Wisdom from my tomatoes

Strange title of a blog post, eh? But it’s one that I’ve been pondering on my ride to work.

Thinking of the tender tomato plants I grew inside my house.

Sheltered from the wind and the rain.

Given access to water, feed and sunlight.

Protected to grow tall, stretched towards the sky.

And yet who have all snapped as they have been moved into the garden.

Unprepared for the elements.

Too delicate for this world.

And I see the gnarled, thick-stemmed plants who have continued to grow, despite being abandoned outside as saplings who were in my ‘B’ team.

Unlikely to grow so left in the garden where they have adapted.

Grown thick to protect against the rain.

Become hairy-stemmed to protect against being nibbled from garden creatures.

Bent over to not be tossed around in the wind.

I think about myself

How it is through the conditions I’ve lived through – the storms I’ve weathered of anorexia, orthorexia, people-pleasing, finding myself in the patriarchal society, stepping out, stepping into conflict, abandoning old beliefs, learning to stop numbing – that has made me strong.

I am here, who I am, because of these storms.

I think of my son

And how my job is not to protect him, lock him away, enable him to not have to deal with the brutalities of this world.

It is to provide good soil for him.

To water his spirit when there’s not enough abundance around him.

To bring him up in an environment that allows his growth – the human equivalent of sun, clean air, protection from the wind.

Love

Acceptance

Us role modelling the behaviours we want to instil in him – setting healthy boundaries, being self-accepting, following our passions.

I’m amazed by how these outdoor plants have thrived.

They’ve been knocked down, buffeted around, left out in the elements.

And likewise, I take a moment to recognise how I’ve thrived despite challenges in my life.

In part due to the conditions my parents provided for me to grow up in – secure in their love for me – and in part due to the trials-by-fire that I’ve gone through and emerged stronger.

I’ve got enough

I’m nearing the end my year of not shopping. Not unnecessarily buying clothing, toiletries, nail varnish, books, stationary. All the things that would be nice to have but I don’t need.

I’ve bent my rules a little over the year, buying ebooks that I want to read, especially when my library doesn’t have a copy on hand, and I’ve bought four items knowingly – a teething necklace (complete waste of time), a dress (lovely but I didn’t need it), a lip stain (good purchase, but I could have coped without) and a notebook which was on sale and I’ll keep for when I need one.

But apart from these three items, I’ve let numerous other ones go. Wanting to jump into a purchase but holding back and finding, after the initial urge, that I didn’t really need them.

I’ve also changed the way I buy for others, not just throwing money at things because I need to buy them a present but asking what they want if I don’t know and learning that my worth is not connected to my skill of present buying.

And while I think I’m going to relax my rules and allow myself to buy in charity shops across the year, I’m going to keep going with my ‘stopping shopping’ lifestyle.

And here’s why:

I’ve been reading a book called ‘doughnut economics’ – I’d highly recommend it. It shows how current economic theory, built on continued growth as it’s defining measure, isn’t viable for ongoing life on Earth.

We need to find a sweet spot between people having enough to survive (access to water, healthcare, education, food, social support networks) and not pushing our planet above the threshold of what it can sustain (leading to climate change, ocean acidification, air pollution).

There is a balance, and it’s found through churning out less.

It’s found through valuing what can’t be bought. Finding happiness in connection, contentment in having just enough.

And that’s what I’ve discovered this year – I have enough already. A roof over my head, enough food to eat, clothes on my back, meaningful work, a family I love.

I actually have more than enough – means to take a holiday, a salary that pays enough for me to work a reduced week and still cover my mortgage, enough to save a bit away for Jenson.

I do wonder whether this experience of mine shows just how privileged I am. I have the ability to shop, I just choose not to. Whilst others don’t have that luxury…but I am where I am and I’m trying to do my part.

I’m coming from a place of privilege but what I’ve done isn’t nothing. I’ve managed something of substance through questioning how and why I consume things…

So what’s next?

I’m always one for moving onwards and upwards, but there’s maybe a lesson for me in the doughnut economics.

Finding a life which has a smaller environmental impact whilst not breaking myself through unrealistic expectations.

Yes, there’s a climate crisis which needs us all to act. But I don’t need to berate myself for not being perfectly carbon neutral.

But I can’t help but feel a ‘what next’ and I feel in my body a discomfort with the amount I fly and the environmental impact it has, which blows out of the water any environmental kindness I’m trying to make through veganism, my move to stop shopping and the eco choices I’m moving to (such as cloth nappies).

I’m also aware of how mass farming of crops is destroying our land through the use of harsh chemicals. So I’m finding myself wondering whether buying organically where possible might be something I’m called to.

But I’m going to pause for a moment and celebrate how I’ve not contributed (much) to the consumerist machine this year.

It’s a small step, but I’m doing my part, and that feels pretty good.

What small thing could you do, friend? We all need do our part, however small, if we’re to save the world.

The realities of motherhood

Things have been really hard over the past few months.

And I’ve shared it with you in bits, ranting about how hard things are right now, how I’m lowering my standards to cope and accepting that things are hard.

I’ve been a bit worried (and so have people around me) that I was going to crack and I asked myself whether I was going through a delayed post-natal depression.

Things were unbelievably hard.

So hard that I’ve found myself wishing that I wasn’t a mum.

And if I’m honest, going a bit further, wishing that I didn’t have Jenson.

This latter point feels a lot more worrying to me because it wasn’t just a wishing for times gone by, but wishing that the son I adore wasn’t in existence.

This wasn’t how I knew I felt when I thought about it logically.

I love him.

I’d give my life for him.

I truly believe he’s here to teach me as much as I’m here to guide and support him as he develops.

But I felt so depleted, with nothing to give, and I noticed how he had started to bring less of a smile to my face. A smile that had always come regardless of the hour he awoke or the naughtiness of his actions.

Why am I telling you this?

Because it’s a narrative which is not spoken about much in the world.

Parenting is talked about honestly among good friends, but there’s not a dialogue in society about how hard it is to be a parent.

There’s the truth-based comedy about parenthood found in ‘hurrah for gin‘ or the ‘unmumsy mum‘. It allows us to laugh about waiting for 5pm to reach for a glass of wine to take the blunt edges off motherhood. We smile at the raggedy mother with her little despots who refuse to eat anything other than beige processed food.

But it doesn’t go as far to say ‘seriously, being a mother can push people over the brink’. (Or at least, this is not what I’ve seen in the parts of it I’ve read).

We remain mostly silent as a society about the realities of motherhood:

How far it pushes you.

How serious an endeavour it is.

How challenging it can be.

And in this silence comes a lack of understanding, a lack of support, a lack of honesty.

There are the reassuring looks of other mums when they see other children in meltdown and the ‘how’s it going?’ that we give out to new mums. But there is the sense (at least from the experience I’ve had) that once the newborn stage is over – with the lack of sleep, poonami explosions and trials of breastfeeding – that you should just be able to get on with it.

And in my experience, this is a relatively easy stage compared with what comes after.

Don’t get me wrong, I found the newborn stages hard, but not nearly as hard as the shuffling around of my life to make space for the desires and wishes of my son as he starts to know what he wants.

Now life is dictated by his desires, his wishes, his needs.

And mine have to come second for the most-part, which is so hard if you’re like me and need space and time alone to stay sane. If you’re opinionated and have wishes of your own.

At the early baby stages, Jenson was my shadow and I was allowed to pretty much do as I wanted.

But now, even when I get to meet up with other mums and friends, I’m only able to be half-present as my mind is scanning for hazards to Jenson – where he is, what he might do to himself, how he is interacting with other children.

And yet I’m left to get on with it.

There’s no support apart from the support I cultivate around me, risking other people’s judgement as I dare to say how I sometimes wish I wasn’t a mum.

How I sometimes wish that I didn’t have Jenson.


I thought long and hard about sharing these thoughts with you, dear friend, because they seem like a slap in the face to all those I know who wish beyond measure to have a child and are struggling to do so.

And I’m half-worried that, in a Handmaid’s Tale-like twist, these words will be used against me in the future. Judging me unfit to be a mother in the same way that June and Luke’s relationship was invalidated because of their past.

But I want to change the narrative that we hold as a culture.

I want to see more honest, open conversations about the challenges of parenthood at all stages.

I want us to be honest as a society about how hard parenthood is – it’s the most difficult job I’ve ever had.

And I believe that starts with people speaking out about their truth.

Thankfully I’m starting to feel more like my own self, due in part to the support of my family and close friends and in part due to speaking up more and saying what I need from my husband.

Thankfully I’m wishing less that I wasn’t a mum and am grateful for having my son.

Thankfully I’m able to smile more.

But it doesn’t take away from the truths I’ve shared with you in this post. Motherhood is the most challenging thing I’ve ever had to go through.

And I know it will continue to be challenging along the way.

I know I’ll continue to need the support of family and friends to get me through it.

I hope if you’re also struggling, you’re able to share how you’re feeling with those close to you.

Or I hope that, at least, my words help you to feel less alone.

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Re-defining success

I was speaking to my sister this morning – what a wise one she is! I was sharing how hard I was finding life right now and talked about the standards I hold myself to. 

These standards are partly helpful – they guide me to be the best mum I can be to Jenson. But they can also be unyielding and can cause me pain as I hold myself to them regardless of what’s going on around me.

So I thought I’d list out all my standards to take a step back to see whether they’re standards I want to hold onto so tightly.

So here I go!

Standards

  • Jenson shouldn’t watch very much TV – it’s a last resort when I’m running late, not something to make my life easier
  • I need to talk to him as much as possible, a running commentary of what I’m doing if I’ve got nothing to say to him
  • I should enjoy all my time with my son
  • I must speak French to him – it’s an important gift to pass to him
  • I have to be fixed so I don’t pass on my struggles – comfort eating, avoidance of confrontation, people pleasing, lack of boundaries – onto him
  • I should be able to cope at all times and never loose my temper with him
  • He needs to spend loads of time outside – there are studies about how children aren’t nearly as active anymore and I’m a bad mum if I don’t take him out

As I list them here, I feel such relief at thinking “I don’t need to hold onto these things. They’re not mine”.

And I love what I saw on twitter this morning linked to this very topic:

Screen Shot 2019-06-23 at 14.05.01.png I love the final point from Beth – re-define success.

What if the standard (and definition of success) I held myself to were to model what it means to be a person who puts their wellbeing first.

  • About TV, I’d ask whether I needed a moment for myself that morning/afternoon/evening. If so, I’d put the TV on for a little bit. It’s not going to kill him.
  • About constantly talking to him, I’d ask myself what I needed in the moment and what my son needed. Some meaningful interaction – singing and dancing, reading a book, chasing around – or some time in silence as I walk somewhere or just potter around. Both are ok. I’d know it was about balance.
  • About enjoying time with him, I’d ask what I needed to enjoy my time with my him. And that probably is an acceptance that it’s not going to be enjoyable all the time (especially when I’m playing peepo with him for the 1,000th time, that shit gets old!)
  • About speaking French, I’d continue to speak French to him – my imperfect, messy French, because it is a gift that I’m keen to pass to him. But I’d also look out for other French parents to hang out with so I don’t feel so alone in it.
  • About worrying about passing my issues onto him, I’d know that worrying about this wasn’t doing me any favours in dealing with them, so I’d speak kindly to myself and remind myself that it’s not the whole truth. I’ll pass on some of my habits that I’d rather not pass onto him, but I’ll also pass on the good. My passion, my ethical compass, my love of cooking, my book wormery, my kindness, my strength.
  • About coping, I’d know that I’m not able to cope all the time and that it’s ok. The most important thing is showing him how to get back up. How to apologise when I shout at people or am short with others and self-kindness to myself when times are hard.

I’d know that I’m doing my best. My god-damn best. And that’s all that is important.

And as I read this, I feel overcome with emotions. I feel a relief knowing that life can be different.

That I can rewrite my story.

And yes, I’ll probably fall as I try to do the above, but that’s part of it, right?

Falling down but then getting back up and trying again.

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Where I’m meant to be

I’ve had this morning to myself and am feeling so much better for the long sleep and time to be in stillness and inaction with myself.

Life has felt so difficult recently. I’ve been at the bottom of my reserves and have felt myself coiled like a spring, about to snap (or whatever it is a spring does when it’s pushed beyond its limits!).

But this time has been different from all the other times I’ve felt like this.

Instead of pushing through until I snap, I’ve been able to recognise where I am and have done things differently.

I’ve shared how much I’m struggling (to differing degrees) with friends (you included in that category, my friend), family and work colleagues.

I’ve asked Gregg to step up to allow myself to not ‘have to be’ strong, self-contained, coping when life with a baby, full-time work and no time for myself is too much.

I’ve taken the decision to slowly stop breastfeeding so I can have some more freedom and space outside of the role of ‘mum’ in my life – something that will benefit Jenson far more than the nutrients he gets from me. A mum that is less frazzled, not resentful for the role she feel obliged to take, role modelling what is means to have healthy boundaries and prioritising her needs.

I’ve taken Thursday evenings for myself to meet up with friends, take classes, go out and be me.

I’ve booked a weekend away by myself at the end of June on a self-development course of sorts to get some space in such a packed period of time.

And as I reflect on all that I’ve done, I’m more grateful than ever for what Jenson, my son, has brought to me.

You see, before I would have kept on struggling.

Due to not having the responsibility of parenthood, I would have coped with the expectations of other people that I put on myself without challenging them.

I wouldn’t have had such an urge that I have now to break down the roles I take which are ones I don’t want to hold.

Strong

Selfless

Self-contained

I don’t disagree with being all these things. But I found myself being unable to be anything other than that.

I couldn’t be weak, apart from too my closest friends and family.

I struggled with being ‘selfish’ and prioritising myself.

I had made strides to share more of myself, through this blog, but it didn’t go further than that because it didn’t need to.

But with my son here, I want him to know more than anything that he doesn’t have to be ‘strong’ all the time. I want him to see me reach out for help and, in doing so, know that it’s ok for him to do the same thing.

I want him to self-prioritise. Not to the detriment of other people – sending a big ‘F you’ to others – but so that he has enough resources to live out of abundance.

I want him to have the freedom to share what’s going on for him. And if he takes after his father – a wonderful ‘steady Eddie’ of a man – he won’t need to much. But if he has my sensibility and a gentleness (that which I see in many men around me, including my brother), I want him to be able to share what’s going on for him, because he’s seen me do that and he knows it’s ok. He doesn’t have to be an island.

And so while it’s pushed me to my very limits, his arrival on this planet, I can’t help but feel that he has been sent to me to teach me these things.

And so while it’s hard to be in this place, I know that I’m where I’m meant to be.

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Not the whole truth

I’m feeling a bit better since I ranted to you a few days ago. A night out with my husband did wonders for me feeling like an actual human being instead of being in a constant state of mum.

A lie-in has also left me feeling a bit more replenished as well as the day ahead of me – in London with my mum.

From this, I know that:

  1. Feelings are better out than in
  2. I need to get out more with Gregg
  3. Sleep needs to take more priority
  4. I’ll need to ask for more help from people around us to babysit – already two friends, Laura and Ellie, have been amazing taking Jenson for an evening. Big love to you both if you’re reading this.

I’m also left feeling better after a coaching session I had yesterday which showed me that my inner critic has been rampaging around me recently. Due to tiredness, being stretched beyond my means, keeping in all my feelings, I’ve had little resources to keep her at bay and she’s been busying herself.

You’re only a good mum if you manage to breastfeed until he’s 2.

You’ll never be able to express yourself.

You’re broken.

You don’t know how to do this.

You didn’t come up with the best idea for the session and this is the area you’re meant to be an expert at. You’re a fake.

You’ve got no clue what you’re doing.

Hold it together, you need to be perfect.

What would they say if you fell apart. They’d never trust you again.

You don’t have this.

You called your boy a little shit to someone else, what a terrible mother you are.

I can feel these words pressing on my chest like a weight. Making me retreat, feel small.

And I feel the anger towards myself for not managing to hold things together. For not being perfect. For not coping when I think I should be able to bloody well cope with something that appears, on the surface of things, so simple.

And as I spoke to Jenny, we talked through how I might talk to my inner critic.

Acknowledging that she’s just trying to keep me safe by keeping me small.

It’s safe if I measure my life and success by the standards of some external expectation – others, society, perfection.

I’m less likely to trip and fall in front of others if I stay small.

It’s not what I really want. I want an expansive, large, messy, bold, brave life of exploration, courage, excitement.

But that’s really scary too.

I also acknowledge that she’s piping up because I’m reaching breaking point. I’ve been doing too much for too long, giving too much of myself for too long without replenishing myself.

But she’s got her wires crossed and instead of saying ‘Hey, Amy! You need to take care of yourself and sack everything else off’ she shouts at me military-style to try to get me to keep on going.

Awareness that what she’s saying isn’t the whole truth

When I’m in this situation, her voice can be all consuming. And I believe what she’s saying – I’m broken, I’m a failure, I’m shit.

But what she’s saying isn’t the whole truth.

For example, it’s not the whole truth that I need to get everything right every time.

It’s not the whole truth that I need to breastfeed Jenson to be a good mum.

It’s not the whole truth that I don’t know what to do.

It’s not the whole truth that I’m broken.

There are part-truths in there for me –

My role requires some mastery but I don’t need to be right every time – I need to have a learners mindset and ask good questions to help others make progress.

Being a good mum to me means putting the needs of my child first – but I can fulfil Jenson’s need for nourishment through other sorts of milk and lots of affection. It doesn’t need to be through breastfeeding.

I don’t always know what to do, but I do sometimes.

I’m struggling at the moment but I’m not completely broken. And it’s not the whole truth that struggling and even cracking is a crime, a judgement of my worth, a sackable offence.

Calling on another part of me

At the moment my inner critic is pretty loud. But there are other parts of me that have something to say.

The wise part of me able to say that breastfeeding is more about nurturing and loving Jenson, which I can do in other ways.

The cheerleader in me who says ‘you’re a bloody brilliant mum, I’m so proud of you.’

The gentle part of me which says that I need to let Gregg step into the nurturing role with Jenson more so that I can nurture myself and continue to be a good mum to him and be an example to him of the importance of putting yourself first. I want that for him – that he puts himself, his happiness, his well-being, his desires, first – and so I need to show him me doing that in action to role model this behaviour.

Will this ever get better?

I asked Jenny if I’ll ever get to a point where this voice isn’t so loud.

And disappointingly she said ‘no’. But she did say that I’ll get quicker at noticing my inner critic and will get better at telling myself that what she’s saying is only partly true. I’ll get better at calling on different parts of myself to give different perspectives.

It’s not what I wanted to hear, but that’ll have to be enough.

A good old rant

I’ve been thinking a lot about not being ok since I wrote a recent blog post on this subject.

I feel great at work and how I am in my role as mother to Jenson – often I feel that I’m flying when I’m in the midst of a meeting or playing in a park with my son.

But I’m left on empty when it comes to other things outside of these realms. Small events like unexpected plans or having guests to stay can throw me into a spin and leave me on my knees with exhaustion.

Not putting boundaries in my life, taking on more than I can deal with and having little-to-no time for myself is impacting me.

I’m comfort eating more, snapping more, feeling more and more on the edge of ‘ok’.

I need time for myself.

And so I’ve been weighing up what I need to do to find more time in my jam-packed life.

Breastfeeding

I’ve started to stop breastfeeding my son, which comes with a multitude of feelings including sadness, not being good enough, judging myself as selfish for putting my needs above his well-being.

I know I’ve breastfed him far longer than most people. I know I’ve given him the best start I could. I know many babies never have breast milk and are perfectly happy, well-adjusted, healthy.

So I’m not looking for reassurance or anything like that from you in writing this. In fact, you’re likely to get a punch on the nose from me if you say things like that (ok, more like a frosty ‘thank you’ – I’m too polite to turn to fisticuffs 😜)

Because I know all these things already and that doesn’t change how I feel.

I still feel anger, sadness, disappointment, hurt…

So I’m asking myself what’s going on.

I’m tired so am not at my best. Things feel trickier, my emotions around this ending are heightened.

And I’m scared too, scared he’ll not need me as much if he doesn’t physically need me.

I can also tell that I’m trapped in a rhetoric that it’s possible to have it all – being a perfect mum, employee, perfect person – and thinks of myself as ‘weak’ for not being able to just buckle down and push on through.

But I’m not weak.

I’m a human.

With only so much energy to expend.

And I’m an introvert.

Who hasn’t had much time over the past 16 months to be in stillness and recuperate from the hustle and bustle of life.

I had quite a traumatic birthing experience with Jenson and, thrown into motherhood I perhaps didn’t get a chance to process all that went on so I’ve transferred some of my feelings about that into this whole breastfeeding malarkey.

Getting out of my head

I’m so so so tired of being stuck in my head.

Holding onto the million different parts of my life – do we have food sorted for the week? Has Gregg got out £20 to pay the cleaner? I’m not talking enough to Jenson, what if that delays his speech? Do we have the paperwork sorted? How can I find some French friends for him to hear French from people other than me? Where is my community in Brighton?

It’s so busy in my mind.

It’s exhausting.

I’m carrying the mental and emotional load .

And I feel like the writer in the link above – I have a good, kind husband who actively does a lot of work, picks up the slack if I ask him to, does things around the house.

But I still feel on my knees from the emotional load I’m holding which keeps our lives together.

I doubt he would have asked himself, putting the last vegan sausages in the oven yesterday, whether we had anything for dinner tomorrow. Part because I enjoy doing the food prep but part because he doesn’t carry this mental load.

I don’t usually mind carrying the mental and emotional load. It’s something I’m generally capable of until I get to this point of depletion and can take no more.

Politeness

And I’m so good-damn tired of being polite and not speaking my mind.

Of bearing in mind the feeling of other people and adjusting myself to fit into their ideal (or what I think their ideal is).

I know they don’t ask me to be anything other than I am (although they might not approve if I were to be outspoken and speak my mind) so I’m mostly angry at myself for taking on this polite BS and not allowing myself to speak my mind more often.

I hate that my default is ‘yes, whatever you want’ instead or ‘nah, I’m alright thanks’.

I hate how this makes me exhausted.

I hate how I don’t say ‘that hurts’ when something someone says hurts my feelings. And instead I bury it deep and hide away the pain.

I know I am getting better at speaking my mind, letting go of needing to please, being open and honest to those around me.

But it’s exhausting to step out of safety and into unknown territory.

The anxiety after my neighbour asked if she could cook a chicken in my oven (as hers is broken) and I said ‘yes, but poor chicken’ as I’m against slaughtering animals for our own purposes. I expressed my view but am on tenterhooks that she might feel ill-will towards me and my views.

Such a small thing but something that is taking up brain space when I’d rather not give a damn and respect my views.

Will this ever get better…?!?

I hope so, and I want to believe so. But it feels a bit hard right now.


So there you are – my good old rant! It feels so great to express how I’m feeling and to share that things are hard right now.

I’m sure it will get better in the future, but at the moment it all feels a bit ‘meh’.

I hope you’re in a better place than I, dear friend. Or if not, I hope you have the courage to speak out like me and say ‘I’m not ok, but it’s ok’.

Raising my voice

I’ve been lone parenting this weekend as Gregg is at a stag party. I took Jenson to an animal rights protest in London yesterday, partly out of desire to be an active citizen and partly to have some plans to fill up my three days alone with him.

I’m so glad I went.

I loved hearing from animal activists who had so much information to share.

I loved the atmosphere as we marched through the streets of London, handing out flyers to the public.

I loved being part of something bigger than myself as we showed images of how animals are killed for our pleasure, kept in tiny cages so businesses can make as much profit as possible, viewed more as a commodity than a being who feels, fears and loves just like we do.

But that wasn’t my feeling right at the start of the march.

I felt uncomfortable, out of sorts, anxious as I made my presence known on the streets of London.

I felt like I didn’t have a right to be there.

It felt wrong to be speaking out – and speaking loud – instead of being in my safe little zone where I am vegan and will gently say why I am if people ask why (the reason, if you’re interested in for the planet – we can’t survive whilst still consuming such high levels of meat and dairy – and because of how animals are kept, treated and killed).

But I keep myself to myself.

I don’t push limits.

I keep my vegan views, my ‘controversial’ views of parenthood, family, love out of this blog for fear of offending you, dear friend.

And in that moment, something clicked for me. I realised that I don’t allow myself to be fully seen.

I don’t allow myself to share my views unless I’m given express permission to do it by someone.

And there are so many reasons I can think why.

Girls aren’t brought up to be forceful and I feel like I’m ‘too much’ when I think about my opinions and views on a range of topics.

I’m fearful of speaking out as that reminds me of my Christian experience growing up where we’d be encouraged to try to ‘convert’ people to our way of thinking.

I don’t feel comfortable dealing with conflict and, in putting my opinions ‘out there’, there will be many people who will disagree with me.

But that’s ok to live with these reasons – I can grapple with them as I work through giving myself permission to be seen and my voice heard.

And by that I mean all that I am, not just the bits of me that are mainstream and not controversial.

It feel scary and new and different to do this, but living this way feels aligned to the name of my blog – courage, truth and love – and so I know it’s the right thing for me to do.

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A narrow set of rules that just don’t work

I’ve been thinking about my age old stumbling block – my body – since I went to see the Guilty Feminist Live a few weeks ago.

I was lucky enough to hear the amazing music of Grace Petrie who is a singer/activist and also a self-proclaimed butch lesbian who never felt she fitted until she came to peace with who she was and how she looked.

And in hearing how she felt she didn’t belong because she didn’t fit into the ideal of femininity, I realised just how much I only feel I belong if I’m at my thinnest and fit into the female ideal of beauty.

I don’t really understand why I feel this way, but I do.

I don’t hold other people up to the same standard. If someone is overweight it doesn’t make me question their worthiness or think less of them.

I might wonder whether there’s a reason for it – some hurt they’re trying to bury with food, a medical reason, because they love food and don’t feel ashamed of being who they are in their body.

But with me, I believe being a bit soft round the edges shows me as weak, not able to cope, lacking in self-control and so many other things…

But after seeing Grace and marvelling at the idea of fully embracing myself, I’ve been wondering about a few things.

What if I lived by Grace’s words?

Some of her song lyrics – and the title of this post – are ‘a narrow set of rules that just don’t work’.

And that’s, in my ‘logical’ thinking moments something I understand about my thoughts about my size.

Not everyone is made to be a size 6/8/10/12.

And by saying ‘you must control yourself to stay thin and within these narrow views of beauty’ I’m saying to myself that it’s not ok to not be perfect.

But perfection isn’t real and these rules about what is ok to be, food-wise, is too narrow.

It’s not realistic.

It’s not something that works for me.

It’s not ok to not be ok

Food and body image becomes more problematic to me when I’m not doing ok.

When I’m treading on new and tricky ground.

When I’m challenging myself in areas that I’ve not challenged myself before.

And that’s what I’m doing at the moment – I’m out of my comfort zone and so it’s no wonder that the old self-critical voice and comfort-eating behaviour is creeping back.

It’s not a wonder really with the strides I’m taking in my life:

  • I’m shedding the thought that I mustn’t stand out or ask for things for risk of being thought of as a nuisance.
  • I’m getting the self-belief and assurance to take time for myself in my personal life. Seizing time for myself just as my husband does when he goes to park run on a Saturday or football on a Wednesday evening.
  • I’m doing different things at work which are new and uncomfortable – having challenging conversations, staying in ‘adult’ mode when I want to be the rescuing ‘parent’, considering how I might work as more of a team instead of staying safe through being self-sufficient.
  • So I suppose what I’m saying is that I’m not entirely ok at the moment.
  • But that’s ok.
  • When I am going through periods of growth, I tend to turn to food for comfort before I slowly unfurl into new territory.
  • And that’s ok.
  • I don’t quite believe that I could be a size 14/16/18 and still think of myself as fantastic, worthy, brilliant. But I’m recognising this and trying to change my inner dialogue.
  • I’m making headway.
  • What if I loved my body like I love my son’s body? 

    Like with other people, I don’t measure my son by his body. But it’s a part of him that I love. His beautiful, plump arms and legs ripe for the biting, his cheeks so soft to stroke and kiss as he lies next to me, sleeping.

    He could be twice or half the size and I would still look at him as perfection. And, although I love his body, it is a small part of who he is.

    He is his cheeky smile and his ability to spot small details at such a small age.

    He is his obsession with bubbles and his pushing around of Harold the Bear in his little pushchair.

    He is the ‘woof’ he says when he sees the dog and his concentration as I read story after story to him.

    He is his strong legs that allow him to toddle around.

    He is his hands that clap and his fingers that he moves to try to mimic ‘baby shark’.

    He is his body – and I love it for all it is – but he is so much more than that too.

    And to view it in isolation is to do him a grave injustice.

    To view my body in isolation is, likewise, to do myself a grave injustice.

    What if loving my body was a great act of rebellion?

    It does feel rebellious, the thought of accepting, loving and cherishing my body, whatever its size.

    To see rolls around my waist (just the act of writing this feels disgusting!) when I sit down without any sense of disappointment or judgement or disgust.

    To no longer look sidewise to see how narrow my body is because it’s just not a priority for me.

    To look at my body as I did just after giving birth to my son – with wonder, respect and gratitude for what it does for me.

    To not be defined by how I look.

    To not think I’m less deserving because of not being a small size 12 or that my body and my size has anything to do with my worth or my worthiness as a person.

    When I look at myself through this lens, it feels like a deeply rebellious act.

    It’s not an act of self-sabotage – pushing as much food as possible in myself to defy a society which tells me who I should be.

    It’s an act of deep self-love and freedom to nourish myself, give myself food I love and food that provides nutrients without any heed to my size.

    Without any pressure to my anything other than I am.

    Without any rules defining what I should or shouldn’t be.

    So where do I go from here?

    I accept that I still have far to go on my journey.

     I remind myself that it’s ok to not be ok.

    I send gratitude to the divinity of motherhood for the chance to see a love I want for myself mirrored in the love I have for my son.

    I see the small seed of hope for the future me.

    I am reminded to look at myself with love and compassion.

    And I’ll end this blog with some words from Grace’s beautiful song:

    “You will figure out what’s yours and that it’s got nothing to do with fitting neatly in a box that was constructed to make it seem like people come in just two teams and anything that’s in between ain’t good enough”

    Some quick ponderings

    There are so many things that are going on for me right now. I’d love to spend hours unpacking them and digesting them on here…but the truth is that I’m speed typing this while my son is still asleep and I don’t have time to write a fat, satisfying blog post which dives into all and everything that is going on for me.

    But I’d love to get some of what I’m thinking and feeling onto this digital page to perhaps visit later on.

    TV

    Sometimes I get obsessed with a programme and want to do nothing else but spend my days and nights drinking it in until it’s over. The OA, Grey’s Anatomy, This is Us, Game of Thrones, Louis Theroux documentaries.

    But more than ever at the moment I’m bored of TV. I find myself viewing myself watching something, sitting in front of a scenario which in some ways is a play-by-play of plots that have come before it.

    This probably speaks of my hunger to do more than it does of the shows that are failing to keep my attention. I’ve been at home mostly every night for my son since his birth, but I feel something inside me call to do more, to have more active things for myself.

    I’m looking into drumming groups, I feel like running once a week might be good for me…I’ve not quite yet sorted out what this means for me, but I know something needs to change.

    Brexit

    We started talking about Brexit at work the other day and I felt so strongly about my view and so negatively about the other people’s views that I needed to leave the room to not raise my voice in a way that’s inappropriate for the workplace.

    What makes it so hard to listen to the other people?

    Why can’t I open my mind to see where they’re coming from as I can with mostly every other sentiment?

    And I’m mulling over a thought that someone shared with me – how so much is passing us by – damning reports about the state of care for the elderly and children in care, the environment, the reducing budget to local council budgets which is crippling their ability to respond to those in need. And there are so many other critical areas which I am ignorant of – which are passing us by while we argue about whether we should leave or we should remain.

    I want to do more – protest, revolt, make a stand for all these things that are so important to me – and yet I don’t know where to start. I don’t know where I can make a difference. I’m unsure where my voice could be heard beyond my own echo chamber of social media and the groups of people who have the same opinion as me.

    Stopping shopping

    It’s been almost a year since I stopped buying anything for myself that wasn’t essential. A year of not buying shoes, clothes, stationary or unneeded beauty products. I’ve stumbled a few times –

    • I bought a dress (which is lovely but I didn’t need).
    • I bought a teething necklace when I had a 30% off voucher (which I felt compelled to get but was a total waste of money)
    • I bought a lip stain when I have loads of other lipsticks (but I like that this makes me feel pretty without making me look like I’ve got lipstick on)

    Each time has taught me something about myself and my relationship with consumerism.

    I’ve relaxed my rules slightly over the year – I’ve bought a few helpful apps for my phone  (some have been great, some have been pointless) and a few books for a kindle so I didn’t need to lug around physical books on my travels (worth it in my opinion).

    So the question for me is where I go from here to keep up my life of consuming less.

    “Don’t be a nuisance”

    I’ve noticed a voice holding me back at work. A voice which tells me to not bother people, to not stir things up or be pushy or take up too much space.

    But to be effective in what I do, I need to push forward my agenda, I need to step into my power and take up space.

    I’m ready to unfurl, but also scared of what this means.

    I can feel a tightness in my throat as I think about it:

    • Speaking my truth
    • Demanding from others instead of hiding behind likeability
    • Being more honest about what is going on for me
    • Trusting more in myself, my skills, what I have to offer, my opinions and ideas about the way forward.

    I’ve noticed how I’ve wanted to eat more recently – and to be honest, I have eaten to push down my fear about this.

    It feels overwhelming at times to step into myself.

    To let go of the behaviour that brought me to my struggles of today, which means turning back to how I was as a little girl – at school, at home, at church – trying to be accepted and contorting myself to fit in.

    This way of behaving doesn’t fit me anymore, yet I don’t quite know how to step forward into my power.


    So there are the immediate thoughts that spring to mind in the surprisingly long time my son has been asleep.

    Happy Sunday to you, friend. I’m sending you hopes that you, too, get a bit of time to reflect on what’s going on in your mind and in your life.

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