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 , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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 , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Family

For some of you, it’ll seem quite bizarre that I’m having these feelings and writing this post at the grand, middle-age of 45. Others, I know, will understand.

Some of you have already had years belonging to your own family unit. I don’t mean your family of origin – your Mum, Dad, siblings etc. I mean a family unit that you’ve created outside of the one you were born or adopted into. Some of you kicked this off in your 20s, partnering up, getting married or becoming parents quite young. Acting like adults, even if you didn’t feel like it. Running homes. Having shared responsibilities or making big decisions about little people’s lives. Others did it in your 30s. But I’m only just experiencing it now (minus the little people). And it feels new, different, good and sometimes weird, so I thought I’d write about it.

phonegreenWhen I signed up for the Seahorse Swim recently (2 km in the sea on July 3 – I’d better get training!), they asked for the details of two emergency contacts. For the last decade or so, I’ve given my brother’s details as my first ‘next of kin’, then Mum as my second. I figure my brother will be more able to cope in a crisis than my Mum and she’s also often out and doesn’t have a mobile phone. Prior to that, when Mum was a bit younger, she was my first emergency contact.

This time, I gave my partner’s name and number first. Then my brother’s after that.

I’ve given my partner’s name as an emergency contact before over the past 18 months or so, but doing so hasn’t come all that naturally. I’ve had to pause and think about it. But this time, I hesitated less. I didn’t think about it very much at all. And I smiled as I did it, enjoying the new sense of belonging I feel. That’s because since we moved in, nearly four weeks ago now, I feel like we’ve created our own little family unit. Families don’t need to be of 3, 4, 5 or 6. They don’t necessarily need to consist of adults and kids.

A family of 2 is family enough to be a family.

It’s a small thing in many ways but for someone who’s been so independent for so many years and single, on and off, for a reasonable amount of time, and whose family role to date has always been that of daughter and sister, being part of my own family unit marks a really big shift. The closest I came to this was back in my Mexico days when I felt part of a large family of sorts – a group of people all in our 20s, living very similar lives, hanging out in each others’ homes, partying until dawn. It was great fun and I felt like I belonged, but we were young and it was different to what I have now.

For me, this is the more grown-up version. The culmination of a long journey I’ve been on.

It’s odd. Little has changed but then so much has changed. I’ve matured. I’ve committed to a relationship. I’ve bought a house with my partner. And I’m now starting to inhabit my role as a member of my new family with confidence and a real sense of belonging. We spent the weekend painting walls in matching overalls. I’m enjoying making dinner for us both. And I love hanging the laundry out to dry in the fresh, sea air! (It’s funny – I used to get my kicks from flying on helicopters in disaster zones. Now I get a real buzz from watching the laundry blow in the wind! Age? Maturity? Recovery?)

These are good feelings. I feel happy, safe and loved. And when I don’t feel those things, I know it’s my mind playing tricks on me, trying to sabotage the good stuff, looking for reasons to create a catastrophe, so I just ignore it and remind myself of the truth.

So what if you don’t have your own family unit and you dearly want it? What if you’re reading this as a single person who no longer wants to be, as someone who wants to feel part of their own little family?

I don’t have any answers, other than my own experience. I returned to someone who I’d previously dismissed not because he necessarily ticked all the boxes my head had drawn up, but because, when I’m around him, I laugh a lot, relax and feel peace. My washing machine mind stops whizzing around so much. I feel secure. I feel accepted. I feel free to be me, in all my silliness, to sing and dance around in my pjs.

I did a lot of ‘work on myself’ (I dislike that phrase!) to get here. It was a process of letting go of fixed ideas of what my future should look like. It was a process of taking risks. And it was a process of learning to tame deep-rooted behaviours and responses that make me want to run away from, judge, criticise or control the person I want to be with or jeopardise my chances of happiness.

That’s just a brief summary. The rest of the story is going in the book. So I’d better get back to that!

 

Posted in Dating, Happiness, Love, Recovery, Relationships, Women | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I want to be me

I want to be me, I thought, as I cycled along the Bournemouth seafront this morning. Not someone else. Not that woman over there with the toned, slim legs or the long, thick, glossy hair. Not that sporty girl in the cute hoodie or that lady cuddling her baby. Not that young lady driving that car, with that guy sat next to her.

I want to be me.

I think I’ve spent a lot of my life wanting to be someone else, to look like someone else or to have someone else’s body, family, career or life. But while this life of mine comes with its own peculiar challenges, today I want to be me.

As I pondered wanting to be me this morning, I remembered a poem I wrote two years ago for Body Gossip, a charity that campaigns for positive body image and healthy self-esteem. It was published in a Body Gossip book, along with other poems and stories. I’d completely forgotten about it, but it came to me the other weekend and I decided to read it to a room full of people. I’d like to post it here too.

A lot has changed since I wrote this poem and since I started my 40-day challenge to accept myself and stop criticising the way I looked, chronicling my progress on my first blog: ‘Just As I Am – An Experiment in Self-Acceptance’ back in 2011. It’s easier to be kind to myself these days, to speak to myself in a more loving way. It doesn’t always happen but it’s easier than it was. Maybe that’s because I understand today, more than ever, that it’s a choice – I can choose to be kind to myself or I can choose to beat myself up. It’s down to me.

And I can choose to accept, embrace and love my life as it is today or I can choose to fantasise about some other life that isn’t mine and probably will never be.

The poem is called ‘If Only’. Here goes …

If Only

 

If only I had Michelle Obama’s arms, I wouldn’t need any other charms

If only I had Gisele Bündchen’s height, then surely life would be alright

Attractive young woman concerned about her weight

If only I had Cindy Crawford’s cleavage, and Jennifer Aniston’s über-toned sleevage

If only I had Claudia Schiffer’s thighs, I’d definitely have my pick of the guys

If only I had Cheryl Cole’s glossy hair, then everyone would stop and stare

If only I had Kate Moss’ tum, not to mention Jennifer Lopez’s bum

If only I had Elle Macpherson’s skin and if only I had just one chin

In short, if only I didn’t look like me, surely then I’d be much more happy

I’d be out every night with a gorgeous date or married to the perfect mate

I’d have two lovely kids and a flourishing career; I’d be confident and free of fear

Because life is easy when you’re pretty and slim, it’s not a battle, it’s no longer grim

Surely with the perfect complexion, life is simply love, joy and affection

But what if all this isn’t true, and what if I didn’t wish to look like you

What if I decided I was good enough and life really wasn’t all that tough?

No more envy or trying to be who I’m not, because I’m me and I’m all I’ve got

So why not celebrate other people’s beauty, but tell myself I’m also a cutie?

Why not accept myself just as I am, but also put on a touch of glam?

I have a pretty face and a shapely body, my clothes don’t need to look this shoddy

Why do I hide under a baggy dress? Why not style myself to impress?

And why insist on a life of striving, when I could be out there, laughing and thriving?

So every day I’ll embrace my appearance, all it takes is a little perseverance

To challenge negative thoughts when they come, and keep myself from feeling glum

Because regardless of my shape or size, I’ll still be blue if I listen to those lies

So life will flow and I’ll feel content and free, if only I can keep on accepting me.

 

 

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

Dread

I can remember it vividly. I left the gym at Belvedere’s, my senior school in Liverpool, and walked past the netball courts and out onto the street, where Mum was sitting in the car waiting for me. I was sobbing before I opened the door but when I got in, dragging my heavy bag of books onto my lap, the tears flowed even more. Mum didn’t know what to do or say. What could have happened? Who had died? Why was I so distraught?anxiety

“Mum, I read the question wrong!” I cried, as my shoulders heaved and I gulped for air.

I’d just done one of my ‘A’ levels and I was convinced I’d misunderstood the question and had therefore failed. I was inconsolable for hours, if not days.

A few months later, when I picked up my results, I got a string of A grades, not a B in sight and definitely no fails.

I remember another time at school when I was asked to run cross country for Liverpool in a race in Coventry. Quite an achievement, perhaps. An honour, even. Only the race fell on a school day and I had to miss drama class. I worried all the way to Coventry and back. I had two relatively new friends at school and I was convinced they’d bond with each other in drama and that when I got back, I’d feel left out. I didn’t enjoy that day or that race. I didn’t feel any sense of achievement. I was in a permanent state of dread, worrying about something that probably didn’t happen (I can’t recall if those girls bonded in that class but I was never short of friends at school).

Jump forward several decades to the time I bought my London flat and you’ll find me in a similar state of panic. In my mind, it was the wrong flat, too far from the Tube, too far from the shops, too this, not enough that. I decided to buy it in an adrenaline-fuelled frenzy, but I didn’t trust myself and I beat myself up for months afterwards. Eventually, though, I grew to love that place. I made it my own, I gave the living room a red feature wall, painted the bedroom walls green and invited my friends around often for tea. And then the Tube came to me, hooking up with a station on my street, helping to more than double the value of my attic flat and enabling me to buy another home by the sea.

There are so many other occasions when my anxiety has got the better of me – too many to list, so I’ll just highlight a few.

When I refurbished my flat and decided one of the radiators was too small and the kitchen was so badly designed I couldn’t use a corner cupboard – I obsessed about those ‘mistakes’ for ages, losing nights of sleep, beating myself over the head with an invisible frying pan. When I decided to fly back from Spain on the Thursday instead of the Saturday or whatever day it was and as soon as I booked it, convinced myself I had to change it and set about reading the small print about alteration fees. And all the stress I created over buying my wetsuit and my little mini (which you heard me enjoying in my last blog post). In my mind, the wetsuit was too small and I’d made a huge mistake with the mini because it wasn’t red or blue, the tax was too high and it was too heavy on petrol. Only I’m quite happy with both now.

Which brings me to today. Today, our house purchase completed and later on, my partner and I will pick up the keys to our new home.

“Are you excited?” people have asked me over the past few days.

“Apprehensive, nervous, anxious,” I say, and I’m not sure they understand. It’s not what they want or expect to hear.

How can they understand? How can they get inside my worrying mind? How can they grasp how tortuous these decisions are for me? If I tell them I lay awake last night, worrying that we bought the wrong house, on the wrong street, next door to the wrong people, will they get it? If I confess I’ve been obsessively scouring Rightmove to see what bigger, better, quieter house we could have bought if we hadn’t bought this one – in the exact same way I used to get straight back onto dating websites after getting together with a guy to see who else was out there – would they comprehend? Given house purchases and relationships have the ‘C’ word in common – commitment – it doesn’t surprise me I behave in the same way.

There’s a reason for my nervousness around houses. I have history here. We moved a few times when I was young and I remember, every time, my Mum struggling with house-related woes: noisy neighbours, barking dogs, traffic, subsidence and so forth. Seeing my Mum stressed, worried and sad is an early memory. It’s one of those very deep wounds. It’s not surprising it recurs.

Relationships are similar. In my early years, love meant loss; love meant hurt; marriage meant divorce and Dad moving out. There are some wounds there too, buried deep in my psyche.

But the anxiety I so often feel extends beyond houses and relationships. It’s pervasive. I have a sense that there’s a crisis around every corner, something to be feared. And fear breeds control. If I can control my circumstances, I can reduce the likelihood of feeling pain. So a detached house means less chance of neighbour noise. A ‘perfect’ bloke means less chance of getting hurt. Lots of money and loads of stuff mean less chance of ending up homeless and sleeping on the streets.

Only it’s never enough. The outside stuff is never enough because the problem is on the inside. Outside stuff can help for a while – excess food and overeating used to act as a sedative to the anxiety and the pain, until they stopped working. Money can give me the sense that I’m secure, but that security is an illusion. I can try to control my environment and what happens to me as much as I want, but so much of the important stuff is out of my control.

Why am I writing this? Partly because I read this article on Facebook this morning and it really resonated with me: How to Make Anxiety Work For You, Not Against You. I liked what the author said about making friends with anxiety, embracing it, seeing it as an ‘unbelievably creative imagination’ and channeling it through writing.

After reading it, I did five minutes meditation, which brought me to tears. I’d had a sleepless night, obsessing about the house and all the other mythical houses we didn’t buy and in those five minutes of stillness and silence, I got underneath all the obsessive thoughts and connected with the pain – the deep, deep pain; the pain that so often is lurking beneath the hyper-activity, obsession and control.

Then after crying, I looked at myself in the mirror opposite my bed as I typed some notes on my laptop, curled up in my pjs. I saw my furrowed brow, the way my eyebrows were angled down, almost connecting in the middle above my nose. I saw the wet patches beneath my eyes and the red, flushed cheeks. I saw the lips, so often smiling, turned downwards and the flecks of grey in my hair. Anxiety takes its toll on my face.

So I’m writing this because it helps to share my pain and I’m writing this because it seems to be what I’m meant to do.

I’m also writing this because I want you to understand me. I want you to know this is part of me, a part I really struggle with, a part that can be painful and debilitating, but a part that somehow, as that article said, is worth embracing, even cherishing.

Please don’t judge me for it and please don’t laugh at me. Try to understand me. Hear me out. Hold me if I ask you to. Understand that we all have our strengths and our lesser strengths. Understand that the things I struggle with, you may find easy, while the things you struggle with may be a walk in the park for me. I, for example, am pretty good at public speaking, I’m not daunted my appearing on television and I’m persistent and determined when hassling banks for mortgage money. But other things – decisions, big and small; commitment; buying a house; choosing flights – cause me anxiety or fill me with dread. We all have different strengths and struggles. So let’s understand each other.

There are some things I’ve found that help with my anxiety: making a decision usually helps for a start, even if it causes short-term pain. Action and moving forward help (funny – once I heard this morning the house purchase had completed, some of my anxiety subsided and I did feel excited; the build-up was the problem). Meditation helps. Swimming in the sea helps. Chris Evans’ Radio 2 Breakfast Show generally helps, because it makes me laugh. Yes, laughter helps. Writing helps. Exercise helps. As does having some ‘bottom lines’ or boundaries around my behaviour – so no more checking RightMove for houses or Gumtree for minis; and no more swapping wetsuits for smaller sizes. Anti-depressants may help, of course, but I’ve also been too anxious to take the stupid things!

I could also tell myself to lighten up, to count my blessings, to see my issues as high-class problems other people would love to have. I do that often, but it doesn’t always work. Somehow, that seems like the path of resistance – trying to quash the anxious, worrying side of me, trying to pretend it doesn’t exist or telling it it’s not allowed to have a voice.

Maybe the better route is to accept it, to embrace it, to surrender to it, to create something with it and to write it all down on this blog, so that I can look back in a few weeks and see, as so often has been the case, that I had absolutely nothing to worry about.

 

Posted in Addiction, Creativity, Eating disorders, Perfectionism, Recovery, Relationships, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments