Out of kilter

It’s easy for me to think about and work on being authentic, true to myself and steadfast when I’m in my comfort zone.

It’s another thing to be this when I’m thrown into another dynamic – Christmas with my in-laws, when I feel vulnerable at work, with old friends when I’m trying to be seen in a way that I haven’t myself to be allowed before.

I’m wondering how I might try to be true to myself when I’m slightly out of kilter and feeling a bit unbalanced.

My go-to in the past would be to wrap myself into different forms to fit the situation at hand.

Swallowing my own thoughts and feelings. Showing or feigning interest in other people. Being the ‘happy one’, easy, breezy Amy, go-with-the-flow when I’m not often that sort of person.

I’d drink myself away.

Or secretly eat my feelings in moments of solitude.

I’d worry about being too much or not enough.

And I’d get frustrated with other people for not being like me. Not getting me.

But now I find myself in a different situation.

The people pleasing Amy doesn’t seem to fit me anymore. I feel such a desire to be true to myself, to show the real me.

But I don’t know how to do this in a way that doesn’t cause offence or marginalise other people as I assert myself.

I feel this way much of the time. Walking a tight rope between knowing who I want to be but not knowing how to put that into practice.

And so I find myself seesawing between the ‘me’ of the past and my real self.

One no longer fits and the other doesn’t know how or doesn’t feel safe coming forth.

It’s hard.

Really hard.

But just writing this and acknowledging it makes things easier to bear.

And I hope in me sharing how I’m feeling, you might not feel so alone if things feel similarly hard for you too.

As I sit here pondering on all this, I remember that we’ve just celebrated the winter solstice.

The darkest day of the year.

Now, as the days get lighter, there is promise of new growth, the turning of the seasons, a new start in the new year.

And so I take hope that what I’m longing to see this year – being able to step into my full self – will mature in 2019 and, when Christmas arrives next year I will be able to look back and see how I’ve grown.

And with this thought I wish you and all those you love a very merry Christmas.

Driving home for Christmas

We’re en route to Chesterfield for Christmas with the Shemwell family and I’m feeling nostalgic about the trip we made last year to Bristol for festive celebrations and the birth of Jenson.

I’ve got a mix of excitement for the big day with my bubba and sadness at not being with my parents and sister for Christmas Day.

This is no slight on my parents-in-law who show me nothing but kindness. It’s just sad to think we won’t be with my sister for her last Christmas before starting a new chapter in her life over in Australia.

I so wish I could split myself to be with her to get wrapped up in Christmas excitement, give each other a sneaky Christmas present before church, sing the descant to carols together (her like a boss, me voice semi-squeaking at the high notes), wait in anticipation for presents post-lunch (which always seems an age away).

My sister means the world to me, as you may have guessed!

But with this melancholy is a real excitement for Christmas Day as a parent – my first one.

I can’t wait to get up early as a three on Christmas morning, excited at the day ahead.

I can’t wait to dress Jenson in a reindeer onesie for the day.

I hope we’ll go out for a walk in the crisp daylight, wishing ‘merry Christmas’ to others out on a similar stroll.

I look forward to feasting as a family, giving Jenson new food to try and sneaking him a bit of my pudding to enjoy.

I’m looking forward to Jenson’s interest in all the wrapping and none of the gifts!

I can’t wait to mark the first Christmas milestone as a parent.

Almost a year

It’s been almost a year since I became a mum. Where has that time gone by?!

And as Jenson’s birthday approaches, I wanted to take some time to reflect on how these 11 and a half months have been for me…

Sleep

Ha, the first thing I think about because it’s the thing lacking the most in my life with Jenson on the scene!

How I wish I knew how easy I had it before Jenson came on the scene. Eight hours of interrupted sleep each night – on the weekends, I’d be well into the double digits of hours slept. Even when pregnant and I’d find myself waking at 3 or 4am, I’d have the time to myself to do whatever I wished. And the ability to snooze the evening away after work.

I go to bed most nights at 9pm and in truth I’m mostly in bed by 8:30pm, because otherwise I just don’t feel at my best.

But despite the early wake-ups, I can’t help but have a smile on my face when I see my cheeky chap beam at me first thing as if to say ‘good morning!’. He really makes the wake ups worthwhile.

But I’d love a few more hours of rest!

My worldview

I didn’t know that parenthood would change me so much. Sure, I thought that my priorities would change, but I didn’t think that it would change my whole worldview and leave me feeling adrift with the uncertainty of how I fitted into the world.

Hungry to do more and have more of an impact but not knowing how. Something I’m still pondering on now.

But things are more important than they were before Jenson came on the scene.

What we’re doing to our planet – the path we’re on which could ramp up to global annihilation.

The pain we’re inflicting on other living creatures through our drive for cheap and tasty food – dairy, meat, fish and eggs.

Our education system which doesn’t allow everyone to thrive.

Our social security net which is getting smaller and smaller with so many people left behind.

All the things I wrote about when Jenson was 8 months old (in this post here) is still true today.

Work

Before having Jenson, I wanted to climb the ladder, have a greater impact and (let’s be honest) get paid more money. I wanted a role such as Head of Organisational Development or perhaps was open to even moving sideways into another area and had started to believe that I could become the head of an organisation at some stage.

But this has changed for me since J-dog came on the scene.

With everything so stretched in my life right now, I can’t think of anything less appealing than taking on more responsibility.

I don’t mean that I want to do interesting work or stay in my role as it is forever. In fact, if there’s one thing that hasn’t changed with my relationship to work, it’s needing to be constantly challenged and to have the opportunity to do new and stretching things.

What I’m talking about is not wanting the greater volume of stuff to process. Huge volumes of emails, days spent in meetings and therefore having the pressure of working in the evening and at weekends.

That has no appeal to me.

I want to live.

I want to have a balanced life where I’m able to come home and forget work so I can be fully present with my family.

And maybe I’m doing myself a disservice by thinking that the two things are impossible, but I sort-of think that a greater workload comes with the territory when you move into a senior leadership role.

So, for the moment at least, my focus is on enabling myself to have opportunities for interesting scope within my role. Stretching myself and putting myself in the way of fascinating people and interesting possibilities.

And other things have changed with my relationship to work too – the hours and days I work. Before having Jenson, I thought that I’d be happy to go back to work full-time, but that hasn’t been the case.

I want more time with him.

Additional time where I don’t have to worry about doing the laundry or making food for the week.

Just time where we can be together, meet up with some friends who have babies the same age as Jenson and enjoy each other.

I’m lucky that I’m going to be able to compress my hours and return to work four days a week in the New Year. With my husband doing the same, we’ll be able to have a day each with our main man, Jenson, and significantly reduce the astoundingly high nursery bill.

Stepping into myself

Becoming a mum has propelled me forward in ways that I didn’t expect.

Some ways, I was expecting – like the desire to get my shit in order. Dropping the people pleasing so he doesn’t learn any of that. Embracing who I am and loving myself fully so he knows it’s ok to be happy and confident in yourself. Showing how I feel so that he learns that it’s ok to express a variety of emotions in a healthy way.

But I just didn’t expect how much further it would go.

I feel like I’m on the precipice of something amazing within.

Learning to accept and embrace all that I am. Stepping fully into my power and expressing myself without fear. Embracing conflict instead of shying away from it. All whilst simultaneously letting go of my notion of ‘self’ a little bit.

I don’t really have words for it. But I feel that something is coming.

Conflict

Up until now I hadn’t felt conflict in caring for my son. I’d adopted a mantra ‘family first’ to prioritise what I did in life and how I decided what to do.

I said ‘no’ to opportunities at work because it would mean cutting a family holiday short.

I let invitations pass me by when it wasn’t at the right time for Jenson.

I supported Gregg coming home late each Wednesday so he could have the release he needed in playing football with friends.

Gregg supported me in continuing to coach people because it was important for me to do something I loved so much.

But this nursery thing – leaving Jenson crying and bereft – has me conflicted. It’s the first time that it feels like family isn’t first.

What is first is my desire to have enough money to be able to have holidays, to have mental stimulation from my role, the ability to be able to eat out and have some spending money, to attend one of my closest friends wedding in Australia when it takes place – all things that would be stretched thin if we went down to one salary.

I know that Jenson would be fine without all those things – all he needs is Gregg and I to be present and to shower him with love.

But I want more and, even though I’m part of the family, it feels like everyone’s needs aren’t being put first.

I’m finding it hard currently to be at peace with these conflicting needs – of wanting to put family first but also wanting to have a life that I want.

And I think there will be a lot more juxtaposing needs and beliefs in the future – this is just a sign of things to come…

So it’s been wonderful, challenging, heart-warming, tough, brilliant, crazy, centring. It’s been the out-of-this-world best and most difficult year of my life.

And I wonder at this moment what the second year of Jenson’s life will bring…

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Am I doing the right thing?

I’m sat in a coffee shop having just dropped Jenson off at nursery…and left him with tears streaming down his face, staring into my eyes as if to say “why are you doing this to me?!

It was heartbreaking to see him so upset. And I’m left thinking what I could have done better to get him used to other people more and wondering whether it’s right for Gregg and I to be back at work – whether it’s to Jenson’s detriment.

And I’ve heard loads of other mums and dads who have gone through the same thing and now say how much their child loves their nursery, how they cry when being picked up from nursery at the end of the day because they want to stay longer.

But, even knowing that, I really don’t know if this choice is for Jenson’s benefit…because if I’m honest it feels like it’s to his detriment. And it makes me wonder about the other things in his life which might be to his detriment, namely living so far away from family (potentially why he’s so attached to just Gregg and I) and having done shared parental leave.

No, I’ll take that back. Shared parental leave was the right thing to do for us and I wouldn’t change 99% of it. But it meant that Jenson had six months of being with my mum friends and then six months of going to different things with Gregg…so Jenson didn’t get a consistent community of people around him during that time.

And that makes me sad.

Even with those he sees frequently with me at the weekends and on my days off, he’ll still be a limpet, clinging to me in their company and smiling at them from afar.

With all this, I’m wondering whether Jenson will be different – slightly less confident, slightly more anxious – when he’s older because we left him at nursery.

I know that the first 1,000 days of a child’s life has the biggest impact on them and I want to do right by Jenson so much, especially during his first years on the earth.

And most of me thinks that he’ll be fine, but part of me wonders whether I’m doing the right thing. It’s hard to not have a definite answer and to have to just go with the direction that we’re going now.

I know I’m doing my best, just don’t know if I’m doing the right thing.

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When I loved myself enough…

My friend, Sarah, bought me a beautiful book for my birthday. It’s a short read – only taking me 15 minutes to read cover to cover, but it has really inspired me.

It’s called ‘when I loved myself enough‘ (as the title of this post suggests) and lists all the things that the writer did once she started loving herself enough.

Saying ‘yes’ when she wanted to and ‘no’ when she wanted to.  Realising the abuse in forcing someone to do something against their will, including herself. Collecting ribbons to remind herself of the gift that life was. Respecting all the parts of her, from the harsh inner critic to her bravest self. 

It has inspired me and reminded me of something that a previous coach I had said – that loving yourself is an active choice, not a mindset shift, and so growing in self-love isn’t about me wrapping my head around this as a concept.

It involves doing. Or more so, it involves acts of self-love.

And so here is the list of self-love that I’ve done since reading the book – acts that I’ll continue to do…

When I loved myself enough, I let myself properly recover from being poorly instead of dragging myself into the office the moment I could function.

When I loved myself enough, I let myself leave a party when I was ready instead of waiting until it was a socially acceptable time to go. 

When I loved myself enough, I took time away to be by myself and write. 

When I loved myself enough, I allowed myself to write my own rules in life instead of taking the well-trodden path of others.

When I loved myself enough, I focused on my own needs instead of always focusing on the needs of other people.

When I loved myself enough, I expressed my own opinion even when it differed to other people.

So here are the steps I’ve started to take, the acts of love I’ve put into practice and I feel it’s just the start.

In a way, it’s a challenge I’m setting for myself – to love myself enough to live a life of greater courage, greater truth and greater self-love. As I continue to write about it, how it feels to love myself, I hope you enjoy it and I hope it inspires you to live a life in which you love yourself enough too, dear friend. 

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A path for finding truth

Religions are not truth. Their just a path. And different people follow different paths.”

This is a sentence from a book I was reading last weekend – it really spoke to me and has been in my thoughts since.

As someone who was raised in a Christian family and who believed that Christianity was the only ‘truth’, this was a really interesting thing to read.

I’ll be honest with you, dear friend. I shy away from writing about religion here because I know some of you who read my words are Christian and I don’t want to offend you with my views.

But in line with my recent post about loving myself enough, I’m going to write about it. Because, when I loved myself enough, I gave myself permission to express my thoughts, even when they differed from the thoughts of other people.

I know from my own experience the danger of living as if my own religion is the only truth. I put judgements on other people and alienated myself because of thinking that I was right and they were wrong.

I’m sad to admit it, but I judged people who weren’t heterosexual when I was a Christian, thinking they were somehow wrong for loving who they loved and being who they inherently were. And in doing so, I locked myself down to a heteronormative label when I think that human sexuality is more fluid than the black and white ‘hetero vs. homo’ line that we so often draw.

My fixation on the ‘truth’ hurt me and it hurt others.

I also judged people who followed another religion – worrying for their soul and, if I’m honest, feeling superior in my ‘rightness’ as a Christian. I read about how other religions were wrong, even Catholicism which has the same ‘God’ at the heart of it, just because they pray to saints.

This makes me feel so sad – the fixation on showing how others were wrong in their beliefs.

With this belief that Christianity was the only truth, there wasn’t much room for debating and grappling with what I was taught. It wasn’t discouraged, but it wasn’t encouraged either or something I engaged in.

I take heart from Christian bloggers I know who are challenging, debating and seeing where the teachings and beliefs fit with them (Clotilde, my sister’s friend is one of those – her blog is here).

I think a truth which hasn’t been tested personally and intellectually is dangerous but that is how I lived for the most part as a Christian.

Looking back, I see such a strict black-and-whiteness about so many things in following the ‘truth’ of Christianity.

Beliefs about sex before marriage being wrong, the danger of being friends or in a relationship with ‘non-believers’, the importance of converting those I knew who didn’t share my faith, the ability to be healed being based on the strength of your faith.

In fairness, not all these teachings came from my church. Some views came from visiting preachers, discussions with other believers, Christian festivals and me taking the word of the bible as truth without grappling with it.

But the one thing that bound all of these issues is the focus on Christianity being the ‘truth’, not a path to finding personal truth.

This is something I’m still grappling with. My experience of religion, my current knowledge of Christians as being more flexible, more inquisitive. My search for a ‘church’ like community which comes together for the beauty of being in community.

And as someone grappling with this, I’d be interested to know your views on this, dear friend.

All I know is that this feels right for me, right now. That religions are just paths to personal truth.

And I take great comfort in the clarity that this small sentence brought to me. It sums up a belief deep inside me that I hadn’t been able to voice until now.

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Validation

I was in London last weekend with my parents, Gregg and Jenson to celebrate my birthday. It was a lovely time and also a time that has left me thinking about some body stuff.

My mum said to me at one point ‘you look slim‘ (or something like that). She meant it as a lovely compliment but then corrected herself and said ‘oh, I’m not supposed to say that, am I?‘.

This came from an article she had shared with me earlier in the year (which I can’t find now), but which is similar to this article in psychology today.

The main headlines are that if you don’t want your child to have body issues:

  • Don’t talk about your body in a negative way. Instead of saying ‘I hate my stomach‘, say ‘It’s incredible that my tummy kept you safe inside me for 9 months!
  • Model eating a variety of foods in moderation
  • Don’t diet, but talk about eating healthily and exercising for the pleasure of feeling good and taking care of yourself
  • Don’t comment on what other people look like, praising those who are thin and criticising others who are larger. Make body size a non-issue by not even mentioning it.

But I understand my mum making that comment because, in saying it, she was noticing me, connecting with me, wanting to say ‘I see you and I think you are lovely’. (I think she was, anyway!).

And it’s what I do to people as well. When someone has lost weight, I give praise. And when someone mentions how dissatisfied they are with their body, I try to make them feel better by saying how gorgeous they are or how I haven’t even noticed that they’ve put on weight.

It’s how we are conditioned in society – to say ‘you look well’ (which most always means something about body size) or to comment if someone has lost weight.

It’s normal validation.

But I don’t want to be part of it anymore.

And so I’ve been thinking about what else can be said to validate someone instead of commenting on weight/body size.

Here are some of the things I’d like to hear myself:

  • I love you
  • I’m so proud to call you my friend/daughter/son/part of my family
  • I think you’re a wonderful person
  • It looks like you’re really taking care of yourself and I think that’s great.
  • You’re glowing for someone surviving on such little sleep!
  • I really admire X in you
  • I love your top/skirt/shoes
  • I think you’re gorgeous, inside and out!
  • I’d love to know how you’re really doing

It was really hard to think about these phrases and I’m still not 100% convinced by all of them, because they all feel a bit more intense.

A comment like ‘you look great’ feels safe. Whereas saying how proud you are of someone feels more vulnerable. And asking how someone truly is, listening fully to their answer takes more effort and engagement.

So I don’t have any answers really. And I suppose this is normal because observations about weight are conditioned in most of us.

All I know is that I’m determined for Jenson to not grow up with any weight phobias and so I’m going to see how it feels to not mention my body negatively or to mention someone’s size as a validation over the next month or so.

This means:

  • Praising my body, especially the bits I find imperfect
  • Not engaging with conversations about how someone looks
  • Avoiding the ‘you look well’ ‘have you lost weight’ comments

Let’s see how it goes!

Taking my own advice

I’m sat here, quickly typing away at this post before I go to London for my birthday weekend. I thought to myself this morning, as I was looking after Jenson at 5:15am, “what a different place I am this year compared to last year”.

In some ways it’s the best different in the world but in other ways, I desperately miss my old life. Miss being able to lie-in. Miss hours at cafes to blog. Miss having time as my own when I get home from work. Miss having more energy for things. Miss not having to feel pushy to have some time to myself.

Motherhood is beautiful but I’m also finding it brutal.

I want to do the best thing by Jenson – want him to have the best start in life – but I also know that this comes with a price for me as his needs stand firmly above my own.

For now at least. 

And so I just quickly looked back at my birthday post from last year and couldn’t believe that what I had written there spoke so clearly to me. 

I had written about how great my life was – job I loved, happy place with relationships, feeling I was starting to let go of people pleasing and start prioritising my own wellbeing – and shared my wisdom from when I had been in a darker place:

  • Reach out to someone
  • Take steps for the better but accept the present
  • Find gratitude
  • Know that this will pass

I couldn’t have known that I, a year later, would so desperately need these words of encouragement and support.

But my advice was spot on.

So I’m going to reach out and share that I’m struggling a bit – I suppose even writing this is me doing that.

I’ll think about what ‘steps for the better’ look like  – I think it means taking more time at the weekend to take care of myself, continuing to work from home as much as I can to have longer in bed and a gentler day, perhaps having one evening a week where I don’t snuggle down to watch a TV programme with Gregg but do something that is extra specially nourishing for me.

I’ll spend some time on my trip to London with Gregg reflecting on the gratitude I have for being a mum and for the lives that we’ve got. We’re pretty damn lucky. 

And I will take heart that this will pass. Jenson won’t always be so reliant on me and I’ll be able to be a bit more independent. Breastfeeding will end one day, and while I love nourishing him, it will lead to more independence for me. Just this moment too will pass. I’ll feel less loss for my past life and will be swept up in joy of my son’s laughter, love for my family as we cuddle and play together, pride as people remark what a sweetie he is. 

Relief

I’m part laughing to myself writing this – as soon as I took the pressure off myself and said that I wouldn’t be writing to you until my Christmas break, I have something that I want to get off my chest…the relief I’m feeling about Jenson’s feeding.

I’ve been fretting for a while now that he isn’t eating enough. He just doesn’t seem that interested in a lot of food and isn’t fitting into the pushed mantra that he should be eating three meals by now and two snacks.

We’ve seen a nutritionist partly due to Jenson’s vegan diet and partly due to the small variety of food that he’s eating…and it’s been on my mind more than it should.

Why won’t he eat?!

In my head, every other baby I know is eating. I see babies stuffing their faces with roasted vegetables, full-blown meals and fruit pieces when Jenson is just not there.

He eats a massive breakfast and then picks at this and that throughout the day.

It had got to a stage where we were almost forcing food into him (despite the alarm bells ringing in my head that this was not respectful to him as an individual) and were putting so many thoughts on him:

  • He is mistrustful of the new food we’re giving him
  • He’s holding out for sweet food
  • He isn’t open to trying new food
  • He’ll never get better at eating

But then a few things happened.

My good friend, Charlie, recommended a book called ‘My Child Won’t Eat’ which has been so interesting and a real relief, talking about the realities of childhood eating.

She shared with me that eating is not always easy for her with her son – making me feel not alone in this.

Another good friend, Jess, talked about how her son doesn’t fit into the NHS approved regime. She’s spoken before about how her son loves pasta (something that Jenson has no interest in) and I’d envisaged him eating it by the bucketload and eating everything in sight while I’m at it. It turns out that it’s not the case – he’s a bit particular too.

I suddenly felt not alone and saw the ‘three meals and two snacks a day’ exactly as it is – a framework, a guideline, a theoretical model which will not fit every baby.

What a relief!

And so I’m sharing this for all the mamas and papas out there who are maybe worried about their baby’s weight (or future mamas/papas) so you know that you’re not alone if you go through this.

Reconnecting

I’ve not written on here for a few weeks. The longest time since I started this blog of mine. Despite job changes, pregnancy, new motherhood, travels around the world, I’ve managed to keep on writing…but there’s been a lot going on and it’s felt like a time to reflect inwardly, not externally.

I wanted to reach out and reconnect a little with you…just for a moment to outline a bit of what I’m dealing with at the moment…before I jump offline for another few weeks. Maybe even until the start of the Christmas holidays.

Values

My values are being challenged as I’ve been advised to change my sons diet from mostly vegan to definitely vegetarian. It’s brought up a lot of questions in me – which I’m looking into.

Are aspects of my son’s health more important than the future of the planet or more important than animal suffering?

How do I find peace in the middle ground?

How do my ever-strengthening beliefs in veganism sit within my marriage, how I show up and speak up, how I live my life?

If Jenson is veggie, how do I tell him about my lifestyle choices?

How do I tell him about my lifestyle choices whilst still giving him self-advocacy to decide what is right for him?

Numbing

I’ve been free from major comfort eating for some time now…but I’m becoming more and more aware of how I refuse to acknowledge difficult emotions.

Anger

Fear

Shame

I shield myself from them…and they get buried away in me, biding their time to emerge.

I’m trying to stay present with them more often but it’s hard and it’s emotional. It’s the right path for me – but it’s a challenge at the moment.

Assumptions

Unconditional love, being inherently worthy of love and acceptance, not needing anything from anyone to know that I am enough.

These are words that I see written down and have wanted to live them…but I’m becoming aware that I don’t really know what they mean and how they might show up. I don’t know. And so I’m taking some time to question them without pressure.

Who am I?

I’ve been a mum for nearly 12 months and love it dearly.

I couldn’t be happier with my gorgeous son. But it’s taken me away from who I am as a person, as a wife, as an ambitious woman, as a feminist. And I feel the call…as well as a pressure, to get back to who I am in these other arenas.


So as you can see, there’s a lot going on!

But I’m ok, I’ll get there.

I just wanted to check in.