was contorting myself into an unnatural shape, squeezing myself into a box where I didn’t fit. Food was my stress relief, along with compulsive work as I battled to prove my worth.

Now I’m on a different path. Writing my book and making good progress, yes, but also building a business that’ll allow me to achieve my unique potential and play to my strengths while helping others to do the same. I’m using my experience, my natural abilities – including coaching, encouraging, communicating and leading groups – and a really effective tool called Packtypes.

Packtypes is a simple card system that helps people quickly identify their strengths and their areas of natural talent and ability. It uses dogs as metaphors for personality types and traits, although it doesn’t put people in boxes. Instead, it helps people take responsibility for their own development, shows them how to play to their strengths and how to work on their blind spots. It builds self-awareness and confidence and increases motivation. It helps children and adults find their path, discover their song.

You ain't nothing but a Hound dog - or are you?

You ain’t nothing but a Hound dog – or are you?

So are you, like me, a people person, a natural teacher and coach (a Coachdog), who also has a penchant for communicating, leading groups and being centre of attention (a Mastiff)? Are you the ideas person on a team, the inspired entrepreneurial type (a Hound)? Are you the researcher, who loves facts, figures, logic and making sure everything has been checked out (a Pointer)? Or are you super organised, with a love of writing lists and ticking things off (a Sheepdog)? Do you love rolling up your sleeves and getting stuck in (the Terrier)? Do you have strong moral principles, proceeding with caution because you’re keen to do things for the right reasons (a Retriever)? Or are you determined, ambitious and results-driven, a bit of an Alan Sugar type, without pointing any fingers (a Guarddog)? Your profile will be a combination of these cards – some people will be more specialist and others will have a broader array of strengths.

Packtypes helps you identify your natural comfort zone and then move out from it, without creating too much stress for yourself. It helps you understand how to relate to and communicate with other types, helping to improve relationships. And it’s great for identifying gaps in teams – be that in schools, charities or the corporate arena – so you can make sure everyone’s in a role that matches their strengths and you can get your recruitment right.

All the research suggests we’re living in an age of huge dissatisfaction and disengagement at work. We’re medicating ourselves more than ever before, with pharmaceuticals, alcohol, food, sex, money, hard drugs or compulsive work, amongst other things. Addiction is widespread, in children and adults. We’re ashamed to admit what we’re doing, to be vulnerable, to share our true selves, as Brené Brown so eloquently describes in her fantastic Ted talk: The Power of Vulnerability.

I honestly believe one of the reasons we’re feeling disengaged, depressed or are self-soothing with unhealthy, often harmful substances or behaviours is that we’re squeezing ourselves into boxes where we just don’t fit, we’re contorting ourselves into shapes that were never meant for us.

Picture a large round ball of dough and a star-shaped cookie-cutter. To fit the dough into the star-shaped mould, we have to squidge it, squeeze it and lop bits off. It gets in, but it’s an uncomfortable squash and some of it gets left behind. Or think of a plasticine man and a square box. To fit him in, we have to compress him into a different shape so he no longer looks like himself.

Is this what we’re doing to ourselves? Are we working in something we hate that doesn’t play to our strengths? And is this what we’re doing to creative, free-wheeling kids when we force them to sit and conform to one-size-fits-all schooling, exams and results?

Do we feel squidged, squashed, contorted, compressed or incomplete? Do we feel bored, like our souls have gone to sleep? And what do we do to compensate, to feel better, to give ourselves some relief?

I imagine a world where everyone is playing to their strengths, doing work or pursuing studies that make their heart sing and doing so in a balanced way that allows space for all the other things that bring them joy and peace. In this world, there’s less depression, less obesity, less alcoholism, less illness and less stress. There are fewer hunched shoulders, fewer bad backs and fewer heart attacks.

Utopia? I hope not. And I’d like to think I can do my little bit to help. I can lead by example by making sure I live a balanced life and honour my talents, hopes and dreams and I can use my natural abilities and the tools I’ve discovered to help others find their path and the courage to pursue it.

When I’m doing this work, which feels so aligned with my authentic self, I can barely hear the “I’m not good enough” voice. It’s not a struggle. Everything just flows.

My goal is to help people break free from their lives of ‘quiet desperation’ and find fulfilment and joy; to help them discover their song and sing it out loud. If you know of anyone who I might be able to help – individuals, schools, companies, charities – do share this blog and my website: How to Play to Your Strengths.

Thank you.

Posted in Addiction, Creativity, Happiness, Mentoring, Recovery, Women, Work | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Keeping the spirit of adventure alive

A Diego Rivera mural in Mexico City, reminding me of the beauty of travel

A Diego Rivera mural in Mexico City, reminding me of the beauty of travel

There was once a time, back in 1999, 16 years ago, when I flew from Mexico City to Caracas via Miami on an expired passport. I knew it had expired before I got on the plane. I’d noticed the date a few days before when I got my passport out ahead of the first big work trip for a new employer. What? You must be joking? First disbelief, then anger, followed by tears. This couldn’t be happening to me.

I tried my best to get it renewed, over a weekend, I think – ringing emergency numbers in Mexico City and London, pleading with them – don’t you know who I am? Don’t you know who I work for? – but to no avail. So I decided – instead of telling my employer what had happened and missing an exciting trip to Venezuela and Colombia – that I’d wing it.

There were some hairy moments. Handing my passport in at the check-in desk in Mexico. I got away with it. Phew. Getting stuck in transit in Miami – just me and hordes of Latin Americans who didn’t have visas for the United States. Being told I might have to leave Miami airport and get a hotel – and therefore go through immigration and … who knows … get arrested, get sent back? – because the plane was faulty and might not leave until the next day. Finally, after hours of anxious waiting in the transit lounge, being ushered onto a plane and being told they’d oversold the seats and I might not get to fly. Then, heart in mouth, being directed to a spare seat in first class in hushed tones by the stewardess, who advised me not to be too conspicuous, to try and fit in. Then eating all the free food and drinking glass after glass of free champagne, smiling and nodding every time the stewardess passed by with the bottle, so by the time I got to Caracas, I was well and truly drunk, anaesthetised against any fear I felt and able to stroll confidently up to the immigration desk, smile, converse in my best slurred Spanish and wander on through. They didn’t notice my expired passport there either. And they didn’t ask too many questions at the British Embassy in Caracas the next day. I’d got away with it and my employer would never have to know (until now).

There was also a time, some 20 years ago, when I was stood at the side of a massive highway on the west coast of Australia, on my own, my huge backpack at my side (about as clueless as Cheryl Strayed in Wild), wearing a cap to try and disguise the fact I was a solo female traveller, holding my thumb out, hitchhiking, as huge articulated lorries driven by large, possibly lonely Australian men rumbled by. It was late afternoon and I knew I didn’t have a whole lot of daylight left. Underneath, I must have been terrified, but on the outside, I was bold, fearless, daring, crazy and ruthlessly independent (apart from the fact I needed someone else to drive me to the next town).

The trucks didn’t stop. But someone was looking after me that day. My ride came in the form of a VW combi van driven by a bunch of northern English 20-something ladies (I was a 20-something from northern England too – they were from Manchester, I’m a Liverpudlian, but we didn’t let that get between us). They took me in, gave me food and wine, made me laugh and kept me safe. I slept in my tent by the side of their van and we travelled together for several days, all the way to Perth.

Then there was the time I was hitching out of Mexico’s Copper Canyon (as described in my Mexican memoir blog) in the middle of the night – because cars couldn’t make it out of there in the heat of the day. Once again, alone, vulnerable, by the side of the road, but feeling invincible – at least on the surface – and laughing at my boldness and crazy sense of adventure. I got a lift out in the dark with the Coca-Cola truck although we got a flat tyre half way up and I started to feel a little uneasy about my two male travelling companions towards the end of the journey and parted company as soon as I could.

And a few weeks earlier, stood on a street corner in Tijuana – Tijuana of all places – on my own, with a backpack and a city map, lost, looking for some non-existent backpackers’ hostel. Once again, I was looked after, taken home by two Mexican brothers who could have taken advantage of my naivety, but didn’t.

I have diaries and a memory bank full of stories like these. The solo trip I took to see the bridge over the River Kwai in Thailand, ending up in a bus on my own with a driver who appeared to be giving me a private tour, despite us not being able to communicate, and who, I realised when he lifted his shirt to wipe the sweat from his brow, had a gun down the back of his trousers. A gun? Now what? Should I try and get away? I remember the lunch I ate with him in a restaurant and the moment I felt he’d drugged my drink and I went to the bathroom to see if I could escape through the window. I couldn’t and returned to my table. He drove me to my coach and said goodbye. The gun wasn’t for me.

There was a more dangerous gun in Mexico, of course, pointed at my chest, when I was being robbed on my own in a taxi by two men or three if you count the taxi driver who might have been in on it. And a knife too, during another robbery in a different taxi a few weeks later – I didn’t learn my lesson. There was the ride in the sports car on an empty road in New Zealand – hitchhiking alone again – and the trip on the back of a motorbike in Bangkok. Adventures galore.

At the time, I wore these crazy escapades like a badge of honour, trying to outdo myself each time, seeking out something even more outrageous than before. Today, though, the memories are tinged with sadness. I don’t want to dismiss my adventurous spirit, my crazy courage or my trusting heart that took me all around the world and brought me into contact with so many kind strangers. And I’m grateful for the gift of being able to speak Spanish and Portuguese with ease. But now I see beneath the bravado to the loneliness and I see all the unhealthy behaviours I used to mask my fear and pretend I didn’t feel unsafe.

On most of those occasions, you see, I wasn’t present. I wasn’t aware of who I was, how I felt inside or the risks I was taking. I didn’t feel the loneliness. I was in denial. I used food – too much, too little or an obsession with my body – to take me away from reality and numb my feelings. I used alcohol too. I did feel fear – especially when I saw a gun – but I dismissed it quickly and just kept going, logging it in my memory bank of great tales to tell my friends once I’d found my way to the bar.

Why did I have to travel so far, take so many risks and insist on being so alone? Yes, I was a thrill seeker, an adrenalin junky and I wanted to run away, from home, from myself. But perhaps I was also recreating some of the patterns from my past, from my childhood years, because there were occasions, as a little girl, when I felt sad, lonely and scared at holiday times.

I remember a scene at Manchester Airport when I’d forgotten my teddy and was inconsolable. A typical child’s reaction, perhaps, to forgetting their favourite toy but I can’t help but think that my response was extreme. I was a sensitive child. I remember feeling lonely too when we got to Spain, playing with a Spanish girl I couldn’t understand, who dunked me in the swimming pool although I couldn’t swim, leaving me in tears but with nobody around for support. Everyone laughed at me – didn’t I know it was a game?

If it’s true what the psychotherapists say and we unconsciously repeat the patterns of our childhood as adults – because we seek out the familiar, because we replay the tape and hope for a different outcome – I wonder if that was what I was doing, at least in part, when I went off on my solitary adventures and took risks that left me vulnerable and insecure?

Today, things are very different. Yes, the adventurous spirit is still there but without the crutch of excess food (most of the time) or other substances to calm my nerves, the fear of the world that’s been with me all my life is much closer to the surface, so it’s more of a struggle to leave the safety of my home, break my routine and go on adventures. Will I cope? Will I manage without resorting to excess food? Can I trust myself to stay safe? Can I trust the world? The prospect of change can seem scary, be that a simple weekend away, a holiday or moving to the sea. I struggle with the decisions, wanting everything to be perfect,  just right, wanting to control every last detail, not leave anything to chance. At times, the fear can be paralysing.

My hire car in between the sand dunes in Tarifa, Spain

My hire car in between the sand dunes in Tarifa, Spain

I’ve also lost my desire for solo adventures, although I know it’ll come back as soon as I go on one, as soon as I’m off the plane and have found my feet in a new country. This is what happened in Spain last year. I felt a lot of fear before I went but my confidence returned as soon as I picked up the hire car at Malaga and headed off in the direction of Tarifa. Yes, I have a boyfriend now, a marvellous travelling companion, but I don’t want to lose my ability to travel and explore on my own.

These days, though, I’m finding the glorious British countryside is exotic and exciting enough for me most of the time, after so many years of travelling all over the world. I’m discovering my own country has so much to offer, although I know my heart will sing again when I walk off a plane in a foreign land, particularly if I speak the language, and particularly once I feel the heat. Then I will wonder why on earth it took me so long.

This travelling thing feels like a process. Like any good extremist, I went from one extreme to the other. The crazy, risky, bold, solo adventures gave way to a craving for stability, home and very little change. And the more I stay, the more I don’t travel and the more I get used to a routine, the more scary it feels to change and to move.

Sunset off the Pacific Coast of Mexico

Sunset off the Pacific Coast of Mexico

Fear builds quickly, very quickly I find. It doesn’t take long for fear of the unknown, of change, to quash my adventurous spirit and convince me to stay home. Faith is much harder to build, it’s a much slower process.

But the answer, for me, is to keep building my faith in myself by taking the action, going away – on my own or with others – and making the changes my heart desires.

My faith grows as I remind myself that I’m an adventurous soul who comes alive and feels inspired when out exploring the world. I don’t crave the adrenalin hit like I did before, which I think is a good thing, but I do want my heart to stay open to the wonders of travel and the possibilities of change.

 

 

Posted in Addiction, Eating disorders, Faith, Recovery, Travel, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

From fantasy to reality

I’ve been living in a fantasy world.

A world in which this blog or my half-written book gets discovered, I get offered a big-bucks publishing deal and someone else writes the book for me or holds my hand every step of the way. A world in which I don’t actually have to sit down and do the work. I don’t have to finish what I start. I don’t have to choose between the words I keep and the ones I throw away or decide whether to swap chapter one for chapter three.

A world in which I don’t grow old or get aches and pains, and when I do get injured or pick up muscle strains, they get better on their own, in a very short space of time. I don’t have to do the stretching or the strengthening or follow the advice of doctors or physios.

A world in which I can sit for hours at a computer without getting back ache and in which I don’t need to do regular Pilates exercises to improve my posture, ease my back pain and prevent my body from seizing up. A world in which I can type for hours too, without my wrists hurting or without me having to do the exercises my physio has given me.

In reality, I know I have to do the promotional work, so do come along!

A world in which money, work and clients come to me in abundance, without me having to search for them or knock on their doors; where people come to my workshop without me having to advertise or promote it (this Saturday 25th in London N4 at 2 pm – see the flyer to the right). Where companies, organisations and networks find out about the self-awareness, strengths and team-building workshops I’m doing without me telling them and schools hear about my self-esteem talks without me ringing up. A world in which they find me. They discover me. They ask me in. (The irony is I can work my socks off for someone else, but when it comes to working for myself, promoting myself, it’s a different kettle of fish).

A world in which banks allow me to draw down several hundred thousand pounds against the market value of my one-bedroom London flat, despite the fact my mortgage is more than seven times my net income, following a rather drastic drop in earnings since I began working for myself, and despite the fact I’ve only been repaying the interest, not the capital, on my home for the last seven years.

A world in which I draw down those funds, get a second mortgage too, despite my present circumstances, and buy a beautiful home by the beach.

A life by the sea

A life by the sea

A world in which I don’t have to pay off my mortgage or have a pension because my flat is worth plenty of money, so I can just spend the money I earn.

A world in which I can have all the things I want – a home by the sea, a beach hut, a campervan, lovely clothes and holidays – without earning the money first.

A world in which I can live at the coast and have access to my London flat, without needing to rent it out to subsidise my move; without needing to choose, to risk or let something go.

A world in which all aspects of work are enjoyable and I don’t have to do the dull admin that goes with being self-employed or the money-earning work that isn’t exactly my heart’s desire.

A world in which relationships are like permanent sunny holidays, without any rough patches, compromises or hard work; without the need to negotiate boundaries, speak difficult truths or make tough choices. Where I get absolutely everything I want in one beautiful, rugged package.

A world in which it’s common for women to have children naturally at the age of 43, 44, 45 or 46, without the need for syringes, hormones or a younger woman’s eggs. A world in which pregnancy is blissful, labour is pain-free, motherhood is a dream without any nightmares and any children I miraculously manage to have in my mid-40s are cherubs who never have tantrums or tell me they hate me. (As I write this, in the quiet room in the cafe in my local park, two mums I know stroll past the window pushing prams and watching their toddlers toddle along in the sunshine … and I feel a pang. I’m writing. I’m working. They’re mothering. What is it I want? Do I not know yet?)

A world in which things take much less time than I expect and there are far more than 24 hours in the day; where journeys that take 45 mins only take 30 mins and in which nothing unforeseen ever happens en route to make me late. A world in which contingency planning isn’t necessary, because everything goes to plan.

So I wrote at the beginning that I’ve been living in a fantasy world. Past tense. I’m emerging from it and I have been for years. It’s been a gradual and painful process of growing up and understanding how the real world works, intermingled with a few sharp growth spurts, some head-out-of-the-sand moments that have catapulted me into reality and brought me back to earth with a bump.

It’s been a process of understanding I can’t have everything I want, that reality doesn’t work like that. Of learning I sometimes have to make difficult, painful choices and compromises that involve letting go of the thing I didn’t choose. Of understanding miracles don’t always happen, that I will feel physical and emotional pain, that my body will only heal if I do my bit to help and that hard work and commitment are vital if I want to complete anything.

A process of coming to know that I have to take responsibility for my finances, advertise my workshops and write to prospective clients and that my book will only get written if I sit down every day to write it. Of grasping the fact that mortgages need to be paid off and unexpected stuff happens so it’s best to do some contingency planning.

A process of becoming aware that natural conception and childbirth are uncommon in your 40s, that motherhood is maddening and tiresome at times, that all toddlers have tantrums and meltdowns and most teenagers go through a period of disliking their parents intensely. A process of understanding that relationships aren’t long sunny holidays – they require commitment, compromise and conversations that will frighten me to death.

I’m sad I lived in fantasy for so long but I don’t blame myself and nor does it surprise me. I missed out on some vital life lessons along the way and I know it has something to do with developing addictive, compulsive behaviours from a very young age. I didn’t mature in the way I was supposed to, so I’m having to mature now.

Maybe I created a fantasy land as a way of escaping a reality I didn’t like and of running away from painful feelings I didn’t know how to cope with. Perhaps I was conditioned to think in this way, to think something or somebody would come along to fix me, save me, rescue me or discover me; to think someone or something would mend my financial affairs, write my book for me, take me away from “all this”, transport me to a different, happier land.

Yes, that’s the crux of it. I grew up believing that happiness was over there – over there where you are, in that big house by the sea with its nice cars and speed boats, in that family with the mum and dad and two kids, in that job you do or that publishing deal you’ve got. I grew up believing in a fantasy – an unattainable fantasy of a perfect man, job, home and family life. I saw them everywhere and sometimes I still do – those “perfect” lives, husbands, kids, careers, bodies and so forth.

But today I understand the problem with this fantasy thinking is I don’t appreciate what I have, I don’t appreciate the happiness I’ve got.

So for today, I acknowledge that happiness isn’t over there. It’s in here, inside me. And I commit to giving thanks for that and for all the good stuff that’s going on.

At the same time, I let go of the idea of some magical big fix and I commit to doing the work (I’ve just dowloaded Steven Pressfield’s book Do the Work – but I’ll read it quickly and make sure I actually do the work!). I commit to taking responsibility, to choosing, deciding and finishing what I start (it appears losing interest in projects and moving on to the next big idea is typical of creative people). I commit to saving money, paying the mortgage, getting places on time and living in reality.

I do this in the knowledge that while it’s important to be grounded in reality, I can aspire to some really great things and that miracles of sorts do happen. Perhaps not in the way I expect them to, but they do happen. I, for one, have changed in miraculous ways.

I also commit to working wholeheartedly when I’m at work, resting wholeheartedly when it’s time to rest, and playing wholeheartedly when it’s time for fun.

And I commit to promoting my upcoming free workshop. So at the risk of repeating myself, do take a look at the flyer and do come along – Saturday April 25th, 2-4:30, St Mark’s Church, N4 3LD. It would be lovely to see you there.

Posted in Addiction, Childless, Creativity, Recovery, Relationships | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Boys can cry too

It’s been ages. So long, in fact, that I’ve had a birthday since I last posted and haven’t even blogged about it. I’m now 44 – and wondering how long I can keep blogging under the name, ‘From Forty With Love’. Clearly I didn’t think this one through! But then I reckon the title could also mean ‘from forty upwards’, so perhaps I can keep going until I’m 50.

Of course, now I’m here, I want to tell you all about my 44th, on March 13th. How I spent it with my boyfriend, eating the gluten-free, Nigella Lawson recipe cake he baked me and skinny dipping in the ice cold sea off the Dorset coast. Yes really, I went in, in nothing but my bobble hat. I even put my shoulders under. Crazy lady. I also want to share that I received some wonderful gifts – including the beautiful and entirely appropriate book Wild Swim (my friends know me well) – and sang silly karaoke songs until far too late at night in a dodgy pub by Waterloo. But all that’ll have to wait, if I come back to it at all. Instead, here’s one I prepared earlier, to quote Blue Peter.

I started writing this blog weeks ago. It was pretty much done but I didn’t post for some reason, then I got sidetracked, then I forgot about it, then I wondered if it was worth posting at all. But there’s a reason I’m moved to write about the topics I do, so I’m just going to roll with it. I’ve returned to the original, tidied it up and expanded on it. I hope to be back soon with some musings on turning 44 … or whatever else happens to be on my heart the next time I write.

***

It was lunchtime and I was sitting in the pretty square near my studio in the elegantly named De Beauvoir town, a suburb of East London for my faraway readers. I was being optimistic – it was mid-February but the sun was out so I decided it was warm enough to eat outside. This is the same optimism that has me carrying a bikini around in my bag for most of the summer, and sometimes the spring and autumn too, just in case there’s a chance to nip to the Ladies Pond for a dip. On the day in question, it wasn’t as warm as it looked through my studio windows, but lunching outside was still doable for hardy, northern, swim-in-the-sea-in-March folk like me.

The park was crawling with children, running in circles, on the climbing frame, playing football – it was half-term – so it wasn’t quite the peaceful lunch break I’d imagined, but there was plenty to keep me entertained.

I was particularly interested in a small group of children who were playing nearby, so close in fact that I expected their football to knock the Tupperware out of my hand. When I arrived, this group – about five of them – had just launched into a running race but the smallest child, a boy of around five or six, had been left behind. In seconds, he was in floods of tears, standing there with his head down, trying to get some words out through the gulps and sobs. From what I could gather, he was crying because the others had run off and he couldn’t keep up. Maybe he felt humiliated, maybe he felt angry – he just wanted to run fast like the bigger kids.

A woman rushed up to console him – in her teens by the looks of it, an older sister or cousin perhaps. He couldn’t expect to run like the older children, they had much longer legs, she said, steering him to a bench so he could sit and shed his remaining tears. Pretty soon, the kids who’d run ahead of him completed their circular route and arrived back at the bench.

“Why are you crying?” said an older girl in a taunting voice, leaning into his tear-stained face with her hands on her hips. “Boys don’t cry,” said the girl, who was around nine or ten, I’d say, with long slim legs – good for running.

I looked up when I heard those words and frowned. Really? Really, I thought. Boys are still being told this? Small boys are still being told it’s not OK to cry, it’s not manly to be upset? After all we’ve learned, after all we’ve come to understand about the dangers of keeping our feelings bottled up inside, about depression, about anger that comes out sideways, in the form of a thump or kick, or turns inwards, in the form of addiction and self-harm. And after all we know about male suicide rates. Shouldn’t we be sending out different signals to boys by now?

Of course, the girl was only young herself and must have picked up the ‘boys don’t cry’ message from somewhere, from the grown-ups in her life, perhaps. And while it’s not ideal for young boys, or girls, to cry over losing a running race, feelings are feelings and they’re going to come out one way or another. That boy clearly felt hurt. And I reckon he needed help expressing that hurt. Instead, he was shamed for it.

Those words, ‘boys don’t cry’, have been stuck in my head ever since.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a boy or a man. Perhaps you guys don’t need to cry as often as I do. Maybe you don’t need a support network of half a dozen close friends you can call up at any time of the day or night in tears. But maybe some of you do. Or you do at certain times in your lives. There are some feelings that are just too big to be kept inside – the death of a parent, perhaps, the end of a relationship or losing your job, your marriage or your kids. Or those times when all the unspoken feelings and frustrations that have been bottled up for years start to bubble to the surface, when the lid really needs to come off the pressure cooker to avoid an explosion.

As someone who found many unhealthy, self-harming ways to cope with painful feelings and unsaid things for years, I worry that many men out there are hurting themselves by keeping their emotions inside. I know we’re different – men are from Mars and women from Venus and all that. I know we process things differently. But we can’t be that different. Isn’t it more that we’ve been conditioned to cope in different ways?

I confess there was a time some years ago when I found it hard to see the men close to me cry, particularly the man I was in a relationship with. I needed him to be strong, perhaps because I felt weak on the inside, even if I pretended otherwise.

His tears unsettled and unnerved me. They provoked strong feelings in me. I’m sad to say I felt almost repelled. This was my stuff – nothing to do with the man in question. It was a combination of a few things: the fact I hated the weak, vulnerable side of me so I couldn’t bear to see it reflected in someone close to me, someone I was attracted to; and that sense I had at the time that my man had to be strong for me, for the both of us.

These days, I feel differently about men’s tears. I’ve done a lot of personal development so I now accept my weaker, vulnerable side and am more able to accept that side of someone I love. And I don’t need a man to be strong for the both of us anymore. I’m stronger and I’ve developed my support network so there’s always someone I can call – and generally there’s someone I can call before my boyfriend. This is good because my upset isn’t always entirely rational, or it’s associated with deep pain from my past and has little to do with my present. I can work through this much easier with my girlfriends, many of whom are on the same journey, or with my therapist. The man in my life doesn’t need to hear all the emotional ups and downs. I can share them around!

But the bottom line is I do need to share – and maybe there are men who need to share their feelings too and don’t feel they’re able to or don’t know where to turn.

In fact, I know there are men who need and want to share their feelings because I’ve heard them speak. I heard a men’s panel at the Women of the World festival a few weeks back and a similar panel at WOW last year. And I heard a panel on Crash and Burn – what happens when your life hits a wall – at the Being A Man festival in 2014 (see the Telegraph’s write up here). Being a Man is back this year, 27-29 November, 2015, by the way.

Last year’s men’s panel at WOW was particularly moving. Many of the panellists shared how they felt they had to keep it together, primarily for the women in their lives. They felt an expectation to be strong, not to fall apart, that weakness wasn’t allowed. Fortunately, these men could talk openly about that expectation and they were also part of a men’s group – they met regularly to share their feelings and offer mutual support.

I’ve heard men share in other forums too that they’ve felt scared to be vulnerable with their wives or girlfriends. But the same men have also shared that these women have truly fallen for them in that very moment when they’ve been most vulnerable, when they’ve expressed their true feelings, when they’ve cried. I can relate to this. These days, I’m moved by a man’s tears.

But I know I need to continue to work on myself so I can be comfortable with my own weaknesses and therefore be accepting of his vulnerabilities too. And I can continue to develop my support networks so I have plenty of people to talk to when I’m feeling blue. If I can do this, I can avoid burdening the man in my life with the pressure of having to be strong all the time and I can avoid burdening him with all my troubles.

I can also send a message to all the men I know that I’m not only ready and willing to hear their vulnerabilities, but I’d be delighted and honoured if they’d share their true selves with me.

This level of openness, I hope, is possible in all our intimate relationships but what about at work? I think we particularly need authenticity in the workplace – it’s where many of us keep our true feelings inside and put on a front. I recently filled in a form for some work with a university and decided to omit any mention of my eating disorder or experience of ‘mental health issues’. I didn’t want the hassle of explaining myself. And I was wary I’d run into some form of prejudice. Then, a few days later, I changed my mind. I sent off a new form that told the truth. How could I write about authenticity and vulnerability or try to encourage others to share their stories and then hide it from my potential employers? I feel much more comfortable being true to myself. But I know this is tricky territory. (And I wonder, after all that’s been written about the GermanWings crash, how many people will want to write ‘depression’ on a disclosure form at work).

I feel strongly that men and women need to talk about their feelings and be authentic at home and at work. And given women tend to be better at this than men, we need to give the guys plenty of encouragement. After all, it could save lives.

A few days after hearing that little girl say ‘boys don’t cry’ in the park, I heard a moving programme on Radio 4 about men and suicide. Unfortunately, I can’t find it online to link to so I’ll have to summarise from memory. The host was speaking to a man who a while back had been stood on top of a building, preparing to jump off. He’d lost his marriage, his job and was sleeping on his son’s sofa. He’d lost his self-respect, he felt ashamed and he couldn’t see a way back. He had called the Samaritans a few weeks before but hadn’t said anything when they answered the phone. But as he stood at the edge of the building, he scrolled through his recent calls, to remind himself of the names of friends and family he’d be leaving behind. The Samaritans number caught his eye. He called it, got through to his local branch and they convinced him to come down and head to their offices for a cup of tea. He talked through his troubles. Maybe he cried. And he survived.

So boys, teenagers, men – please talk to us and please do cry. We can take your tears. We can more than take your tears. We love your tears. Don’t keep it all bottled up inside. I’ve tried that. It doesn’t work.

Posted in Addiction, Relationships | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments