The danger of ‘if only’ thinking

girlpeeringthroughwindow

I spent a lot of my childhood peering through other people’s windows, both literally and metaphorically, wishing that my life was more like theirs.

Wishing I lived in their house.

Wishing I had their parents.

Wishing I had their clothes.

Wishing I had her body.

Wishing I had her face or her hair.

Wishing I had her name.

I actually told my primary school teacher once that I’d changed my name to Karen because I wanted to be Karen, a pretty blonde schoolmate of mine who, through my nine-year-old eyes, seemed to have the perfect looks and the perfect life.

I remember telling a barefaced lie to the teacher, saying that I’d filled in the forms and jumped through the legal loopholes and I was now, officially, Karen Baldwin. I started to write Karen Baldwin on my school work. I was a good girl so I must have wanted to be Karen quite desperately to tell fibs.

I feel sad remembering that.

I didn’t want to be me.

I didn’t want my life.

I thought I’d be happier as someone else or with someone else’s life.

Many years on and despite so much change and personal development work – thanks to which I am now happily married, living a pretty cool life by the beach, working at something I love and writing books – I’m sorry to say that I spend too much time looking at other people’s lives, wondering if I’d be happier if I had what that person had.

In other words, living in the ‘if only’.

It’s a dangerous place to be.

It’s a drain on my precious time, energy and resources.

It’s addictive.

And, like any addiction, if I keep it up, it’ll rob me of joy, make my life unmanageable and, ultimately, drive me and those around me up the wall.

I know for sure that I’ll look back in 10 or 20 years time and think …

‘If only I’d lived in the present.

If only I’d enjoyed the moment.

If only I’d appreciated all that I had, all that I was and all that my body could do for me.

If only I’d put my energy into changing the things I could change rather than ruminating about the things that I couldn’t.’

My ‘if only’ thinking gets especially triggered when I see what, on the outside, looks like the perfect family down on the beach, which I see quite often living here on the Dorset coast. Beautiful mum, good-looking dad, gorgeous kids and a dog, laughing together at the water’s edge. It gets triggered even more when spritely grandparents rock up to lend support, followed by another perfect looking mum and dad with their kids. It’s even worse when the second family shows up on a boat.

Buckets, spades, sandwiches, smiles and Prosecco.

So I stare at them and ponder what my life would be like if I had kids, naturally assuming that it would be better, that I’d be happier, more content, more fulfilled, less in my head; that I’d feel a greater sense of belonging, more valid, more valuable, more part of the human race.

I have no idea whether this would be true. It could be that I’d be stressed out, anxious, exhausted, depleted and longing for some peace and quiet. And it could be that even if I had a perfect looking family, I’d still carry the same wound inside – the wound that makes me look everywhere for an elusive sense of belonging; the wound that makes me question my life even when it’s going well; the wound that leaves me feeling never enough, despite so much good stuff.

Who knows?

We’ll never know.

But what I do know is that I’ll waste my life and miss out on the joy of the present if I spend my time living in my head, in the ‘if only’ or the ‘what if’.

This isn’t to say that there isn’t a place for acknowledging our sadness about the things that haven’t come to pass, about the desires and dreams that may have died. It’s so important to allow our feelings to the surface. If we push them down or stuff them down (for example, with food, as I used to do), they’ll get stuck. They’ll turn murky and noxious. They’ll come out sideways, in angry swipes at ourselves or someone else, usually those closest to us (my poor husband!).

Plus, grief comes and goes. The feelings come and go. We can’t grieve on demand. It might hit us when we’re least expecting it. We deserve to be gentle with ourselves.

But what I’m now noticing, more than ever before, is how addictive and damaging this ‘if only’ thinking can be.

It takes me away from myself. It takes me away from reality and off into a fantasy world, which was, of course, its purpose when I was young. ‘If only’ thinking was a survival mechanism back when I was small, but it’s long past it’s sell-by date. It doesn’t serve me anymore.

And I don’t want to look back in 10 or 20 years with regret because I didn’t appreciate what I had and was always longing for something else. I don’t want to look back and ponder all the things I could have done if I hadn’t spent my time dreaming about the ‘what if’.

My desire is to accept, embrace and cherish my life as it is today.

My desire is to move forwards, not be hampered by looking back.

My desire is to make the most of everything I have and everything I am, rather than watch my energy drain away as I keep wishing I was something I’m not.

My desire is to be free of the ‘if only’.

How am I going to make this happen?

I have three ideas for now (no doubt more will come):

Gratitude

Although I’ve known for years that a daily gratitude practice is helpful, I’ve never actually stuck to one. It’s been a long time since I regularly wrote lists of things I’m grateful for. So I’m going to do that. I’m going to endeavour to write my gratitude list every day.

Boundaries

I’m going to aim to have better boundaries around my thinking. I need to bottom line rumination and ‘if only’ musings. When my mind strays into that territory, I promise to bring it back to the now, to the moment. What steps can I take today to fully embrace and enjoy my life?

I did this yesterday on a hike back from the beach. I was walking down a beautiful pathway, worrying about something that hadn’t happened and was probably never going to happen, when I noticed what I was doing.

No more, I thought. No more living in my head and missing the moment. I brought myself back to the here and now by observing the green of the leaves and the brown of the bark and seeing the sunlight shine through the tree canopy.

And it worked. It really worked.

Seeing myself as a spiritual being, united with other beings.

I’ve been doing Deepak Chopra’s 21-Day Abundance Meditation Challenge and the meditation that spoke to me the most was about the unity of life. We are all one, part of a whole, connected to each other. If I can hold on to that, Deepak says, the concepts of rivalry and competition will disappear. I believe that ‘if only’ thinking will disappear too. Because we are all one. We are all connected. Children and mothers and grandparents and childless women and men and childfree people and those who struggle and those who don’t, those who have boats and big houses and those who don’t. We are all connected. We are all one. There is no difference.

If I can believe this, truly and wholeheartedly embrace this, I can free myself from the trap of ‘if only’ thinking and truly inhabit my beautiful life.

I wonder, dear reader, what’s your experience of ‘if only’ thinking?

Is it a drain on your happiness?

Does it steal joy from your life?

Does it hijack your ability to be present?

And how can you free yourself from its trap?

 

***

 

One more ‘if only’ …

If only I had more than 50 reviews on Amazon on my How to Fall in Love book, I could submit it to a promotional platform so that it could be more widely distributed! I’m at 41.

Thank you so much to those of you who’ve left a review. It really is wonderful to read them and so humbling that so many people have taken the time to write one. If you’d like to contribute to my efforts to reach more people with my words, you can leave a review on Amazon here.

And if you’d like to know what I’m up to – courses, retreats and so forth – sign up to my regular Love Letters on my website, www.katherinebaldwin.com.

Thank you, as always, for reading and for your support x

Posted in Addiction, Childless, Eating disorders, Happiness, Love, Recovery, Relationships, Self-Acceptance, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

To control or to trust? That is the question

Copy of Control_Trust - FBDo you trust the outcome or do you try to control it?

I confess that despite many years of personal development, healing and growth, I still find myself trying to do the latter.

Trying to control the outcome.

Trying to control what people think of me.

Trying to control everyone and everything so that I feel “safe”.

I have a huge need to feel safe, because I felt so unsafe when I was small.

I feel safe when I’m liked, when I’m approved of, when I’m loved (ideally universally loved, if that’s not too much to ask).

And I feel unsafe when people are angry with me, displeased with me or disapproving of me.

Of course, none of us like being disliked or being shouted at.

This is normal.

What’s problematic is when we have such a huge need to feel safe that we contort ourselves into strange shapes, bend over backwards and adopt a false self in order to avoid other people’s negative opinions, displeasure or anger (this is codependency, which I wrote about in a previous post).

Little Ms Perfect

I try to control things and people by endeavouring to be Ms Perfect.

I try to control things and people by not speaking the whole truth.

I try to control things and people by breaking the self-loving, self-caring boundaries that are so important for my emotional and mental wellbeing.

In the past, I tried to control my dating journey and romantic relationships by being what the guy needed me to be, instead of being true to myself.

To trust feels scary to me.

I grew up feeling like I didn’t have a backstop or a safety net.

I felt that I had to be responsible for absolutely everything – not just my own feelings but another’s too; not just my own wellbeing, but another’s too.

It felt like there would be nobody to catch me if I fell.

No wonder I developed controlling behaviours.

No wonder I’ve struggled to trust – to trust myself, to trust others, to trust God, to trust the Universe, to trust that everything will work out as it’s meant to work out and that I’ll be OK, to trust that I’ll survive.

At what cost?

I’m writing this because I felt myself becoming controlling in the run-up to the launch of my latest course, How to Fall in Love – Laying the Foundations, which began this week.

I wanted to control the number of women on the course, and control their experience of the course, rather than trusting that the right people would take the course and that enough people would join the course to make it a wonderful experience for everyone.

Of course, I care too.

I care deeply about delivering a fabulous course. I care deeply that my clients have a transformative experience.

This is important.

And this is why I’m very good at what I do (there – I said it!).

But, and I’m sure you can relate to this, we can care too much, can’t we?

As in, we can care so much about others’ feelings or about delivering something that’s near perfect that we don’t care enough about ourselves.

And we pay a high price for this.

This has been one of my biggest learnings over the years and remains a huge challenge – to trust, to let go of control, to believe that I am enough and that I have done enough and to trust that everyone will get what they need.

My control took me to burnout and breakdown in my first career as an international journalist.

I don’t want to go there again.

That’s why I changed my plan this weekend.

When we trust, we allow things to flow

I’d intended, on Sunday, to stay home and get ready for Monday and the start of my course, to tidy my office and “organise my life” (“organise my life” is often on my To Do list).

But I saw the sunshine and I felt the call of the outdoors, so I took off on a hike and to swim off the rocks.

I let go of control and I made myself happy, as you can see from my smiley face on this video.

And as I was out in nature, making myself happy, several people signed up to my course, creating a lovely-sized group.

I needn’t have worried after all.

So, how can you cultivate a little more trust in your life and let go of some of the control?

How can you surrender what others’ think of you and trust that you are enough, and that you have done enough?

If you’re looking for inspiration, you might want to visit or revisit the first two chapters of my book, How to Fall in Love.

For me, this is a healing journey that will never end.

It’s a journey of building up my emotional resilience (what I call my inner oak tree) and of making myself feel as safe as I can, so that I don’t crave a feeling of safety from others; a journey of learning to trust myself every day and to trust that I’ll be taken care of, without needing to control everyone and everything; a journey of accepting, deep down, that it’s safe to be myself.

Are you on this healing journey too?

***

A favour to ask, dear readers. If you enjoyed my book, How to Fall in Love, I would be so grateful if you’d take five minutes to leave a review on Amazon here. I am trying to hit 50 reviews to that I can distribute the book via a different platform and reach more readers. I have 38, which is already amazing!

And, a second favour. If you feel minded to do so, could you please subscribe to my YouTube channel here. I’m trying to hit 100 subscribers so that I can incorporate my name into the link. I have 90!

Finally, if you’d like to know what I’m up to – courses, retreats and so forth – sign up to my regular Love Letters on my website, www.katherinebaldwin.com.

Thank you, as always, for reading and for your support x

Posted in Addiction, codependency, Dating, Perfectionism, Recovery, Relationships, Self-Acceptance, Women | Tagged | Leave a comment

The regrets of the living

IMG_6010

This morning’s shell (to be returned to the sea very soon)

I held by breath and dived down to retrieve a shell from the seabed, watching the sand cloud around my fingers.

It was an unremarkable shell, yet remarkable all the same – remarkable for the journey of formation it had been on.

It was an unremarkable day too. Grey and breezy, with rain in the air. Yet remarkable simply for being another day.

I’d thought twice about taking my early morning swim.

Earlier, I’d stood peering out of the glass kitchen doors into the gloomy garden, pulling my dressing gown in closer as I watched the leaves on the trees dance in the wind. I could stay here in the warm. I could lie on my yoga mat, stretch, breathe and meditate.

But you never regret it, Katherine. You never regret going in the sea.

So I did.

Towards the end of my dip, I removed my top-layer swimming cap, and then the cap I wore underneath, and plunged my head into the cold water. I then lay on my back for a while, enjoying the familiar brain freeze that calms the washing machine in my mind.

I’d thought twice about doing that too. Getting my hair wet always had a big impact on my body temperature. It would be sensible to keep my head covered on a day like today. I’d shiver afterwards.

But you never regret it, Katherine.

So I did.

As I took my final gentle strokes, careful not to aggravate the lingering chest pain I wrote about in my previous post, this blog came into my mind.

I would write about my dive down to the seabed, about the fact that I get to do this before I start work, about the miracles I’ve made happen in my life – the career I have transformed, the relationship I have built, the book I have written and the books I am writing, the schedule that is my own, and the new home by the sea I have made with my husband.

I thought about the things I never regret – swimming in the sea; putting my head under; doing most forms of exercise outdoors; spending time writing my books or this blog.

And I thought about the book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying by Bronnie Ware, which I haven’t read in full but which I feel like I know by heart, because the regrets are so familiar:

I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

I wish that I had let myself be happier.

These regrets of the dying are similar to the ones I feel today – my regrets of the living. They are the regrets I’m on course to have later in life unless I change things now.

I know that …

I’ll regret working too hard; spending too long at my computer or on my phone.

I’ll regret not making enough time and space for my husband, friends and family members and not having more of the courageous, authentic conversations that I know break down walls and catapult us into a deeper relationship.

I’ll regret keeping myself separate from groups and sabotaging my desire to feel like I belong, out of fear of people and fear of life.

I’ll regret that I frequently questioned and doubted myself, using up huge amounts of energy and time.

I’ll regret that I waited too long to get a dog and a cat.

I’ll regret that I allowed fear and control to run my business, thereby sabotaging my ability to earn the money to buy a campervan or go on some amazing adventures. I’ll get there in the end, but I’ll regret that it took me so long.

I’ll regret that I didn’t dance more and that I didn’t sing more.

I’ll regret that it took me so long to know the names of stars and birds and flowers.

I’ll regret that it took me so many years and so much inner healing to spread my writing wings and publish a string of novels, non-fiction books and poems. 

I’ll regret that I delayed and procrastinated over strengthening my body and changing my diet to resolve the pain I’ve felt for years.

I’ll regret that I didn’t spend enough time playing, simply playing.

I’ll regret that I allowed fear and indecision to slow my forward progression in all areas of my life.

I’ll regret that I didn’t invest in myself more, buy myself more gifts and allow money to simply flow in and out of my life, instead of clinging to it out of fear. 

At the end of my life, I’d like to be able to say that Je ne regrette rien.

I’d like to sing, Regrets, I had a few, but then again too few to mention.

But I fear that won’t be true.

Of course, there are so many things I don’t regret, too many to list in this post.

Despite the craziness of my 20s and 30s, I don’t regret the places I visited, the people I met and the adventures I had. I don’t regret the rocks I jumped off, the boats I back-flipped off, the mountains I climbed and the canyons I trekked. I don’t regret the flings and the deeper relationships, even though many of them hurt.

I don’t regret the wonderful memories because they are part of me, a reflection of my adventurous spirit. And I don’t regret the less pleasant ones because there was nothing I could have done about them.

I was blind. I was on the run, from myself and my feelings. I was chasing highs as well as lows.

But I’m not blind anymore. I can see. And I can see very clearly.

I can see that I’m in the second half of my life. I can see that the years are passing quickly. I can see that I am the architect of my troubles today – even if the roots of those troubles lie in my distant past – and that I am the one who can build a better life. I can see that I have everything in me – all the learning, the ability, the skills, the emotional intelligence, the healing, the maturity and the courage – to do some extraordinary things.

To write those books, to take those trips, to buy myself those gifts, to declutter the house, to welcome the kitten and the puppy into my life, to dance, to sing, to befriend and to belong.

I was not well equipped before, but I’m well equipped now.

So let me take these tools that I have sharpened and use them to build something extraordinary. Not overnight. Not in a flash. This journey of healing and growth that I am on is tiring. I deserve to pace myself. I deserve to be compassionate towards myself.

But let me slowly and steadily delete items from that list of regrets of the living.

Let me have more moments like this morning, when I swim in cold water and dive down for sea shells and then return home to write, wearing my dressing gown over my clothes because I’m still cold, knowing I am already living an extraordinary life.

Let me embrace this extraordinary life, truly inhabit every corner of it, while also taking those small, courageous steps to fulfil every ounce of my potential and to make the rest of my days even more extraordinary.

With thanks for your wonderful support.

***

Resources For Your Journey

Ready to transform? My flagship 8-week course, How to Fall in Love – Laying the Foundations, begins on July 27. Limited places.

Already have your foundations in place? My Date with Courage, Clarity & Confidence course starts July 20 and runs for 8 weeks, subject to numbers.

Sign up on my website for a free download of Chapter 1 of my book, How to Fall in Love. You can also explore the book on Amazon here.

 

Posted in Career change, Empowerment, Happiness, Health, Love, Relationships, Self-Acceptance, Women | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

How Coronavirus taught me to be still

After years of rushing, racing and running, coronavirus has forced me to slow down.

It’s like I have a brake in the middle of my chest. As soon as I start to rush or hurry, or as soon as I get anxious or stressed, the brake comes on automatically, in the form of a sharp pain in my sternum (official name: costochondritis).

This pain slows me right down. It literally presses against me like a giant hand, until I cut my pace.

For a lifelong rush-aholic, it’s fascinating to observe. Has my body finally run out of ways to tell me to be still? Is this its last resort – inflicting pain that at times feels like a heart attack?

I fight back, of course. How could I not? I’m a struggle-aholic too, addicted to battling through life. So I dipped myself in the sea this morning. But I’ve surrendered enough to give up the fast front crawl. Instead, I did some meditative backstroke, slowly, gently, ever so slightly opening my chest. Then I did some equally slow breast stroke, for a minute or two, followed by a period of simply lying on my back, in a star shape, floating, observing the sky and the clouds, in that vast expanse of sea and space.

What a gift.

This pace is such a change for someone who’s been permanently on the move, permanently chasing something elusive at high speed. My nickname used to be the Duracell Bunny for my non-stop energy.

It’s such a change for someone who’s sought out adrenaline rushes and anxiety spikes, as a way to numb the deadness and the pain she’s often felt inside.

It’s such a change for someone who for years felt she had to keep moving fast to work off all the calories she’d consumed in her latest binge. I no longer binge or overeat, and I no longer engage in punishing exercise, but my muscles must remember the perpetual motion, as must my mind. I am still compelled to keep moving.

It’s an annoying change, that’s for sure. I want to run and cycle and swim fast. I want to paddle board and climb hills. This is who I am. This is what I do.

But good is coming out of this too – some useful life lessons, and more time and space to be and to write.

The pain is reducing. My body is healing. I know this from listening to a voice note I recorded into my phone almost a month ago. Here’s an edited version of those words:

My body has stopped me in my tracks. Normally by this time in the morning, I’d have walked the length of the beach, if not jogged it, or I’d have cycled to the sea, swum and cycled home up a few hills, perhaps doing a few leg lunges in the garden once I got back.

Today, though, I parked the car as close as possible to the beach, walked along the pavement at snail’s pace and then inched my way along the sand, tentative step after tentative step, breath by breath, until I reached the nearest sand dune, where I flopped.

I have costochondritis (inflammation of the cartilage around the breast bone, thought to be connected to what was presumably a case of coronavirus, brought back from the French Alps) and the slightest bit of exertion causes pain in my chest, or rather it exacerbates the pain that’s been there constantly for the past few weeks.

man on electric surfboard at sandbanks beach

Surfer from Outer Space

So instead of moving on the beach, today I sat. And I meditated, using a guided meditation that encouraged me to open my mind and to think expansively, and as I did so, I looked out to sea and a man went whizzing past, on an electric surfboard, several feet out of the water. He looked like something from outer space. I want one of those. I want to do that!

Then I observed all the other people doing stuff: the fishermen on their boats, the paddle boarders and the dog walkers, including a woman who wandered down the steps from her beach-front home to walk her dog in a tiny silk dressing gown that skimmed her bum cheeks. I’ve never seen a dog walker dressed like that before – perhaps because I’ve never sat still for long enough. 

Perhaps this is what writers do. They sit and observe everything. Maybe it’s time for me to observe more and write more.

As I sat, the emotions came to the surface, including a terrifying thought: that if I’m not perfect, if I’m not super healthy and fit, my dear husband of only one year will leave me. If I’m not able to join in our bonding outdoor activities, he’ll be off.

I know he won’t. I’ve checked a few times. Yes, I’ve actually asked him. Will you leave me if I don’t get well? He won’t. In sickness and in health and all that. But the fear is real.

Is this how I was dating for all of those years? Is this how I was looking for a relationship? Gripped by a deep fear that if I wasn’t perfect, if he found me out to be faulty somehow, he would walk away. What a weight to carry. What an obstacle to overcome. No wonder I sabotaged my love life for so many years.

My mind wandered back to the pain and I started to beat myself up. This chest pain is my fault. I didn’t ease myself gently back into exercise after having coronavirus. I went too fast, I did too much, I pushed myself. And this is the result. 

Then I remembered that the pain reduces considerably after lying still for 7 or so hours in sleep. So stillness is the solution.

Toes in the sand on Sandbanks beach

Let’s just sit, shall we?

My next thought was: how am I going to get back to the car? I started to plot an easier route to avoid the soft sand. My eyes followed the path I would take – down to the water via the rocks, along the wet sand and back up the next walkway.

I set off, treading carefully, breath by breath.

Nearly four weeks on, I am still walking at this slow pace, but I can go a tiny bit faster before the brake goes on. It’s so interesting to observe myself, and to observe how fast other people move.

Today, I stepped aside to allow a woman a few decades older than me to overtake on the uphill steps. I also continued at my slow pace when a woman paused on a narrow path to allow me to pass at a safe distance. I would normally rush, so as not to inconvenience her, but I can’t. I had to live with the discomfort of keeping her waiting.

I reckon this physically painful period of my life is another layer of the onion, another phase in my development. I used to thrive on adrenaline and stress and I’ve always done everything at the last minute. But I don’t like the feeling it brings me anymore.

Last night, I got anxious preparing for a Facebook Live for Psychologies magazine on finding love after lockdown (you can watch the replay here). I grappled with the tech and the tech grappled back and time flew and before I knew it, it was almost time to go live and I hadn’t combed my hair or applied my lipstick.

Stress. Anxiety. Rushing.

Then pressure on my chest. The brake again.

Telling me: calm, Katherine, slow. It will be good enough. Breathe … 

I’m also learning to pay attention to my breath, which for many years I’ve ignored. I reckon I’ve been a shallow breather most of my life. That’s what happens if you live with panic, dread and an expectation of catastrophe around every corner. That’s what happens if you live on high alert, hyper-vigilant, awaiting danger.

I’ve been doing a breathwork course with the wonderful Sonja Lockyer. Only at the start of the course, I couldn’t actually breathe very well. It felt too scary and too painful to hold my breath. So instead of holding it at the designated points, I simply noticed when the in breath ended and the out breath began, and when the out breath ended and the in breath began. Not doing anything. Not holding. Just noticing. Observing. That’s a change for me.

This pause in my life, in my activity, has also allowed me to explore my deeper health issues: recurrent inflammation and digestive problems, with the support of Kim Talbot, a nutrition expert and a long lost childhood friend of mine, who has the most incredible story of recovery from chronic pain. It’s going to be a long journey of gradual changes but I’m looking forward to the benefits.

In summary, coronavirus and costochondritis have taught me so much:

Patience, surrender, acceptance and trust.

I don’t have to be perfect in order to be loved.

I won’t get fat if I sit still.

I am enough. I have enough. I do enough.

My health is my wealth.

And stillness is the route to my inside world, to creativity and to peace.

 

***Upcoming Events***

I’m excited to announce the next dates for my transformational How to Fall in Love courses – Laying the Foundations & Date with Courage, Clarity & Confidence. Both courses begin at the end of July. Take a look at my course page if you’d like to join inspiring, courageous women like Anna who are blowing me away with how they are transforming their lives and relationship patterns:

“I want to say a big thank you to Katherine Baldwin for her brilliant courses because today I went on my first date in 14 years and it was okay, in fact I enjoyed it!” 

The courses are also available to take at your own pace if that suits you better. Click here.

Posted in Dating, Health, Leisure, Love, Perfectionism, Recovery, Relationships, Self-Acceptance, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s OK to make mistakes

Yesterday, I sent an email to my mailing list, consisting mostly of single women on a personal development path, entitled “Open this if you’re looking for love.”

The email invited them to take a look at my How to Fall in Love coursesLaying the Foundations and Date with Courage, Clarity & Confidence and reminded them that if we have dreams, we deserve to create time and space to make them happen.

It was about time I got in touch with my followers. Some of them might have actually wanted to know about the dating course I’ve just begun, yet I’d kept quiet about it, partly because I’ve been struggling with the aftermath of coronavirus (more on that in my next post) and partly because my deep-rooted shame routinely sabotages my marketing efforts (more on shame later).

Anyway, I was pleased I’d finally reached out to my audience after weeks of silence.

Later that evening, on the way to the beach with my husband, I called my 70-something aunty.

“Thank you for your email,” she said.

“What email? Did I send you an email? When? Today?” I replied.

“Yes. It arrived earlier.”

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Yes. And I was very impressed. Your courses sound very good. I didn’t click on the links as I didn’t think they were for me, but what you wrote really motivated me. It helped me to realise that if I want to make something happen, I need to get on with it!” she said.

By now, the penny was dropping. And my stomach was churning and my heart was sinking.

There was only one explanation as to how my email about a dating course had ended up in my aunty’s inbox. And that explanation had embarrassing consequences. It meant that everyone else on our ‘Wedding Invites’ mailing list had got the email too – including my husband’s mum, his blokey mates, at least one of my ex-boyfriends, two of my husband’s ex-partners, some of my single friends who might find it useful or feel offended, and – I fear but I’m too scared to check – the happily married vicar.

WeddingMeBillJustMetI instantly knew how it had happened. I’ve been working with a virtual assistant on cleaning up my mailing lists, which required the removal of the wedding guests’ emails from my platform. Or that was the plan. It turns out their emails got amalgamated with those of my clients.

So a mistake happened.

They do that, don’t they? Mistakes happen. Or we make them. We all do.

Yet I had an instant shame attack. I felt mortified. I wanted to skip the beach, turn the car around and spend my evening on screens, sending out apologetic messages or frantically phoning friends.

Since I was with my husband, who’s a wonderful antidote to my workaholism, we continued to the beach. But my shame attack carried on. And do you know what I did? I took it out on him – the patient man stood right in front of me; a man who’d had absolutely nothing to do with the mix-up.

I snapped at him over something trivial.

Seconds later, I realised what I’d done.

I’d managed my shame and my anxiety by putting him at disease.

This is one of the symptoms of codependency.

If we’re codependent, we manage our shame and anxiety by putting others at disease, by making others feel uncomfortable, by lashing out at others, by shaming them, judging them and criticising them.

Another, perhaps better known symptom of codependency is that we manage our shame and anxiety by putting others at ease. We are a doormat. We bow down to others. We subjugate ourselves. We go out of our way to be what others want us to be. We are chameleons, always changing the colour of our skin to suit our environment in order to feel safe.

We modify our behaviour – what we say and what we do – because we anticipate other people’s anger, disapproval, rejection or abandonment and want to avoid it at all costs, often at huge detriment to our sense of self and our wellbeing. For example, we stay in toxic, harmful relationships or in soul-deadening careers.

Our functioning, the way we live and conduct ourselves, is dependant on a reaction we imagine, expect and fear.

I’ve been exploring codependency for more than a dozen years, healing from it and recovering from it. As I’ve healed, my understanding of it has deepened.

Codependency is a loss of self. It stems from a deep, often early wound that produces fear, low self-esteem and insecurity, alongside chronic shame – a sense that there’s something fundamentally wrong with me. These by-products of the initial wound or wounds then alter our behaviour in the world – the way we communicate with and respond to others.

We are controlling or we are compliant. We are victims or we are aggressors. Sometimes we’re both, swinging from one extreme to the other.

Sometimes I manage my anxiety and shame by putting others at ease. I overwork, over-deliver, over-promise, overcompensate for a deep sense that I’m not enough. I say Yes when I mean No and vice versa. I lay down at the feet of authority figures or people I admire or fear and allow them to trample on me, undervalue me, or take advantage of me. Much less than I used to, of course. I’ve changed a lot. Yet I remain a work in progress.

On the other hand, as I said earlier, I manage my anxiety and shame by putting others at disease. I snap, criticise, judge, lash out, find fault.

And only now am I seeing what a harmful affect this has had on my romantic relationships over the years. Thankfully, I’ve done so much work on myself that I’m not at risk of sabotaging my marriage. I notice my behaviour quickly and apologise instantly, as I did yesterday on the beach. But without this inner work, I wouldn’t be married, or I’d be at risk of breaking my marriage whenever I felt shame or anxiety.

It pains me to look back on past relationships and remember the occasions when I belittled people or undermined them or judged them or criticised them, in order to manage my anxiety or sense of shame. It also pains me to remember the occasions when I adapted myself and lost myself to avoid rejection, when I became who I thought you wanted me to be.

Can you relate to any of this?

Do you manage your anxiety, shame or fear by putting others at disease?

Do you manage your anxiety, shame or fear by putting others at ease?

Do you swing between the two?

Do you modify your behaviour – what you say and what you do – based on a perceived threat, on the possibility that the person before you might be angry, might disapprove or might abandon you?

When I ask my coaching clients and course participants what their biggest challenge is in relation to dating and entering into relationships, many of them say it’s being their authentic selves in relationship, staying true to themselves, not abandoning or losing themselves.

I get it.

But it’s codependent, and so damaging, to modify our behaviour so that someone will love us or to make them stay.

Clearly, we’re all on the codependent spectrum. There are degrees. We may omit to tell the whole truth to spare someone’s feelings or to avoid discomfort. Or we may do something we don’t want to do for an easy life.

The problem is when this codependency wrecks our relationships or our chances of finding love.

Or when this codependency keeps us in a relationship that’s harmful, potentially dangerous or a complete waste of our precious life.

Or when this codependency keeps us in a job that’s stifling our spirit and sending our soul to sleep.

Or when this codependency drives us to give too much of ourselves in order to please others, leaving us exhausted, drained, burnt out and with nothing left for ourselves.

I have been there – to all of these places – and, in so many ways, I have recovered. In others, I am making progress, always growing and learning. Perfectly imperfectly.

You can recover too.

 

***Resources*** 

Read my book, How to Fall in Love – A 10-Step Journey to the Heart. You’ll find a wealth of resources at the end of the book, from further reading to support groups.

Check out my How to Fall in Love courses (there’s still time to join the dating course if you’re quick!)

Subscribe to my YouTube channel and watch some of my self-love and dating masterclasses.

Codependent No More by Melody Beattie is a great introductory book to codependency.

You’ll also find some good definitions and resources on this website.

Posted in Addiction, codependency, Dating, Perfectionism, Recovery, Relationships, Self-Acceptance, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Lonely in lockdown? You’re not alone

lonelywoman

Loneliness.

Aloneness.

Isolation.

Lockdown.

These words are roaming around my mind right now, prompting my fingers to search out letters on the keyboard.

I don’t know in what order to put the words. I don’t know where this blog will lead. All I know is that I need to write something down, so here goes …..

Some of you will be feeling exceptionally lonely at this time. You’ll be missing hugs, touch and closeness. Some of you may be feeling starved of physical contact and hungry for human connection.

I get it. I’ve been there.

I’m not there now because, thankfully, I’m sharing lockdown with my husband, but I remember long periods of time, during my single years, when I ached to be touched in a caring or loving way, when I longed for closeness and intimacy, despite being scared of it.

Massages helped – I’d often cry on the rare occasion when I followed through on my promise to myself to have a massage, moved to tears by a stranger’s gentle touch. Hugs from friends helped too. But they didn’t go all the way to satisfy that longing, that yearning.

And right now, if you’re single and living alone, you can’t have massages and you can’t have hugs, and that’s beyond tough. And if you’re childless too, not by choice, you’re going to feel the longing even more – especially at this time when we’re reminded daily to stay at home with our families or to mix only with people from our households.

What if you have no family? And what if your household consists of one? The messaging from governments around the world is consistently tactless, exclusive and alienating, exacerbating the sense of isolation felt by many single people who live alone, as Australian journalist Jill Stark writes in this article.

So if you’re hurting, if you’re aching and if you feel ignored or invisible, I’d like to say that I see you. I acknowledge you. We see you. We acknowledge you. And you are not alone.

But where do we go from here?

Sadly, I don’t have any fixes. There are no magic bullets. I only have some suggestions, which I accept might not cut it at this time, but I’ll offer a few of them anyway as they’re all I’ve got.

Feel your feelings

Allow yourself to go there. Feel the pain. Get in touch with the hunger, the yearning and the loss. For me, the act of honouring, accepting and feeling all of my feelings has proved transformative. Something shifts deep inside. Something changes. I am changed by the process.

By feeling your true feelings about the current situation, you may get in touch with much deeper feelings about your past – memories of feeling lonely, alone, isolated, invisible, unseen, forgotten, afraid or unsupported. Allow yourself to go there too if you can – if it’s not too painful.

This, as I say to my coaching clients, is the gold dust. This is where the transformation happens. In the dark places. In the tears. In the pain.

Share your feelings

It’s especially powerful if you can share your feelings with someone else, with someone who’ll understand – someone who’ll see you, hear you, acknowledge you, empathise with you and support you, ideally with someone who can identify with how you’re feeling. Clearly, it’s best to avoid people who might shame you for being ‘over-emotional’, selfish or who might be intolerant of your sensitivity (something that might have happened in your past and left scars).

Soothe yourself

As you feel your feelings and share them, make sure that you love yourself – that you love yourself through the pain. Take care of yourself. Hug yourself. Soothe yourself. Identify the longing or the craving and then try to figure out if there’s anything that you can do to meet that longing or to satisfy that craving in a healthy way, even if you only manage to touch the tip of the iceberg. This is a start. A tiny start. (If you need support with this, watch How to Self-Soothe in Healthy Ways  an hour-long webinar I recorded recently in which I share some tools that have helped me to heal from decades of overeating and other forms of self-harm).

Creativity is one thing that helped me recently to soothe my sky-high anxiety around my mum, who’s in lockdown in a care home 300 miles away and who turned 80 yesterday. I got creative and I made a card (you can watch a 6-min video about the process here).

To be clear, it doesn’t come naturally to me to manage my anxiety by creating something, or by gardening, baking, writing, meditating or going on mindful walks – all those things that we know are good for us. My default is to think and worry obsessively, and then to work, work and work. The more anxious I am, the harder I work. Over-working might be marginally better for me than binge eating, which I did in the past and thankfully no longer do, but it still isn’t healthy.

The key is to be really kind and loving towards ourselves as well as to practise gentle discipline when we see that we’re overworking or overeating or over-doing something else. 

mewaterfallLet nature nurture you

In addition, if you can, get outdoors. Get away from screens and tech and into nature. Notice the leaves and the breeze. Feel the soil and the stones. Turn your face to the sun. Imagine you’re standing beneath a waterfall.

Connect, if you want to

And, of course, connect to others, which I appreciate may mean returning to tech and to screens, but if this is your only means of connection, it’s likely the upsides outweigh the downsides.

That said, notice if you’re using on screen time. I sometimes feel like I need to connect with others, that I need to be at the party that’s happening on my laptop or phone, when really I need to sit quietly and connect with myself.

This is about self-awareness – about identifying our real needs, not what we think we should be doing because everyone else is doing it.

But I didn’t intend this to be a ‘how to’ post or a ’10 steps to …’ article.

I started writing this blog today because I wanted to tell my truth.

My learnings

It strikes me as odd that I haven’t written here for over a month – odd because I’ve had so many feelings going on and this is one of the first places I go to work through them. But perhaps I didn’t know where to start. Perhaps I had too much to say. Or perhaps I was scared of my truth. This blog, right from its origins, has demanded absolute, rigorous honesty, a form of nakedness. Maybe I was feeling too delicate – until now. Or maybe I procrastinated.

Of course, my truth is that I do have too much to say, at least for one post. I have learned so much about myself since the coronavirus pandemic began.

I’ve learned how much I fear illness and death and how illness triggers painful memories from my past. When my husband had a bad bout of what was probably coronavirus a few weeks ago and his breathing became laboured, I recalled the night I slept on the floor in the back room of my dad’s house on the eve of his death, listening to his breath rattle through his lungs – an experience I wish I hadn’t had and I especially wish I hadn’t had alone. I can see myself. Lying there. In the dark. Scared. Grieving.

I’ve learned more too about my anxiety around people (which I hide well beneath a confident, sociable exterior) and about how I manage my fear and anxiety about being in groups by leading them, by creating a space or a barrier between me and everyone else. I’ve learned that going forwards, I’d like to be part of groups on more occasions, not just lead them. I’d like to belong. I’d like more friends and more shared experiences.

My loneliness

Finally, this Easter weekend, I learned more about my loneliness, which is why I wanted to write this blog.

I felt painfully lonely this weekend – especially on Saturday, despite having the wonderful company of my husband. Now, this isn’t about feeling lonely in my relationship (I know that can happen and it’s really sad when it does, but that’s not what I’m talking about). I love my relationship and my husband, and I couldn’t think of anyone I’d rather be locked down with.

Rather it’s about a deep loneliness, something I carry and have always carried and perhaps will always carry. I sense it’s connected to my early wounds, to those early scars.

It’s heavy. It’s big. It’s a void. An abyss. And it aches.

I could call it existential loneliness and explain it away as part of the human condition, but that sounds too high-brow, too intellectual. For me, it’s a rupture.

I feel it more on national holidays – Christmas and especially Easter. When it arrives, my first thought is that it’s connected to not having children. Under normal circumstances, Christmas and Easter are times when extended families gather – times when women who are childless not by choice feel their loss and their difference more acutely than ever. And although we’re in lockdown, there are families staying at home all around our neighbourhood, so this would be a fair explanation – my Easter blues were related to not having kids and to seeing families play in the sunshine.

And maybe that’s part of it. But I just know it goes deeper than that. I know, or I think I know, that it would still be there whether I had one child or six – and maybe I hope that would be true as it’d mean I hadn’t made the worst choice ever by not having children (even though it wasn’t exactly a choice; it was more of a non-choice, born out of ambivalence).

Perhaps it was there at the start. Perhaps it began inside the womb or just after I emerged from it – a breaking, a separation, a need unmet, a longing unfulfilled, a something that I don’t have the words to describe. A hole in the soul, as the saying goes.

And then I spent decades trying to fill that hole and escape that emptiness, but none of it worked and I ended up in a much darker place than before, until I began my climb out.

Healing has happened since that moment. So much healing, especially in terms of my relationship with myself and with men. Without that healing, I wouldn’t be married. Hurt happens in relationship and healing happens there too and I have healed so many wounds.

But that doesn’t mean the darkness has gone away. The void is still there, and it shows up sometimes, as it did this Easter Saturday.

And what if I accept that it’ll always be there? Perhaps that would make my life easier? Because I know I’m still trying to escape it in one way or another – by working too hard, achieving too much, by trying to please too many people, by being scared to be entirely myself.

Like me. Love me. Don’t hurt me. Don’t judge me. Don’t leave me. Please. 

What if I could just give up all the striving and trying and accept that it’ll always be there – that it’s part of me, an important part of me, part of my uniqueness, my Katherineness?

As I write this, I’m still trying to figure out whether that’s comforting or not; whether I’m OK with it being there all the time or whether that’s frightening or depressing.

I think I’m OK with it. We’ll see.

But what I’d love to know is do you feel it too? Have you always felt it? Did you feel it in the past or did a relationship or a child or both make it go away? Do you now have that relationship and/or that child and does it still linger?

Or do you think that a relationship and/or a child will make it go away, and how is it to feel that way? Does that belief lead to a state of desperately seeking – desperately seeking that relationship or that child, to your own detriment? (I did this in the past). And does desperately seeking lead to constant disappointment? How would it be if you desperately sought and found that relationship and/or that child and the void still hadn’t gone away? Would that be bearable? Intolerable? Disappointing?

Finally, how would it be to desperately seek yourself?

I’d love to know.

This blog has always been about connection – connection through shared experiences and the incredible power of identification with others to help us to feel less alone. So if you feel minded to, please comment below or drop me a message.

Your comments and messages have always helped me to feel less alone and I thank you for that.

 

Further Reading, Viewing & Resources

Read my lockdown blogs for Psychologies magazine Life Labs: How to stay sane during lockdown and How to date at a distance: Finding Love During Lockdown

Watch my lockdown webinar recordings: How to date at a distance and How to manage anxiety, fear and pain in healthy ways.

Lockdown Course Offer: Use the code soothe20 at checkout for 20 percent off either of these two online courses:

Step Inside – Reconnect with your true self – 7-Day Course

How to Fall in Love – Laying the Foundations– 5-Week Self-Paced Course

Lockdown book discount: How to Fall in Love is on offer right now over on Amazon.

Posted in Addiction, Childless, codependency, Creativity, Dating, Eating disorders, Love, Recovery, Relationships, Self-Acceptance, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The life that hasn’t gone to plan

shoesI’ve just spent a long weekend in the company of nine wonderful women whose lives, like mine, haven’t gone to plan.

These women, attendees on my How to Fall in Love retreat, had expected things to work out differently.

Some of them had imagined they’d have a partner and a family by this age and stage. Some are coming to terms with being childless-not-by-choice, because they didn’t meet someone in time to have children, or because the menopause has been forced on them by a medical condition, or both.

Some of them are in relationships they’re not sure about and they don’t know whether to stay or to go.

Many of them want to share their lives with someone, but they’re afraid, scarred by childhood wounds, or they’re worried they’re not attractive or are too old for love.

Some of them have spent years striving, pushing and climbing the ladder in a particular career, only to realise that their souls are yearning to do something else, something softer, more creative, more authentic.

I could relate to all of their journeys, and they could relate to mine. And this is the magic of it.

Shared stories. Shared grief. Shared tears.

Shared healing. Shared growth. And shared hope. 

There’s something so incredibly powerful and transformative about telling our stories to people who understand and about hearing others tell our story back to us, perhaps with a different context and different words, but the same pain.

There’s something so healing about finding our tribe and about feeling like we belong when we have so often felt like the odd one out in a world where other people seem to have it sorted.

There’s something so affirming about being seen, validated and understood.

I’ll never forget the first time a reader commented on one of my posts, telling me that they could relate to my story and that they felt less alone because of what I’d shared. It was such an incredible feeling. It helped me to feel less alone. And it inspired me to write more.

That is the power of vulnerability.

When we speak our truth, come out of hiding, share our loneliness, grief and fears not only do we give ourselves the chance to heal but we give others permission to share their truth and their pain too, and thereby heal.

We form connections. We create tribes. We establish communities.

There’s a woman I know who’s gone further than most in creating connections between women who’ve felt lost, lonely, isolated, like they didn’t belong and like their lives had gone disastrously, painfully wrong. That woman is Jody Day.

I first came across Jody nine years ago, just before I launched this blog. Jody and I were on a 30-day business start-up course, hosted by author and entrepreneur John Williams.

I was poised to launch From Forty With Love and Jody was about to launch an organisation called Gateway Women. I’ll never forget being on a group call with Jody and hearing the web developer say to her that she was cooking with gas. That phrase stayed with me, partly because it was unfamiliar to me (perhaps imported from across the Atlantic) and partly because it was clear that Jody was very much cooking with gas.

She was on fire, with a mission and a purpose to create a supportive community for women who were childless by circumstance, not by choice – to bring them out of the shadows, welcome them into their tribe, help them to grieve their losses and support them to build fulfilling lives.

When Jody and I first met, we were in different places. She had accepted that she would never achieve her long-standing dream of being a mum and was exploring how to find purpose in her pain and build a fulfilling life without kids.

I was just turning 40 and was in the ‘still hopeful’ category when it came to motherhood – or at least that’s what I thought at the time.

Through therapy and lots of soul-searching, I later realised that I was in the ‘ambivalent’ category, which I’ve written about at length on this blog – Ambivalence about Motherhood – and in the Guardian: I feel grief and relief that I’ve never had children.

Ambivalence is a tough place to be. With ambivalence, it’s hard to find one’s place in the world. I’m not able to relate to the women who tried desperately to have children and failed – and I guess they’re not able to relate to me. The same goes for the resolutely, happily childfree.

bookcloudBut childlessness through ambivalence is a thing – a painful thing – and I’m so pleased that Jody explores it in her ground-breaking book, Living the Life Unexpected, which will be re-released on March 19th. More than that, I’m honoured that Jody has chosen to quote some of my words on the topic of ambivalence in the fully revised and updated second edition of the book, under a section aptly titled ‘The Non-Decision That Becomes a Decision’. And I’m thrilled that she invited me to be part of a blog tour to celebrate the launch of the book’s second edition.

Jody has always been incredibly generous and supportive, which is, I imagine, why she has succeeded in building Gateway Women into a global, supportive tribe where women can voice feelings they feel unable to share ‘out there’. She has been a pioneer, a trailblazer in her field, bringing healing and hope to so many women.

Talking of hope, the new version of Living the Life Expected has an emphasis on hope. It’s in the subtitle – “How to find hope, meaning and a fulfilling future without children” – and it’s explored in the new introduction, where Jody writes:

A message from your future hope: Life after childlessness – a fulfilling, happy, meaningful, connected and enjoyable life – is possible. I know, because I’ve created one for myself and I’ve helped thousands of women like you to do so too. It’s not easy, it doesn’t just arrive, it’s rarely what we expect and it certainly isn’t what we ordered! Embracing it takes huge courage, but it is possible. Whilst in no way do I wish to diminish the heartbreak you might be feeling right now (I’ve been there; it’s the darkest place I’ve ever been) hope has an important message from your future for you:

Your childless life isn’t a runner up prize to motherhood. It’s a different, messy, imperfect human experience to the one you signed up for, but no less valuable. And it can be as meaningful and fulfilling, just in different ways.

There was a time in my life when I had lost hope. It wasn’t just about not having children, but that was part of it. I was in my early 40s, single, lonely, lost in my career, grief-stricken because my father had died and completely bemused as to why my life had turned out like this, because I had very different plans.

Just as Jody has found hope, meaning and purpose, I have found those things too. It hasn’t happened overnight. It has been gradual. And it has required huge courage. But it’s happened.

The other thing we’ve both found, after thinking it would never happen, is love. And while a loving relationship doesn’t erase the pain of a life that hasn’t gone to plan or the grief around childlessness, in my experience it is incredibly healing in so many ways.

Now you might be reading this feeling hopeless, not only about motherhood but also about love. I hear you. I see you. I validate your pain. You will need to do your grieving. It will take time. But I believe there is hope, for all of us. My story attests to that, and Jody’s does too.

Relationship, and now marriage, has given me a sense of belonging that I never had.

As humans, we are programmed to seek out that sense of belonging. Yes, we need to find it within ourselves. Many of us need to go on a journey so that we can feel that we belong to ourselves. But we also need like-minded souls around us. We need to be heard, validated and understood. We need to know we’re not alone.

If you feel alone with your childlessness, check out Jody’s wonderful book (you can download the introduction and first chapter here) and worldwide community. As she writes:

Those of us who’ve already made this trip are waiting for you on the other side, and many others are in the water alongside you, each feeling that they’re swimming alone. But you’re not alone. Welcome to your Tribe.

And if you feel alone with your singleness, please do check out my book and my courses and retreats.

Of course, in the UK we have a day coming up that has the potential to push our buttons on a number of levels. Mother’s Day is on Sunday, March 22nd – an especially challenging time for childless women and for those struggling with the double whammy of being single and childless, or the triple whammy of childlessness, unwanted singleness and grief about one’s own mother.

If you envisage that day being tough for you, sign up for Jody’s free webinar on ‘Coping with Mother’s Day on 14th March. By signing up, you also get a chance to win a signed copy of the second edition of her book.

I’m also giving a way a signed copy of Jody’s book, which she will personally dedicate for you. I will pick the winner at random from those who comment on this blog, so please do share your thoughts. There are other ways to win signed copies, so please check out Jody’s blog, social media pages and the blog tour.

If you can’t wait, you can pre-order a copy of the book (paperback or ebook) here if you’re based in the UK. If you’re outside the UK you can buy it online via Amazon or The Book Depository (which offers free international delivery). I hope it supports you on your journey.

I’ll wrap up here with a brief mention of my forthcoming birthday, as it’s relevant to this blog.

I’ll be 49 on Friday March 13th. When I began this blog, just before my 40th birthday, I didn’t imagine I’d still be writing it nine years later, and I couldn’t have imagined where my life would end up.

But despite the ups and downs and the periods of sadness and grief, I am so so grateful for this colourful journey I’ve been on and I will continue to do my utmost to embrace what I have.

LTLU CHANCES TO WIN

Posted in Childless, Recovery, Relationships, Self-Acceptance, Women | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

Why the new decade counts

IMG_4637

Hello and Happy New Year!

I know it’s a bit late in January to wish you a HNY but this is my first post since 2020 began so I have to say it, especially because it’s a biggie.

Not only is 2020 the most beautifully symmetrical number that just has to herald wonderful things for all of us, but it’s also the start of a new decade.

And why does that count?

It counts because a decade is a marker. It marks the passage of a significant chunk of time. It gives us something by which to measure our progress – not in order to beat ourselves up when we realise we haven’t quite accomplished what we set out to, but in order to gauge whether we’re being true to ourselves and whether we’re honouring and cherishing our dreams, and in order to change tack if we notice we’ve been abandoning ourselves.

It’s so easy to put our dreams on the back burner, isn’t it? Work takes over. Family commitments take over. Self-sabotage takes over. Procrastination takes over.

But I’m here to remind you that you’re worth it and that this new year and this new decade count.

As I wrote in my previous post just before Christmas, Deconstructing Our Decade, the last decade was pretty significant for me, although I’m not sure I realised it at the time. It’s only by taking stock that we can see how far we’ve come, and how far we’d like to go.

This new decade is going to be significant too. How can it not be? I’ll move out of my forties and into my fifties. I may even need to change the name of this blog! Can I still write under the title of From Forty With Love after turning 50?

At the end of this decade, I’ll be 58. And where would I like to be by then?

I’d like to have published more books, because one simply isn’t enough, especially for someone who’s a writer, who’s always been a writer, who longs to write and who can write incredibly fast (I’m typing this at top speed and aim to publish it within minutes!). I’d like to finish the book I started in my early forties but never managed to complete and I’d like to write novels and books of poetry.

Hurrah! It feels so good to declare that on this blog, especially since most of the intentions I’ve blogged about over the years have come true.

I also know that if I don’t write more books, I’ll be incredibly sad, devastated in fact, because I will have abandoned one of my deepest desires and neglected a talent I believe I have.

I’d also like to grow my business into a truly sustainable, fulfilling, profitable and impactful venture that benefits lots of people and enables my husband and I to enjoy wonderful adventures together and to appreciate some of the freedom that comes with not having children.

I’d also like to muster the courage to get a dog – a simple step for some but a giant leap for me that stirs up all manner of fears around feeling trapped, over-committed and around not being able to love a furry friend (which, deep down, I know I can).

They are a few of my intentions. I have more but I’ll save those for another day, because what I really want to do is to stress why it’s important to identify our hopes and dreams and to take steps to make them happen.

It’s important because life is precious, you know that.

Life is short.

Life and good health aren’t guaranteed.

As some of you know, I’m grieving right now because my mother’s health and mental capacity are deteriorating. We are losing her, slowly, and it’s incredibly sad. It’s also worrying. My mum is losing her memory as her mother did before her, so how long have I got before my mind deteriorates? How long has any one of us got?

There’s no need to panic or stress about not having enough time, but how we spend our time is how we spend our life so are you spending your time in a way that honours your dreams and makes the most of all your talents?

I’m going to close this blog here – sooner than I would normally, I usually write a few thousand words! – because I’m hosting a webinar tonight that I need to prepare for and that I also want to tell you about: Create Your 2020 Vision & Design Your Dream Decade (if you missed it, don’t worry. Sign up at that link or put a comment below and I’ll send you a recording.)

You’ll also find the links below to a series of How to Fall in Love webinars I’ve been running. The final one is this Thursday – Change Your Dating Dynamic. And you’ll find details of the wonderful courses and retreats I’m hosting this year, designed to support you to prioritise your hopes and dreams and to create a fulfilling life and relationship.

To close, I’d love to share a video with you that I recorded down at the beach in the first few days of 2020. It’s not one of my professional videos. I have no make-up on, the lighting isn’t great and I’m holding the camera myself.

But it’s real. It’s vulnerable. And it’s prompted some lovely feedback. In it, I explain why the new decade matters to me.

Video: Why the new decade matters.

Sending love and light for this new year and decade x

 

Free Resources & Dates for Your Diary

How to Fall in Love Webinar Series:

Recording of Create Your Healthy Foundations

Recording of Face Your Fears & Change Your Patterns

Change Your Dating Dynamic, Jan 16, 1 pm. Click here for more information.

My transformational How to Fall in Love small group online course starts on January 20th, 2020. Prioritise your romantic life, change your relationship patterns and find love.

My first How to Fall in Love Dorset retreat of 2020 is from Feb 28-March 2. Earlybird offer is available until Jan 17th. Four places left!

And we’re back to Turkey in October for another fabulous Love Retreat.

Join my free Facebook group, Being Real, Becoming Whole.

Download Chapter 1 of How to Fall in Love for free here.

 

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Deconstructing our decade

I confess I realised quite late on in December that we were coming to the end of a decade and were about to start a new one. I was well aware of the end of the year but the end of the decade almost escaped me.

But once I clocked it, I saw just how significant this decade was for me.

I wonder if it was for you? And in what ways?

I began this past decade at 38 and I’m ending it at 48. Ten momentous years of shifts and changes and growth and grief and pain and courage and breakthroughs and joy and gratitude.

I began the decade as a single woman, living in a one-bedroom flat in North London.

I didn’t have a blog back then. I didn’t have a book out. I didn’t have a business. I didn’t have a coaching practice. I most definitely didn’t have a husband or any notion as to how to acquire one any time soon.

And while I was in a good job, working as a journalist for the charity arm of Thomson Reuters, with an emphasis on reporting on disasters and emergencies, I was a bit lost. I’d burnt out and broken down in my previous role as a political reporter. I’d gone back to reporting – this time on humanitarian issues – because I was interested in the plight of disadvantaged people, because I thought I might want to become an aid worker, and because I didn’t know what else to do.

But I was confused. I felt alive during the foreign trips to disaster zones and the flights on helicopters – they fed my inner adrenaline junkie – but I didn’t enjoy my commute into work and I didn’t like staring at a screen in an office all day.

And deep down, I probably knew there was something else I was meant to do. I just wasn’t sure what.

I allowed myself to explore the things I was truly passionate about – women, wellbeing and personal development, or more specifically the prisons we lock ourselves in and the traps that we create for ourselves: eating disorders, repeated unhealthy patterns, dysfunctional relationships and so on.

And that’s how this blog began, or rather its predecessor, born out of a moment of frustration and anger about the way we harm ourselves, berate ourselves and give ourselves a hard time. Just As I Am – An Experiment in Self-Acceptance, my first blog, launched in March 2019, a few weeks before I turned 40.

Forty-something days later, this blog, From Forty With Love, began.

Big questions

This blog has accompanied me throughout this decade as I’ve wrestled with some of the biggest questions and challenges in my life to date.

Will I have kids? Do I want kids? Why haven’t I got kids yet? How am I going to have kids? Will I find a willing mate with whom to have kids before my time runs out? Should I have kids on my own?

Why am I single? Why do all my relationships fail? Why do I end up heartbroken or hurting someone else every time I attempt to date? Why do I keep repeating the same patterns over and over again? Why am I always drawn to unavailable men or to men who are scared of commitment? Why can’t I fancy the guys who are into me? Will it always be like this? Do I actually want to be in a relationship anyway?

Will I be able to support myself if I leave a career that I’ve been doing since my mid-20s, a career that’s taken me all over the world, given me a sense of belonging, helped me to buy a home and therefore gain some sense of stability and security, and given me a sense of self-worth and self-esteem, whilst also exhausting me, driving me to binge eat and binge drink and, towards the end, killing my spirit and sending my soul to sleep?

What am I going to do with my life? Who will I be if I’m no longer an international journalist? Will I survive? Will I feel enough? Come to think of it, who am I?

Will I be OK if I follow my heart and move to the coast to be by the sea? Will I miss the bright lights and the big city too much? Will I feel lost and alone? Will I miss my friends too much? Will I make new friends? Will I thrive? What will happen if it’s the wrong choice? Will I be able to come back?

What will happen if I throw all my eggs into one relationship basket? Will I make a mistake? Will I break my own heart and his? Will I be able to commit? Will I be able to stay? What about all the other blokes? What if I get it wrong? What if I end up hurt or hurt him?

Then full circle, back to the same questions that featured in some of my earliest blogs. Will I have kids? Will we have kids? How will I feel if we don’t have kids?

Many questions answered

And here we are, at the end of 2019 and almost at the start of 2020, with lots of answers.

No, I have no desire to have kids on my own.

Yes, I do want to be in a relationship, a life-long partnership, more than anything else, much more than being a mum.

All my relationships failed in the past because I was scared to love, scared to commit, scared to get close, scared to choose, scared to risk. I was too worried about getting hurt and hurting others, anxious that I’d get it wrong, fearful I wouldn’t be able to stay, scared I wouldn’t be able to be faithful.

Yes, I will absolutely be able to support myself if I leave the career I’ve always known. It won’t be easy. There’ll be times I’ll want to throw in the towel. But it will be an exhilarating adventure. I’ll feel alive. I’ll feel in charge of my time and my future. And I’ll find my path, my passion and my purpose.

GHphotoI’ll find freedom through blogging and form wonderful connections with other women who are going through similar stuff. I’ll write a book about love and see that book and my love story featured in magazines and on the radio. I’ll launch a coaching practice that will attract clients from the UK and abroad who are struggling with the same issues, fears and challenges that I have been through and I will help people to find their way back to themselves, to find love, to take the chance on a new career and to redesign their life. I’ll host retreats and workshops in Dorset and in Spain and Turkey. I’ll discover the freedom that self-employment brings.

Yes, I’ll be absolutely fine if I move to the coast. I’ll miss my friends and the bright lights of London, but I’ll make new pals and the beach and countryside will more than compensate for the missing buzz. I’ll swim in the sea, all year round (I swam today), run on the beach and cycle through mud.

TelegraphWedding1And I’ll fall in love as I throw all my eggs into this one relationship basket, challenge my fears and trust my heart and intuition. I’ll feel loved and supported. And I’ll laugh every day with my partner. Then, he’ll propose up a snowy mountain, I’ll say yes, and a few years later, we’ll get married in an outdoors ceremony on a stunning sunny day.

It doesn’t get much better than that.

Oh yes, back to that question. I won’t have kids. We won’t have kids. But most of the time that will be OK, because we love each other to the moon and back, because we make such a fantastic team and because I am learning to accept that my life is good enough, rather than look for holes in it or focus on what’s missing.

And we’ll tentatively talk about getting a dog, all the time, and eventually, in the next decade, we might actually get one!

Love and loss

So yes, it’s been quite a momentous 10 years – a decade in which I have taken huge strides, faced massive fears, experienced life-changing breakthroughs and grown as a person.

There has been loss too, of course, because every choice we make means that we lose the opportunity to take a different path. There has been frustration at times with the slow growth of my business and with my procrastination and self-sabotage. There’s been sadness about the way in which I repeatedly ignore and abandon one of my heart’s deepest desires: to write more books. And there’s been grief, huge amounts of grief, as I’ve continued to grieve the wounds of my past and as my dear mum’s health and memory have deteriorated.

But above all else, there is gratitude.

Gratitude for my journey, for all the support I’ve found and received, for the new tools I’ve developed and for the courageous steps I’ve taken. Gratitude for those women and men who’ve trusted me with their stories, their hearts, their lives and their hard-earned money. Gratitude for the beach and the sea. And gratitude for my wonderful husband, who (and I can’t help but well up as I write this) is the most kind, generous, supportive man and who is absolutely perfect for me.

So that’s it for this decade. It’s almost a wrap. If you’d like to wrap it up with me, click here to download a free workbook to help you to review the year and deconstruct your decade. And if you’re willing, pop a comment below to let me know how this decade has been for you. Or drop me an email at katherine@katherinebaldwin.com. I get so much pleasure from hearing from my readers.

The next 10 years is bound to be just as significant so I’ll write about that in the early days of January 2020. But suffice it to say that 48 to 58 are huge years for me too: my 50th birthday; a deepening of my beautiful relationship; more love in my life (maybe a dog!); growth in my business; a TED talk or two (I’m determined!); and several books published, at least one of them a novel. Please, please, please, Katherine, please honour your dream of writing.

Sending love to you all, dear readers and followers.

Where would I be without you?

Where would we be without each other?

Katherine x

 

Free Resources & Dates for Your Diary

Free How to Fall in Love Webinars in  January 2020:
Create Your Healthy Foundations, Jan 8, 6 pm
Face Your Fears & Change Your Patterns, Jan 12, 4 pm
Change Your Dating Dynamic, Jan 16, 1 pm
Click here for more information.

My flagship How to Fall in Love small group online course starts on January 20th, 2020. Eight places remaining.

My first How to Fall in Love Dorset retreat of 2020 will be from Feb 28-March 2. Earlybird offer is now available. I’m hosting a second Dorset retreat from May 1-4.

And we’re back to Turkey in October for another fabulous Love Retreat.

Join my free Facebook group, Being Real, Becoming Whole.

Download Chapter 1 of How to Fall in Love for free here.

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How do I know if I want kids or not?

OK, so you might be wondering why I’m asking this question.

You might be thinking: haven’t we been through this already? Haven’t we covered this topic from all angles and in all forms of media since this blog launched back in 2011? And actually, isn’t it far too late for me to be asking this question, now I’m 48, rapidly approaching 49?

The answer to all the above is Yes.

I’ve written reams on this topic over the years, in the media (links at the end of this blog) and in my book, but it all kicked off here with a blog post called The Baby Gap, which I wrote two weeks after my 40th birthday.

Yes, back when I was 40, single, and could still have kids, at least as far as I knew.

So why are we back here?

Firstly, because I imagine we might always come back here. This topic may always be there. Perhaps there’ll never be a definitive end to the wondering, an absolute acceptance, a moment of arrival.

For me, it isn’t black and white.

There are only shades of grey.

But we’re back here today in particular because my journey to non-motherhood has been featured in a podcast, called To Baby or Not to Baby, and listening to my own words, to my own story played back to me, has stirred up the feelings again.

Regrets?

Should I have done things differently in relation to motherhood? Should we, my husband of five months and I, have done things differently? Do I have regrets? Does he have regrets? Should we have regrets? Will I always ask these questions?

I’m pleased my story appears on the podcast – under the title the Ambivalent Non-Mum – because I believe ambivalence about motherhood deserves more exploration and airtime, although my journey couldn’t be more different to the podcast’s delightful host Naomi Kent Hodson.

Naomi has just turned 36, is happily married and is in a position to choose, together with her husband who does want kids, whether to try for babies or not.

That was never my experience. And it hasn’t been the experience of many of my friends or coaching clients. I was 43 by the time I had done sufficient “work on myself” and healing to be able to change long-standing dysfunctional relationship patterns and commit to my partner, now husband.

Once I’d committed, I fell in love. But I was approaching my mid-40s by then and our relationship was still in its fledgling stages. It needed cherishing and nurturing. Our love deserved time and space to grow. Plus I was ambivalent about motherhood – a fact I discovered after lots of soul-searching and therapy and which has a lot to do with my own upbringing – while my partner, by then turning 50, was sure he didn’t want children.

Then, just after my 46th birthday, he surprised me with a marriage proposal in the French Alps. I cried (with happiness) and said Yes. I was 48 when we married this June.

Love came late

Finally, a solid relationship with myself after years of self-neglect and disconnection.

Finally, the ability to love another person on a deep level.

Finally, a stable, committed and healthy relationship with a kind, warm-hearted, supportive and gorgeous man.

And finally, a growing awareness (from witnessing other parents) of the gifts of having children, after decades of seeing only the negatives.

But it all came late.

If my husband and I had married when I was 35 and he was 40, where would we be now? Would we have children? Would I have got over my ambivalence and persuaded him to let go of his resistance? Would those children have brought us closer together? Would they have prised us apart? Would we have decided to remain as a family of two?

We will never know.

Naomi and her husband have a choice, assuming fertility is on their side, which must be an incredible place to be as a couple, even with indecision and ambivalence.

If, like me, you no longer have the choice and are grieving its loss, I hear you and I empathise. Be kind to yourself. Allow yourself to feel your feelings so that the grief can move through you rather than get stuck.

If you do have the choice but are unsure about motherhood, can I suggest that you look deep inside yourself and try to uncover your own truth? Don’t allow your upbringing, your parents’ struggles, opinions, or messages, your baggage or your wounds to block you from going after the desires of your heart.

By the same token, don’t allow societal pressures or a feeling that your life is wrong unless you make a certain choice guide you down a path that may not be for you.

And most importantly, don’t get too stressed. Don’t allow the pressures and the not-knowing of the baby gap years to drive you insane, to overshadow your life or to sabotage what could be beautiful, fulfilling relationships.

Fertility MOT

Hearing my words on the podcast takes me right back to the anxiety of my baby gap years.

I can picture clearly the seminar I went to for single women at a Harley Street fertility clinic – the Powerpoint presentation that explained, with scary statistics, how a woman’s fertility dropped off a cliff; the ins and outs of shopping for a sperm donor online; the frontier science of egg freezing; and the miracles of IVF (if you could afford to pay for it).

I remember feeling distinctly lukewarm about the prospect of any medical intervention, but I signed up to the fertility MOT anyway, because it was on special offer if you paid that day.

I could justify it on two counts: I was a journalist who was researching a book about the baby gap years and I was a single, 40-something woman who could hear her biological clock ticking and wanted to know where she stood, perhaps to make the dating process a bit easier (I’d been dating with baby goggles on for a while).

With the benefit of hindsight, I also see that I felt deeply empty, lonely and lost in my life and was looking for something, a baby perhaps, a purpose, to fill the hole.

I remember chatting with the other women who were waiting to pay for their fertility MOTs, and how quickly we bonded, because of our circumstances, different in many ways, but with some key similarities: single, no children, running out of time and starting to panic.

I remember racing down Harley Street one wintry morning, my woolly scarf slapping me in the face, trying to find the heavy door of the fertility clinic, late for my appointment, which I’d already postponed once due to work deadlines. I remember the nurse’s look of disapproval when I said I’d forgotten to fill in my forms in advance (I hadn’t even opened them).

I remember feeling terribly alone as a lay on a bed in the clinic while a consultant wiped jelly on my belly and then prodded and poked my insides in order to count the follicles on my ovaries. There was nobody standing by my side; nobody holding my hand.

Shock and grief

I remember the moment the consultant showed me my test results (anti-mullerian hormone, or AMH, and follicle count), saying they were ‘average for a woman my age’ and therefore pretty poor. I remember the tears that took me by surprise and the way the consultant slid the box of tissues towards me across her large oak desk.

Amid the shock and grief (what do you mean I’m mediocre? I’ve always been a straight A student), I remember thinking, you’ve been here before, haven’t you, Ms Consultant, sat across from a weeping 40-something, single woman who’s just been given a painful reality check that has shaken her out of her reverie and smashed the myth that her fit, healthy and toned outsides would naturally translate to stellar fertility on the inside?

I remember the consultant’s strong encouragement to move quickly along the solo IVF route, which immediately put me off because I respond badly to any form of hard-sell. And I remember my subsequent meeting with the clinic’s resident counsellor, included in the MOT, in which I knew, instinctively, at some deep cellular level, that this path wasn’t for me.

I remember chatting to another rather attractive male consultant across the road in another clinic, who gave me hope because he didn’t think my results were quite so bad. I remember thinking I bet you’re happily married with a few kids and how come I didn’t meet a solid, reliable family man like you in my 30s? (Hang on a minute, I did, but I walked away).

I remember the other fertility seminars I attended and the interviews I did with single women who’d taken creative routes to motherhood (donor sperm, donor eggs) because they were absolutely certain that they wanted a child above all else – a feeling I had never shared.

I remember visiting an egg freezing clinic in Barcelona as part of my research for the book, getting lost and arriving late, sweaty and flustered. I remember being told definitively that freezing my 40-something eggs would be a waste of my hard-earned cash, although I’d always find a clinic that would freeze them for me.

Summer lovin’

And I remember meeting my now husband and shelving the crazy-making baby dilemma, swapping it for a few months of delicious summer loving, only to ask him again at the end of that period whether he was up for parenthood. I remember feeling crushed as he answered sincerely and lovingly, but in the negative as before, and I remember ending the relationship but spending the night dripping tears onto his bare chest in bed, not wanting to leave.

Fast forward a few years and I remember coming back to him, after trying and failing to find another man I wanted to be with, knowing for certain that I wanted a life partner above all else, and feeling, when I lay next to him on the sofa, that I could stay in his arms forever.

WeddingstationI remember our amazing wedding this June and how all those doubts that had plagued me for years – is he the right guy? Am I making the right choice? What if there’s someone else? – had miraculously disappeared, replaced by a wonderful certainty that has, I have to say, changed my life.

But inevitably, returning to this topic stirs up all the ‘what ifs’ and ‘what could have beens’ in relation to having children and feeds into a terrible tendency I have, which goes right back to my earliest years and my deepest wounds: the tendency to assume that my life is wrong while yours and everyone else’s is right.

So as ever, my challenge today and every day, and this was the conclusion of my book, is to want what I have, to love what I have, to be grateful for what I have, and to reduce the time, energy and effort I spend wondering about what could have been or longing for something that I haven’t got.

Honouring my creativity

One more thing, and if you’re still reading by this point, hats off to you!

Listening to the podcast brought a painful reminder of how I can abandon my dreams and my creative projects. The Baby Gap was the working title of a book I began writing in my early 40s, based on my own experience and all those interviews I did with fertility experts, childless and childfree women, and determined would-be mums – a book that received offers from 5 agents, got me an interview on Newsnight, but was turned down by 14 publishers, albeit in the nicest of terms.

In truth, it wasn’t actually a book. It was a very well-written synopsis and two chapters, which I thought, naively and rather arrogantly, was enough. Back then, I wanted success to fall out of the sky, in the form of a book deal, a hefty advance, and my book in the window of notable booksellers, without me actually having to put in the hours and write the thousands of words. I had a certain sense of entitlement. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t handle the publishers’ rejections well. My agent disappeared and I lost my way.

A few years later, now in love and more interested in the reasons why I’d taken so long to form a healthy relationship than in the baby dilemma, I wrote and published How to Fall in Love, of which I’m incredibly proud. But I still have 40,000 words or so of that first baby gap book and the podcast reminded me of all the work I did do – the research, the interviews, the endless rewriting of the synopsis – and makes me feel sad that I abandoned the project before completion and went off in search of something shiny and new. But I still have my 40,000 words and I’m in the process of reviving that book in a different form, a novel perhaps, and who knows, maybe a podcast.

And I commit to you that I will honour my creative dreams and see this project, and all my other creative projects, to fruition.

Thank you, as ever, for reading my words. x

Further reading

If you’d like to read more on this topic, here are other blogs and articles I’ve written:

The Baby Gap

The Baby Conundrum

Dating with Baby Goggles – a post that became a Daily Mail article

Ambivalence about Motherhood – a post that followed my Woman’s Hour interview on the same topic

Am I childless or childfree?

My Guardian piece: I feel grief and relief that I’ve never had children

And you can listen to my episode of the podcast, To Baby or Not to Baby, here.

***Upcoming Events***

If you’re looking for someone to love and to form a family with (with or without children) my How to Fall in Love course is a wonderful way to lay the foundations for a healthy and loving relationship.

My next How to Fall in Love – Laying the Foundations small group course starts on January 13th, and Part II of the course, Date with Courage, Clarity & Confidence begins the same day, for women who are ready to date. Get in touch for a free discovery call to find out if either course is right for you (katherine@katherinebaldwin.com)

I have retreats in Dorset, Spain and Turkey in 2020. Click here for details.

And my one-to-one coaching schedule is filling up for 2020. If you’d like to explore coaching with me, get in touch for a free call.

If you’d like to read the first chapter of my book, How to Fall in Love, you can download the first chapter for free at www.katherinebaldwin.com

Thanks again x

Posted in Childless, codependency, Dating, Love, Recovery, Relationships, Women | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments