Loving myself consistently

I’m having a tough week emotionally. A lot of grief is coming up. A lot of pain. I’m processing a lot of feelings, digging deep, unearthing stuff that’s buried far down.

What’s it all about?

On the surface, it’s about my relationship with work and money. It’s about my difficulties managing my time, money and workload. It’s about my deep resistance to visibility, to putting my services out there. It’s about my reluctance to follow my passion at the same time as earning good money from some very marketable skills. It’s about the realisation that I’m struggling to find motivation – to write my book, to rebuild my websites, to professionalise what I offer, to run workshops, get clients, and so forth. It’s about the fear I feel when I can’t find that motivation, when I have no idea what motivates me or what I can find to motivate me going forward.

But what’s it really about? What’s it really about?

heartwavesI asked myself that question this morning as I scrolled through some meditations, trying to find one that resonated (I use The Meditation Podcast as an app on my phone). There were meditations on money, prosperity and abundance, on gratitude and emotional clearing. I skipped over those. But when I saw one called, ‘Healing from Heartbreak’, tears arrived in my eyes and I got that familiar lump in my throat.

That’s the meditation I needed to do today.

Heartbreak, you may ask. But you’re in love, happy and content in a beautiful relationship. And that’s true. Thank God that’s true. No, the heartbreak I needed to look at goes way back.

I closed my eyes and travelled back in time, to some moments as a child when I felt terribly lost and alone, when I felt abandoned, rejected, unloved and unloveable (the moment Dad moved out when I was small springs to mind). I felt the pain of my little girl. I cried. But then I remembered the good times, the times I felt loved, the times I felt safe, the times we laughed. Yes, there was love there too. There was both.

Consistency. That’s the word that popped into my head. Consistency. To me, as a child, as a sensitive, vulnerable, little girl, the love coming my way didn’t feel consistent.

So that’s why I struggle with consistency, I thought. That’s why I struggle to consistently write my book (stopping and starting, meaning I need tonnes of energy to start again after I’ve abandoned it for a while); to consistently stay on top of my finances; to consistently post on my Facebook business page; to consistently declutter my clothes and the papers and magazines in my office; to consistently keep a clear space around me so my mind stays clear; to consistently go through my tax return until it’s completed (I’ve started but not finished, meaning it’ll take me ages to understand where I left off when I pick it up again); to consistently build mailing lists for my services … the list goes on.

Looking back over the years since I went self-employed, there have been big bursts of energy followed by periods when I kind of gave up on it all – bursting onto the blogging scene, bursting onto Twitter, rapidly building a community, writing my book, getting an agent, getting on Newsnight and then … nothing for a long while … low energy … low motivation … what’s the point; throwing my heart and soul into a workshop on ‘Own Your Own PR’ or into a talk on ‘The Inspire’d Stage‘ (which I’ve linked to below in case you’d like to see it) then a big energy dip once again. Not building on what I’ve achieved. Not consistently following through.

And there, at the root of it all, the underlying problem: not consistently loving myself.

It’s like I don’t know how. It’s like I can only give to myself what I was given as a child. It’s like I can only replicate the childhood memories of inconsistent love – sometimes wonderful, sometimes not – that are deeply entrenched in my limbic brain.

But I know from experience that’s not true. I know I can challenge that. I know I can learn to be consistent. I know I can because I’ve done it.

I did it with food. I did it with eating – one of the most basic, human, daily rituals. I undid decades and decades of inconsistent craziness, of starving then bingeing then avoiding then running then bingeing then starving. I changed the way I ate and the way I viewed food. It took years and at the beginning, I didn’t have a clue how to eat healthily and no  idea how I was going to change, but I did it. I learned to consistently nurture my body with healthy food, three times a day. I learned to eat foods that used to be ‘banned’ unless I was on a binge, without feeling guilty and without forcing myself to run 10 miles afterwards. I learned to make soup and to cook (still learning!). I did it. I turned it around. I could still be doing those behaviours, even at 45, but I intervened, with the help of fellow eating disorder sufferers, therapy and faith. I learned to eat well and nourish my body every day. It’s not perfect but it’s pretty consistent. It’s become routine.

I also did it with loving my partner. It’s an absolute miracle that I can love him consistently after so many years of push-pull in my romantic relationships, of ‘I want you; I don’t want you’, of ‘I think you’re great; ah, get away from me’. It’s a miracle I can love him enough to maintain a loving, growing, developing, blossoming relationship. It’s a miracle that I can stop myself whenever I want to blame him for my pain or hurt, for my frustration, for my procrastination, for my grumpiness. It’s a miracle that I can apologise quickly when I feel I’ve done that. It’s a miracle that I can catch myself whenever I’m finding fault and focus on all the amazing stuff. Miracle is a big word but I don’t use it lightly. I use it intentionally, knowing my past, knowing the transformation that’s occurred.

Do I have any other examples of consistency I can draw on to prove I can do it? Well, I’ve stayed with this blog for five years, despite some breaks. And I’ve been in recovery for an eating disorder and dysfunctional relationship behaviours for 13 years, consistently.

So I can do it. I can consistently feed and nourish myself. I can consistently love another. I can stick with some things. So I can learn to consistently love myself.

Loving myself, unfortunately, doesn’t mean spending every day at the beach. Loving myself means re-parenting myself, setting loving and healthy boundaries for myself around my work and leisure time, around my book writing time, around my earning and spending. It’s about taking time for self-care, health and wellbeing, balanced with a solid commitment to my work goals. It’s about knowing my worth and being bold enough to ask for what I deserve. It’s about being visible, about daring to be seen, despite fear of judgement, criticism and ridicule. It’s about showing up for myself, consistently.

So today and this week, I promise to consistently love myself. I’ll start there and see how I go.

I’ll say a bit more about my talk on The Inspire’d Stage in my next post. In the meantime, you can watch it here.

Posted in Addiction, codependency, Dating, Health, Love, Relationships, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Finding Our Voice

“I intentionally get myself in situations beyond my ability and then rise to them”

This is an affirmation I picked up from a book I’m reading and working through – Barbara Stanny’s Overcoming Underearning.

It feels fitting for today, as I prepare a 10-minute talk I’m due to give on Monday evening on a London stage.

I’m one of the speakers on The Inspire’d Stage in Mayfair this Monday Sept 5. The Inspire’d Stage is a platform for inspirational, personal leadership, Ted-like talks. If you’re in London, I’d love to see you there. Some friendly, supportive faces in the audience will make all the difference. Check out the website – inspiredinlondon – for some videos of previous speakers, Monday’s line-up (also see below) and to buy tickets (£12.50). Tickets also available here.

Looking at that affirmation again, I know speaking for 10 minutes about my journey from addiction, an eating disorder and other self-harming behaviours to recovery and self-love isn’t “beyond my ability” as such. But it certainly challenges me. It takes me out of my comfort zone. It makes me feel a bit queezy.

This is all good stuff.

You know this, right? You know that the stuff that makes us feel a little sick to the stomach, that gives us chills and makes us want to run away fast is the stuff we really need to be doing? That phone call we don’t want to make. That conversation we don’t want to have. That piece of work we don’t want anyone to see. That big leap we don’t want to take. The stuff that scares us is what we need to do.

Not all the time. That would be system overload. I know for me, stepping up makes me want to instantly retreat. But the more I take big leaps, the more those big leaps start to feel like small steps. And the less they frighten me.

I do need to be prepared for the ‘afterburn’, though – that moment of self-doubt that kicks in as soon as I do something a bit different, as soon as I speak up or put myself out there.

That hit me this morning when I saw my write-up for Monday’s talk – the write-up I’d written myself – advertised on Facebook. I wanted to hide.

InspiredHere it is: Our second amazing speaker at Inspire’d Stage event on 5 th of September is : KATHERINE BALDWIN is a former international news journalist who once had a desk in parliament and a seat on the prime minister’s plane. At the same time, however, she was secretly binge eating and drinking, compulsively exercising and self-harming in other ways to help manage stress, numb fear, mask low self-esteem and to try to ignore the gaping hole between her job and her authentic self. One minute she was quizzing Tony Blair in a press conference in Shanghai, the next she was bingeing her way through the minibar of the plush, five-star hotel. Eventually, the pain got too great – Katherine’s shiny exterior cracked and she was signed off work. Following a rock bottom moment when she questioned the point of her life, Katherine found the courage and tools to walk away from her high-status role and to pursue her soul’s work rather than her ego’s work: using her experience to help others break free from whatever trap they’re in and to achieve their unique potential without pain or self-harm. Katherine is a freelance journalist and writer, motivational speaker and coach who’s been in addiction recovery for 13 years and who is passionate about the importance of being real. Her philosophy: if we’re all honest about what’s truly going on for us behind the mask – particularly high-achieving, outwardly successful and confident professionals – then we give others permission to do the same. The result: less stress, less self-harm, less addiction and less suicide, and more people living authentic, real, wholehearted, fulfilling lives. Katherine will soon graduate from the School for Social Entrepreneurs LLoyds Bank Start-Up programme, where she has been developing a social enterprise based around the importance of being real and authentic to break negative patterns and avoid self-defeating behaviours.”

I read that and I felt shame. Was that me? Did I write that? What will people think? Will I be laughed at and ridiculed? Who do I think I am?

You know that voice, right? The voice that wants to keep you small.

For me, it’s always there. I take a leap out of my comfort zone and it tells me to get back in my box where it’s cosy and warm. I put up the ad for The Inspire’d Stage and that voice tells me to take it down. I want to be visible but as soon as I’m visible, I feel shame.

But I don’t get back in my box or take the ad down.

I get on with preparing my talk and doing some long overdue work.

It’s time to get clear about my purpose, about the various hats I wear, about the skills I offer and about my income streams. It’s time to do some web design so I have two separate sites.

I now know that I need one for the ‘From Forty With Love’ work I do – this blog, the book I’m writing, the first-person articles I write (there’ll be one in Red magazine this Autumn on commitment phobia), the motivational talks and the relationship coaching I’m beginning to offer. More to follow on that. It’s exciting. This blog site could probably do with a bit of a revamp too. I’ve barely changed it in years.

And I need another website for my other hat – my PR coaching, consulting and copywriting – the work I do to help other individuals and businesses get their message out there, into the media and out into the world.

While there’s an umbrella that sits across the two – authentic storytelling – I’m targeting different markets so I need to keep things clear. I need to split my Twitter feeds too.

But first, I’ll give myself space to connect to my intuition, to what it is I’m supposed to say on Monday night. I deserve to give myself time to prepare well.

I hope to see you there. I’ll be alongside some fabulous speakers, plus you could bid for the wildcard and get out of your comfort zone. Why not? What have you got to lose?

The line-up:

SIMONE VINCENZI, The Purpose Strategist and award winning speaker is warmly welcomed back to Inspire’d. He is founder of GTex, former Michelin starred chef, and a man responsible for helping thousands of people using his own Purpose Awakening SystemTM.

LYNSEY BONELL, Much loved superstar of the UK Improv and stand up comedy circuit  is an actor, improviser and writer, who performs regularly in London. She has appeared internationally including: New York, Los Angeles, Sydney, Melbourne, Copenhagen. She has taken a number of shows to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as well.

KATHERINE BALDWIN, is a former international news journalist who once had a desk in parliament and a seat on the prime minister’s plane. She shares her story of secret binge eating and drinking to now working with self-harming high achievers.

UTTAM R MARAZ, fearless speaker from WARREN RYAN’s FEARLESS SPEAKERS ACADEMY he will tell us of the amazing transformation that he has been through to find happiness through the toughest beginnings of his mum death and father suicide.

KP FUSIONEERS, amazingly talented currently gigging all over London and promoting their new EP. They stole the show at the ”Spice of Life Open Mic” this month, and we are thrilled that they are going to be closing out the night for us.

WILDCARD, as always, the line up could also feature YOU! We are one of London’s only nights to have a unique opportunity for one person to be featured as the wildcard, where we select someone who would like to share their message on the night, and this slot is often very magical.

Posted in Addiction, Eating disorders, Empowerment, Relationships, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Them’ and ‘Us’

We’d crouch wide-eyed on the sand, our hands cupped under our chins, and watch with wonder as the Land Rovers filed past, towing behind them shiny, white speed boats containing excited, blonde-haired children in colourful swimsuits.

We’d watch as the tanned, handsome men at the wheel reversed the jeeps towards the water’s edge, deposited their cargo, then drove back up the slipway.

We’d wander around the smart caravan park, pointing out our favourite sports cars and picking out the chalets we wished we owned, the ones with the lovely decking and the steps down to the sand, before being treated to a very expensive, naughty-but-nice KnickerBockerGlory.

This was Abersoch, North Wales, in the 1970s, where wealthy Liverpudlians and Mancunians had their holiday homes and where we holidayed for a week or two over the summer, staying in the caravan we rented from my dad’s firm.

I loved it there, making shapes out of the sand, floating on a lilo, playing beach bowls, but those holidays also helped crystallise some very unhelpful ideas about ‘them’ and ‘us’.

The kids in the ‘them’ camp had speed boats, comfortable holiday homes and flash cars and they had a secure family unit with two parents still in it, or that’s how it looked on the outside. The girls were pretty with long, brown legs, glossy hair and gorgeous clothes.

We were in the ‘us’ camp, renting a caravan for a week, wondering whether our car would actually make it there, holidaying with mum but without dad. And I always felt wrong – dressed in the wrong clothes, too big or too small, my hair never quite right.

I see now that we were fortunate to have holidays at all. Lots of kids never went to the seaside. But my child’s mind couldn’t see that – it only saw the differences, what they had and what we didn’t.

This idea of ‘them’ and ‘us’ continued through school.

“Hands up all those pupils on free school meals,” the teacher said in my junior school.

I gingerly put my hand in the air, hoping nobody would see.

Then I went to a private, fee-paying senior school on a scholarship. Free school meals again and a top-notch education for free, while most other kids’ parents were paying. What a privilege. But I felt like the odd one out.

Oxford University didn’t help with my ‘them’ and ‘us’ complex. I was fortunate to fall in with a fabulous group of friends, many of them Northerners, which helped me feel more like I belonged. And although plenty of my pals came from families with lots of money, they weren’t the bragging type. But Oxford was a place of privilege – students whose parents were politicians or diplomats, academics, financiers, doctors or lawyers; students whose mums and dads lived in exotic places. Obviously this didn’t mean their lives were perfect, but my teenage mind struggled to see beyond the wealth, the outward confidence and the differences between their backgrounds and mine.

Then I ended up working in parliament, with a host of other Oxbridge types. I had the education, I had the Oxford degree, I had the Reuters salary and the flat in Islington, but I still didn’t feel like I belonged. I still felt like that girl crouched wide-eyed on the Abersoch sand. I still felt like the child who was terrified the money would run out and we’d end up hungry and homeless. I still felt like the 10-year-old who was ashamed she had a nice coat from C&A because she knew, she’d been told, we couldn’t actually afford it. I still felt like there was an ‘us’ and a ‘them’ and I’d never cross the great divide.

Now I’m living my dream by the seaside in Poole, which just happens to be brimming with wealth, yachts, fast cars and tanned, long-legged women in beautiful clothes.

And here I am, still with that chip on my shoulder (I used to call it my ‘northern’ chip but that’s a cop out – it’s just mine). Still with that ‘them’ and ‘us’ mindset. Still with the feeling you people with money are a different breed, despite the fact some of you are my friends. Still with this ingrained belief I’m one of the ‘have nots’, despite my relative wealth (flat in London, part-owner of a house in Poole, now driving a Mini Cooper S). Still struggling to make a decent, consistent living despite a considerable array of money-making skills and still searching for a way to stay on top of my finances and all the papers clogging up my office.

It’s clear to me now that it really doesn’t matter how much I earn or own, what needs to change is my mindset, that deep-ingrained belief that I’m not part of the ‘them’ crowd and never will be, as well as those other self-limiting beliefs I carry around: that it’s shameful to ask for money; it’s shameful to ask to be paid for my work; I don’t deserve to earn a decent wage for what I do; writers and creative people are always broke; I don’t understand money; I haven’t got a clue how to run a business, and so it goes on …

Something has to change.

Timetochange

In fact, something is changing.

I’m aware of my crazy money stuff and I’m so over it. I’m ready to get rid of that old mindset and build a new one. I’m angry now. And fed up.

I know it’s not going to be easy. Old habits are hard to change. But I know I need to try to take the following steps:

  • When someone offers me work, pause and reflect. Think very carefully about whether it fits with my values (more on values another day); think what purpose it serves (purely financial or if it’s taking me in the right direction); think carefully whether I am being fairly compensated for my time and talents
  • Follow the same process with how I spend my time – is this activity or event in my best interests? Does it serve a purpose or am I just running around trying to stay busy, clutching at straws or looking for the answers elsewhere when I know I’ve got them myself?
  • Spend more time connecting to my spirituality and faith – reading, writing, meditating and connecting to like-minded souls who are on a journey of self-awareness and self-discovery. Spend time working on affirmations and changing my mindset around money
  • Get clarity around my income and expenses and come up with a system I can maintain consistently. Plan what I need to earn as well as what I’d love to earn
  • Declutter, declutter, declutter – my clothes, my shoes, my office papers and my mind
  • Keep writing down my dreams, which for the immediate future, include: having enough spare money to buy my share of a campervan; buying a kayak or Stand Up Paddleboard; having a wardrobe of clothes that I love; managing my time so I have a good mix of work, play and holiday; publishing my book and getting coaching and writing work on the back of it around relationships and going for your dreams

That will do for now!

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it,” Albert Einstein said.

It seems I can’t rewire the part of my brain that formed when I was very young – the fear and shame will always want to kick in and hold me back. But I can lay down new wiring alongside it and then channel as much good stuff down those new wires as I can so the new beliefs start to shout louder than the old messages.

I am enough. There’s no shame in asking for money or having money. I deserve to live a happy, abundant life. I deserve nice things. There is no ‘them’ and ‘us’. I’ve already arrived. I belong. I have a right to be here. We are all equal.

Yes, it’s time to change my mindset.

What’s helping right now? Well, I’m reading Barbara Stanny’s book, ‘Overcoming Underearning’ and loving it. I’m doing the exercises and some of them have me in tears. Lots of lightbulb moments.

I’ve also just taken part in a visibility challenge via a Facebook page with the wonderful Nicola Humber that’s got me moving out of my comfort zone and doing a few more videos. I’m actually starting to enjoy video now, have fun with it, play with it, so I’m planning on doing more.

Here’s one I did this morning with a few basic tips on blogging. Enjoy!

 

Posted in Creativity, Spirituality, Uncategorized, Women, Work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why I go to therapy

Therapy has helped get me to where I am today, or most importantly where I was on Saturday and Sunday – playing in the sea with my partner, just a short drive from our new coastal home, thinking I absolutely love my life and I couldn’t possibly feel any happier.

It hasn’t all been down to therapy, but therapy has really helped.

Of course, it doesn’t always feel like this, as my friends and blog readers know only too well, but it feels good more often these days than it has done for a very long time and when it does, it’s important to acknowledge all the ‘work I’ve done on myself’ and to try to use my journey to help others take steps towards happiness by writing about it here and in my soon-to-be-finished (I hope!) book.

My therapeutic journey began in my early 30s after something prompted me to start to confess to my friends that I had very strange eating habits. I wouldn’t eat anything all day and then as soon as I poured a little bit of cereal into a small pot of yoghurt, an uncontrollable urge to binge gripped me and I couldn’t stop eating until the entire box was gone.

I’d been doing this all my life – secretly bingeing on food then doing anything I could to get rid of it, usually running for miles or taking back-to-back aerobics classes. The cycle went like this: starve, starve, starve as long as I could; binge, binge, binge on as much food as I could stomach; shame attack; hide; run, run, run; starve, starve, starve; binge …

For years, I chose to ignore it. I did it, but I didn’t think about it. It was part of me, but not something I wanted to own up to or was even aware of on a conscious level.

But that shifted after I hit 30, as I got ready to leave Brazil to move to London to start a job working for Reuters in parliament.

Most of my friends didn’t know what to say when I told them about my odd eating habits. They laughed along with me and were as bemused as I was. The first therapist I saw – in Brazil – wasn’t sure how to address my crazy food behaviours either, although he began delving into my past, opening a Pandora’s box (the lid definitely needed to come off and would have done, sooner or later).

One friend, though, knew exactly what it was all about. A recovering alcoholic, who’d been sober and attending recovery meetings for years, had lunch with me in London when he was passing through. I told him how I ate, how I couldn’t stop and how confused I was by it all and he suggested I attend a support group for compulsive overeaters, anorexics, bulimics and food addicts.

When I got there, it felt like I’d come home. These women, and a few men, sat in a circle in a room beside a church in Notting Hill, were sharing my story. They said how they went from store to store buying bags of food, pretending they were having a party, and then went home, shut the curtains, switched off the phone, ate everything in sight, then hid the evidence as best they could; how they ate when they were full and their stomachs hurt; how they ate food that was off or that they didn’t like; or how they put themselves in danger, bingeing when driving.

I’d done all this. I’d found my tribe. I was no longer alone.

It's the journey

My first therapist was a specialist in eating disorders and in the illness many experts agree lies at the root of eating disorders and other addictions: codependency. I went to see her for a good number of years and she helped me learn to eat normally and to manage my fear, anxiety and insecurity in healthy ways, rather than with food. I left when I felt I was no longer progressing with her. After my dad died, I saw a bereavement counsellor for a year or two – she helped me through that devastating time, but she could only take me so far. After that, I saw another therapist for a while, but, looking back, we weren’t the best fit, although it took me a long time to realise it and to have the courage to leave. Then, a few years ago, I began seeing my current therapist, whom I’ve been seeing ever since.

That’s a lot of therapy. And a lot of money. Is it worth it? Why do I do it? And is it not self-indulgent, all that talking about myself?

Sometimes I think it’s all of those things – too expensive, not worth it and self-indulgent.

But most of the time, I see how important it’s been in my progression from a self-harming, workaholic who was afraid to be herself or speak her truth, at work or at home, and who was so scared to love deeply she kept finding fault in men or running away from them, into the woman I am today – content in a beautiful relationship. Other things have helped – addiction recovery meetings, mindfulness and my rediscovery of the faith I had as a child. But therapy has challenged me and moved me forward hugely, particularly in the area I most wanted and needed to change: romantic relationships.

My therapist helped me see that I always found something wrong with the men I met, felt attracted to the unavailable types or pushed the good ones away because I was afraid of love, commitment and intimacy. He helped me commit to letting down my guard, to trying to love wholeheartedly and to staying the course. He helped me work through all the reasons from my past why I feared love and commitment. He helped me see love and commitment are a choice, and as I choose, the more the love grows.

And he’s helped me stay on track when I’ve had my wobbles since I committed to my relationship. Often, I’ll return from therapy and make amends to my partner, realising I’ve said something mean or behaved in a way that might push him away if he were a less patient and forgiving man. Now, I try to remember to look at my behaviour when I have the urge to point the finger at him, although I don’t always get it right.

My therapist has also got me to a place where I don’t need to see him as often – I can rely on myself much more and the other support mechanisms I’ve found – friends, support groups, prayer, meditation, sea swims etc. He’s talking himself out of a job, at least with me.

I’m not ashamed to say I go to therapy or that I’ve been going for many years. I don’t see it as a weakness. In fact, I see it as something to shout about.

We’re not all the same. What’s right for me isn’t necessarily right for others. I see that. But particularly in the area of love relationships, I believe the right therapist can be a great help. He or she can help us look at ourselves, do the work on ourselves and understand that the problem isn’t always with the other or that there isn’t necessarily an absence of eligible men or women in our world. He or she can help us explore our self-sabotaging behaviours that may keep us single or wreck our relationships. He or she can help us change the way we relate to our partner or the person we’re dating so we don’t push them away or cause the relationship to combust.

As for the expense, yes, it can be costly and not everyone has the funds. But for me, it’s always been an obvious choice, worth prioritising over most other things, worth sacrificing other things for.

I wonder if therapy, provided you get a good therapist, is a bit like swimming in the cold sea.

You’re not going to feel like it at first. You’re going to stand on the shore, looking at it, shivering, maybe dipping a toe in, then yanking it out. But once you’re all the way in, you’re always going to feel the benefit. You’re always going to look back and think that while it was painful at the start and you were wary of the experience, it was totally worth it in the end.

You’re never going to regret it.

Posted in Addiction, Body Image, codependency, Dating, Eating disorders, Love, Perfectionism, Recovery, Relationships, Self-Acceptance, Uncategorized, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

PR for the Petrified

Fear

Can I be real, authentic, open, honest, vulnerable AND a successful, credible businesswoman?

I hope so, because I don’t feel I have a choice. Not anymore.

This is a topic that’s on my heart and in my mind and that’s cropping up in conversations with some of my co-workers at our shared creative space, The Old School House in Boscombe, Bournemouth.

Can we share our struggles? Can we tell clients or prospective customers that while we have stellar CVs and tonnes of experience, we sometimes doubt ourselves, have crises of confidence, think we’re not up to the task, struggle with imposter syndrome and want to give it all up and go and do something far less challenging instead?

I believe we can. I believe we have to. I believe this is what makes us human, what connects us with others on a deep level. I believe this is what it’s all about.

I’d much rather hear the real story, the mess, the struggle and the failures than be presented with a highly polished façade that hides all the cracks underneath. I want authenticity from my friends, colleagues and role models and I hope that’s what people want from me. I won’t think any less of you if you tell me how difficult things are at times. In fact, I’ll feel closer to you, more connected to you. I’ll respect you more. You’ll inspire me more.

I pondered this dilemma yesterday – the dilemma of how to marry my professional journalist and PR coach persona with the heart-on-sleeve, From Forty With Love blogger in me – the vulnerable woman who writes on this page. I advertised a workshop I’m running next week – Own Your Own PR – where I plan to use my journalism and storytelling skills and my knowledge of the media to help people and businesses identify their unique story and get their message out into the world. Then I tweeted the link from my From40WithLove account and linked it to my new Facebook business page. That means that anyone interested in my PR workshop will have access to the other side of me too – they’ll be able to delve deep into my heart and soul and take a tour around my internal landscape by reading my blog, taking in all the peaks and troughs along the way.

Yikes, I thought. Should I not separate my two personas? Do I not undermine my credibility as a journalist and PR coach by letting everyone in on my inner battles?

But if I were to do that, I would be going against everything I believe in, because I believe passionately that it’s essential and urgent that we bring vulnerability and authenticity into our professional lives and into our conversations in the workplace. This is why I am on the School for Social Entrepreneurs Start-Up programme this year – to grow and develop into a social entrepreneur who writes and speaks on authenticity, vulnerability and the importance of being real; who coaches people to find and follow their authentic path and break free from their stressful, inauthentic, often self-harming patterns and lives; who encourages people to drop the mask and be real; who, like my hero Brené Brown, takes this message into schools and workplaces, sharing my own struggles at work and at home and thereby giving people permission to do the same, to speak up, to own their truth, hopefully saving themselves some heartache and pain or an emotional breakdown in the process.

So no, I can’t send out two messages or split myself down the middle. I need to be authentic, true and whole, for my own benefit and for the benefit of others.

This is my resolve, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been hit by waves of shame after taking a step towards visibility – who do I think I am? I’ve got it wrong. I’d be better off staying small. Everyone will be pointing a finger and laughing at me (despite knowing, deep down, you’ve all got far better things to do!).

It’s helpful to know that what I’m suffering from is what Brené Brown calls a ‘vulnerability hangover’ in her fabulous Ted talk on shame. Or as I called it in a Facebook post yesterday, the ‘afterburn’.

It’s helpful to listen to that talk and realise I’m not alone in suffering from ‘afterburn’, to realise that by taking an emotional risk I am being courageous and I am, as Brené Brown says, at “the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”

It’s also helpful to hear her speak the Theodore Roosevelt quote that reminds me I’m a winner because I’ve shown up, I’ve taken action, I’ve put myself out there.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat”

And it’s helpful to hear her affirm that vulnerability is the answer to disconnection, self-harm, addiction, perfection and the excruciating pattern of analysis-paralysis:

“If we’re going to find our way back to each other, vulnerability is going to be that path. And I know it’s seductive to stand outside the arena, because I think I did it my whole life, and think to myself, I’m going to go in there and kick some ass when I’m bulletproof and when I’m perfect. And that is seductive. But the truth is, that never happens. And even if you got as perfect as you could and as bulletproof as you could possibly muster when you got in there, that’s not what we want to see. We want you to go in. We want to be with you and across from you. And we just want, for ourselves and the people we care about and the people we work with, to dare greatly.”

Finally, it’s helpful to realise that I learn by doing even if I make mistakes, not by pondering, not by analysing, not by waiting. I learned how to be in a relationship by getting into the muddle and being in a relationship. I learned how to love by loving and being loved. And I learn how to do my work by doing my work. I learn what direction I want to go in by picking a direction and seeing if that works out. I learn what niche I want to be in by beginning with no niche or starting with one niche and then switching to another. It’s fine to experiment.

And by experimenting, I’ve come up with an idea of where I might want to focus my PR work:

PR FOR THE PETRIFIED

PR for the Petrified: Helping those amongst us who have something they really want and need to say, something they’re incredibly passionate about and need the world to know, but who are wracked by self-doubt, fear, self-questioning and those voices in their head that tell them to keep quiet and stay small. Those of us who really want to blog, write a magazine piece or be featured on TV but are too scared to give it a go. I’d like to help people walk through their fears and get their message out there even if they’re trembling when they pick up the telephone or when their fingers hit the keyboard.

And why do I think I can do this?

Because I’ve been there.

 

Posted in Creativity, Perfectionism, Self-Acceptance, Women, Work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Being real

I’ve brought the wrong speech, I thought, as I stared at the four pages of A4 in front of me and looked up at the audience. I’ve definitely brought the wrong speech. What now?

I’d written nearly 3,000 words on the topic of ‘Becoming Whole’ for a talk I was giving to the Mothers’ Union in a church hall in Brockenhurst, a beautiful village in the New Forest in Hampshire.

I’d opened with a scene from my political journalism days, a reporting trip I was on with Tony Blair. I’d described how we’d arrived in a hotel in Shanghai, checked in and been shown to our rooms. Then once in my plush suite, I’d made a beeline for the minibar, shoving huge chunks of chocolate into my mouth followed by handfuls of salty peanuts, before sitting down to write my story, panicked, frantic, scared of making a mistake. Later, I’d gone down to dinner with my press colleagues and tucked into a large banquet, before running back to my room and diving onto the chocolates the maid had left on the pillow. Nothing left to eat, I’d collapsed in tears.

On the outside, I’d written, I was a journalist for Reuters with a desk in parliament and a seat on the prime minister’s plane. On the inside, I was a mess – full of fear, insecurity, anxiety, imposter syndrome and using binge eating as a crutch to cope with the feelings and get by.

I’d described other painful rock bottom moments – on my knees, by the side of my bed, in floods of tears, asking, “What’s the point?” and then “God, if you exist, can you show me what the point is, please?” Times of loneliness, depression and grief, triggered by losing my Dad or the end of a relationship. My brief flirtation with anti-depressants.

I’d also written about the gradual process of becoming more whole, of my years in recovery from addictive behaviours, of quitting a job in which my soul had gone to sleep and slowly finding a way to do work that was aligned with my authentic self, at least some of the time. Then, towards the end, I’d encouraged my audience to be real, to be authentic, to share their struggles, to open up about their difficulties, to identify the desires of their heart and go after them. By being real, I’d written, we give others the permission to do the same. We all feel less alone, saving heartache, stress, loneliness and self-harm.

Only I’d written the wrong talk. The audience of respectable Christian pensioners* (see note below) sat before me wasn’t going to relate to this. Eating disorders, self-harm, binge drinking, the pursuit of a fantasy Mr Right, dating guys who didn’t treat me right, running away from those who did, compulsive working, an existential crisis, questioning the point of my life. And they certainly weren’t going to relate to the part about me hitting 40 without kids and now being 45 and coming to terms with the fact motherhood probably won’t happen. It’s the Mothers‘ Union, after all.

No, these themes definitely weren’t for the ears of the lovely ladies of Brockenhurst and its surrounding villages and towns. These were women of immense faith and with a strong sense of purpose, I said to myself, sure of their identity and committed to a cause. They weren’t flaky or ambivalent. They didn’t have a backstory of struggle, self-harm and feeling lost. Plus, they were of a different generation. And they’d all had kids. How could they relate to my world?

I looked down at my notes again. I’d better cut out most of my talk, skip over the unpleasant bits and stick to the successful journalist, writer, blogger, teacher part, I thought. These women, I heard as the Chair read out the notices, baked huge numbers of cakes, raised lots of money, put on events for local families, supported the community and worked hard to improve the lives of others, particularly those most in need. The story I’d planned to tell felt selfish, self-indulgent in comparison.

I began with a joke about my red jeans, white top, red cardy and red scarf – my clothes seemed so much brighter than everyone else’s. I stood out like a sore thumb. England was playing so I was in my team’s colours, I laughed, and I was born in Liverpool, so I’m used to wearing red and white.

I then said I’d written something down but was unsure about reading it, but I’d decided to read it anyway, believing it was what I was supposed to stay.

So we arrive in Shanghai … minibar … chocolate … low self-esteem … self-harm … binge eating … binge drinking … throwing up … stress … fear of commitment … singleness … what’s the point? … addiction … recovery … now in a relationship … living by the sea … no kids … being real …

Silence. All eyes on me.

They’re either listening intently or they can’t believe I’m saying all this and can’t connect with it at all. I’m not sure what to think but I’m in my flow now, speaking loud and with confidence, as my Dad always did, looking around the room, into their eyes.

I start to wrap up, encouraging my listeners to be real, to be open about their struggles, to feel the feelings, let them out. I’m sure you already are, I say, slightly apologising for what I’d dared to say. And even if what I’ve said isn’t relevant to you, I add, apologetically again, perhaps you have a daughter or a son or a friend who’s struggling and needs to open up to you. By showing some of your own vulnerability, you can help them.

I finish and it’s time for Q and A – that moment of silence when you’re convinced nobody’s going to speak up. But they do.

badthingsThey’re stunned, absolutely stunned, they say, that I could be so brave as to turn up to a room of total strangers and bare my soul. Thank you for being so honest, so real, they say. Then some of them share their struggles, out loud, with the room. Struggles from the past or from the present day.

After the talk, ladies come to speak to me and share more of their stories, more of their realness, about their own eating disorder, about an abusive relationship, or about the struggles of their son or daughter. They tell me they’ve just been speaking with each other too, prompted by my talk – about loss, divorce, sadness and how they’ve questioned God. Not all of the ladies in the Mothers’ Union have children, I’m told. And there are men in the Mothers’ Union too. Who knew?

I’m humbled, humbled that so many of these lovely pensioners* (see note below) were touched by my talk, so touched they felt able to share something of themselves. I’m also surprised, surprised at the judgement I made as soon as I walked in and sat down, forming my opinion of them based on what I saw on the outside rather than looking inside, almost allowing my mistaken assumption that I was separate and different from them to stop me being real, rather than trusting what I know is true – that as humans, we all struggle, we all experience heartache and pain, some people just hide it better than others.

I’m delighted I said what I’d gone there to say rather than cut out all the tough bits and stick to the superficial. And I’m delighted it went down so well and it inspired and encouraged others to be real.

I now know I’m on the right path. I just need to move forward. I need to walk the walk. That involves pursuing my purpose, boldly, through writing and doing more of what I did last night, on a bigger stage. It involves being brave, being heard, being seen, breaking through, breaking free, being real.

So I’m about to start a Facebook page to advertise this side of what I do – speaking and writing about transformation, my own and other people’s, and the value of being real. And I’m about to start a Facebook group to build support for these ideas. Only, surprise, surprise, I’m stuck – stuck on the name.

Be Real, Be Heard, Be Whole

Be Real, Break Through

Be Real, Be Heard, Break Through (or Break Free) …

Answers on a postcard please …

I do this. I do this to myself. I fixate on the minutiae, the tiny things I can obsess about, the things I want to be perfect. It’s a distraction, a distraction from the fear I feel about being seen, being heard, living my purpose. I fear I’ll be judged and ridiculed. I fear I’ll fall flat on my face and you’ll laugh. I fear I’ll be wasting my time. But I had similar fears last night in Brockenhurst and they didn’t come true, so I’m taking courage from that. It’s time for my own breakthrough.

So thank you to the Mothers’ Union and to all those who came to hear me for confirming I have a gift for being real, for baring my soul and for inspiring others to do the same.

It’s a gift that deserves to used, to be seen.

*Since posting, I’m reminded the Mothers’ Union has members of a range of ages and that the term ‘pensioners’ can carry negative connotations. I’m sorry if my use of the term reinforced any unhelpful stereotypes. The ladies sat before me that night, as I learned from hearing their notices, are sprightly, active, energetic and hard-working and the MU has many younger members too. This has got me thinking about generalisations, perceptions and the ideas we associate with words.

Posted in Addiction, Childless, Eating disorders, Empowerment, Faith, Women | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Choosing hope

Yesterday, I felt my life was meaningless because I didn’t have children.

That feeling doesn’t hit me very often. And it hasn’t hit me for a while. As you’ll have read on this blog, my life has been changing in huge, happy, extraordinary ways. I have allowed myself to fall in love. I have moved out of London to live by the seaside. And I have bought a beautiful home with my gorgeous guy. I now drive a mini, cycle to the beach, swim in the sea and hang my laundry out in the breeze. And I’m cuddled, hugged and kissed every day. As much as I loved many aspects of London, my Islington attic flat and my single, woman-about-the-town life, living in Dorset really suits me.

But I couldn’t see all that good stuff yesterday. I could only see what was missing, what I didn’t have.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been meeting lots of wonderful ladies down here who are doing amazing, creative things and living beautiful, inspiring, authentic lives. It’s been a real blessing and a very pleasant surprise. I feared I was moving to a backwater where there’d be few like-minded souls. I was wrong. They are here in abundance.

Only many of these wonderful women I’m meeting are doing incredible, inspiring, courageous things AND they have children. They are doing the kind of work I’m trying to do – their soul’s work; work that uses their true strengths; work that helps others. They’re coaching, teaching, counselling, speaking, writing and building fantastic communities. But at the same time, they are bringing up little ones, teaching them to speak and read, holding their tiny hands, watching them walk for the first time, or they’re parenting their teenagers through their GCSEs and driving them to festivals. I can’t imagine how challenging and rewarding it must be at the same time.

Hearing all this and seeing it, I felt sad, different, alone, like there was something wrong with me. I felt I was missing out on one of life’s greatest miracles. And I don’t like missing out on anything. I hate missing a party, never mind a momentous experience.

And what was I doing instead of bringing up kids? Well, I’d spent the morning struggling to write my book – rewriting what I’d written before, then looking back and thinking the first version was better; pulling my hair out as I stared at the 30,000 words I’ve got and decided they weren’t up to scratch. Why can’t I write my book like I write my blog? Why does my voice have to change? Why can’t I do it? Why can’t I finish it? Why can’t I be happy with what I’ve written? Swear words ended up in my book manuscript yesterday as I ranted onto the computer screen – I’d better edit those out.

And what about the other work I want to do – speaking about transformation, my own and other people’s; writing about it; mentoring and coaching others to lead authentic, true, real lives. Why aren’t I doing that? Why am I just talking about it? Why don’t I start? What am I so afraid of? And why can’t I earn a decent living from this abundance of gifts I’ve been blessed with?

I was angry. Very angry.

Then, later on, I saw people who, from the outside, seemed to me to be doing their soul’s work in an enthusiastic, inspired way. And they were all mothers on top of that. I felt flat, low, a little bit dead inside. Once alone, I started to cry. I’m depressed, I thought, the first thing I always think when my mood spirals down.

IMG_2787

I took my tears to the beach with me, stretched out on the sand fully clothed, put my hands over my face and sobbed for quite a long time. Then I got into my wetsuit, put on my swimming gloves, booties, two hats and goggles, waded into the water and swam for ages. As I swam, I started to feel better. The endorphins, I thought. They’re good for me. Part of my low mood could be my erratic hormones, which seem to be growing more erratic with age. Let’s get my serotonin up with a bit of exercise.

It was the longest I’d swum in ages and the first time I’d been in the sea for weeks. It’s on my doorstep, I have a wetsuit and I hadn’t been in. What’s that all about? Why do I struggle to do the stuff that makes me feel good? I guess because I’m human, that’s why, but it’s still annoying.

When I’d had enough, I decided to see how cold the water was so I took off my gloves, booties, hats and wetsuit and dived under. Cool, fresh, freeing. My sadness wasn’t cured, but I felt considerably brighter.

This morning, my mood was still low. The tears were there, just behind my eyes. I could have stayed in bed. I could have stayed at home in my pjs. I could have cried. But I recognised I had a choice. So I put on a bright red dress and an even brighter yellow cardigan, threw my wet swimsuit and a few towels into the back of my mini for a swim after work and drove to my shared office space, via a bench overlooking the beach where I did 10 minutes meditation.

On the way, I called a friend, a dear friend who’s going through her own difficult time and who’s had her fair share of struggles over the years but who, in the most inspiring way, is choosing hope. Every day. As best she can. She’s out there, making things happen, enjoying all the amazing things and people in her life, turning her challenges into transformation.

She reminded me I have a choice. I have a choice to focus on what I don’t have, on the mistakes I may have made, the regrets I might have, the age I am and what I think might be missing in my life. Or I can embrace what I do have – a partner, love, lots of joy, a home by the beach, my health and strength, a new life that’s opening up in so many ways, new and old friends, my family (of origin), freedom. I can choose misery or I can choose hope. I get to choose my inner weather, as my friend said.

It’s not an easy choice. I can argue the case for misery really well. I’ve got this line I keep using about my gravestone. ‘What would I rather have written on my gravestone? That Katherine wrote a really great book and enjoyed a lot of peace and quiet lying on the beach in the sunshine? Or Katherine brought up amazing children and loved her large family deeply? What’s more meaningful? What’s more worthwhile?’

But I know it’s not as black or white as that. With or without children, I have absolute confidence that they’ll always be able to write the words ‘loved deeply’ on my gravestone, if I have a gravestone. ‘Family’ too, whatever its shape or size.

Now, I don’t want to dismiss my pain and grief about kids because it’s going to be there. Feelings are there to be felt and I know too well the dangers of sweeping them under the carpet or stuffing them down with food. But I also need to be a little bit suspicious of mine.

For a start, I’m pretty sure, if I had kids, that there’d be days when I’d wake up feeling miserable, depressed and wondering what my life was for. Is this true, mothers? Do you sometimes ask what the point is? Do you sometimes feel your life has no meaning? Or are you too busy and exhausted to even think about it? I’m pretty sure I would because that’s my make-up. I think like that. I have existential crises, trying to work it all out, figure out why I’m here and what my purpose is. My mood swings. When I’m up, I’m really up, but sometimes I dip.

I’m also suspicious about the timing of my grief. It’s hit me just when I’m at what I call a ‘rockbottom’ and what my therapist calls a ‘breakthrough moment’ in my work. I’m at the point where I really need to step out and do the work I’m supposed to do, with visibility – writing, speaking, inspiring, coaching. I need to finish and self-publish my book and promote it as widely as I can – I am no longer waiting for an agent or publisher to hold my hand; I’m going to take responsibility for it myself – and I need to speak and write about my own transformation and other people’s wherever I can. I need to face my fears, be visible and start earning what I deserve from doing what I love and what I’m meant to do, rather than shying away, staying small, treading water and relying on my old ways.

So it’s convenient that just at this moment I’ll be struck down with motherhood grief and hit by waves of sadness about the life I could have lived. It’s handy that just when I need to step out and be seen, my sadness will pin me to the bed and keep me indoors. It’s not surprising that just when I need all the strength I can muster, my tears will drain my energy.

Again, I’m not denying the feelings or the pain but I’m accepting that at 45, the ship of natural motherhood has likely sailed and that there’s probably a different plan for my life. I say ‘likely’ and ‘probably’ because we’re never quite ready to give it up, are we? At least I’m not. Partly because I always think other people’s life experiences are better and more worthwhile than mine and I don’t ever dare to think I’ve made the right choice or that things have worked out as they should. It’s not helpful but I’ve always thought like that.

The fact is, though, most of us don’t get the lives we mapped out for ourselves. We don’t expect to still be single at whatever age, get sick, lose loved ones or end up in accidents. But we all get a choice about how we react to our circumstances, whether we let them push us down or whether we rise up. And there are plenty of men and women out there who have the most incredible stories of triumph and hope, despite terrible circumstances.

I know that part of my plan is to embrace my life and do the work I’m supposed to do, shine not hide, be seen and heard, make a difference in my own way, live a life of freedom, acceptance, abundance and joy so I can show others it’s possible and help them to achieve the same thing.

So here I am, in my red dress and yellow cardy, with my swimsuit in the back of my mini and the tears not so close to the surface as they were before. That’s thanks to my determination, grit and self-awareness, to my dear friend Mimes and the way she’s choosing hope and to something I read in my meditation book today: that sometimes our problems or whatever is holding us back can feel overwhelming but it’s just about doing the next right thing, taking the next action, today, just for today.

I’ve done that. I began to set up a Facebook page to advertise what I do: I write and speak about transformation, my own and other people’s, about the power of authenticity, vulnerability, about the journey to becoming whole and the importance of being real, and I inspire and help others to lead authentic lives.

This blog is part of that. It always has been.

TransformationRealBigger

 

Posted in Childless, Fertility, Happiness, Infertility, Love, Mentoring, Recovery, Self-Acceptance, Trust, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments