When I was pregnant, I was slightly worried about how I would cope with my body after labour. How would I feel about being in a body that was slightly flabby, potentially a bit broken and not like the one I had pre-pregnancy?
I knew that part of my thoughts were due to the struggles I’ve had in the past with eating, having spent a period of my life locked in battle with anorexia and, up until recently, dealing with stress and anxiety through compulsive comfort eating. I remember standing in front of my mirror so many times, pinching the fat on my tummy and judging the dimply skin on my bottom. I would look at other people who were slender with such envy; I couldn’t comprehend how they were able to eat a sensible amount of food and stop when they were full when thoughts of food constantly plagued my mind.
So it was normal for me, in advance of giving birth, to be concerned about how I would feel about my postpartum body.
I have to tell you, dear friend, how much I’ve been astounded by my actual experience of how I view my post-pregnancy body. Instead of judgement at how I look, I’m filled with a sense of wonder and amazement at it.
My body, which is capable of producing enough milk to feed and make my baby thrive.
My body, which went through the most physically challenging experience I’ve ever experienced – labour – and is still standing strong.
My body, which was able to grow another human being.
Another human being!
And it is so much more than that. It is capable of healing itself when hurt, warming itself when cold, has ways of coping with famine and has such strength and resilience.
I remember looking at my stomach the day after labour – it was a bit flabby, still rounded like in early pregnancy – and all I could think about was the amazement I had for it. And I thought to myself ‘how could I have ever been judgemental about my body when it is capable of so much?’
It was as if a light had been switched on and I could suddenly see my body for what it truly is. It’s not something to be scorned, punished or hated or an object to be toned and sculpted to perfection.
It’s truly incredible, amazing and worthy of all my love and respect.
You’ll be happy to hear that I’m coming to the end of Brené Brown’s book Rising Strong so there’ll be no more references to it (until I read it again, that is 😉).
But I love one of the lines she has included in her last chapter so much that I had to share it with you, dear friend:
“A whole hearted revolution is a small, grassroots movement that starts with each of us saying, “My story matters because I matter”.
For many reading this post, it’s a no-brainer that you matter. You know this deep inside you.
But this truth hasn’t always felt real for me.
At worst I felt that my story did not matter because I didn’t matter and for much of my late teens/early twenties, I felt that my story only mattered if it was important to other people. So I had to win approval to matter through what I did for others.
I don’t want to spend a lot of time unpicking the past to explore why this was. I think I know why this was.
Instead, I just want to take a few moments to celebrate that in this moment I believe truly, fully, without one shred of doubt that my story matters because I matter.
I believe that I count.
I believe that I’m important – if only to myself.
And in this moment, I catch a glimpse of the beauty and peace that comes from knowing intrinsically that I am enough. I don’t need to be anymore than I am to be whole. I don’t need to be anything other than myself to be happy and content in who I am, to fully love and accept my imperfect completion.
And I want to take this moment to reach out and let you know that I think you matter too.
As I’ve shared on a previous post, I’m currently reading Brené Brown’s book Rising Strong and want to spend a few minutes considering one of the ideas that she shares and has stayed with me since I read it:
“I think many of us move through this world feeling [fractured, disjointed, disowned, detached, unraveled or separate]. The irony is that we attempt to disown our difficult stories to appear more whole or acceptable, but our wholeness – even our wholeheartedness – actually depends on the integration of all our experiences, including the falls.”
Geez, she’s a wise lady. I truly believe what she’s written – it’s in owning our whole story, not just our perfect moments – that we can live wholehearted lives. Where we know we’re enough, truly worthy of love and belonging just as we are.
What I’m struggling to integrate is that I feel so damn much in life and have so many moments of imperfection due to the fact that I’m so self-aware and sensitive. If I show myself, if I integrate all my experiences, I’ll be a hot mess most of the time. I’ll show how little I have my shit together and that feels scary, vulnerable and raw.
To be honest, it sometimes feels like I’m living the following equation:
I have heightened emotions + the world says displaying deep emotons is unacceptable = I’m unacceptable
I’m not saying this in a ‘poor me’ way. Part of me thinks ‘fuck the world, this is who I am’ but another part of me asks how I can be me and feel fully seen when the person who I am feels sometimes so unacceptable. And so, if I’m honest with you, dear friend, I often temper who I am to be more acceptable. Not becoming someone different but leaving the details of my life out from face-to-face interactions.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t always feel unaccepted but at this moment, reading Brené’s words, I’m left pondering how I can integrate my deep emotionality in a world that appears so ill at ease with feelings.
I suppose part of the solution is continuing to do what works for me:
Spending time with close friends who make space for and accept my feelings.
Leaning into the amazing work I’ve been privileged to be part of in my organisation, which is all about being real and authentic leaders, bringing our true selves to the workplace.
Continuing to be coached so I can better learn how to accept myself and integrate my feelings, experiences and emotions into my life.
And perhaps it’s like the approach I’m taking to my maternity leave – sharing it 50:50 with my husband so we both take 6 months off to care for our baby. We’re doing this because it’s right for us as a couple but also because unless people lead the way in sharing the full child rearing responsibilities, things will never change and it will always be the women’s role*.
Unless I show up wholehearted, sharing my whole stories and experiences in life, things will never change. I can take steps to be wholeheartedly me because it’s the right thing to do but also because I long to lead the way to a world where it is acceptable to be messily, imperfectly, beautifully human. To be our true, wholehearted selves.
And the idea of this being a reality in my life, a reality in the world, is so worthwhile. It makes me feel so excited to think of a world where the following is true:
We are all accepted as being unique and having differing levels of emotions + we know we are enough exactly as we are = we all experience deep feelings of acceptance, belonging and joy
With this in mind, I’m willing to dive into the world of wholeheartedness. I’m willing to see where it takes me to not just to find my way in this world but to create a world I long to live in.
*I know this is a generalisation and wanted to salute all the couples I know who share the childcare and all the men who have taken a step back in their careers to look after their children. But for the most part, it’s women who do most of the childcare and take on larger caretaking responsibilities around the house and unless we change things, it will always be this way.
Sorry, dear friend, in advance of all the posts I’m most probably going to write whilst I’m away on holiday.
I usually bring a notepad away with me to dream and ponder and plan and hope but when I was in the shops pre-holiday, I asked myself ‘do I really need a new notepad?’ and I found myself saying ‘no’ in line with my new found ‘do I really need it‘ philosophy.
I’ve got some paper so I can do some lone contemplation but I’m probably going to write down and share a lot of my thoughts here, which I hope is ok with you…and at this very moment I want to share how I’m really feeling a resonance of some words I’m reading in a book by Brené Brown called Rising Strong. It’s a book with the premise that if we are brave enough, often enough, we will fall. This book gives an exploration of how we might rise again when we find ourselves face down in the dirt, having tripped, stumbled and fallen whilst trying to live a life of true authenticity.
The three sentences I want to share with you from her book called out so deeply to me. They push and challenge me to keep on going with my journey of finding more courage, truth and love in my life because they are where I long to be:
“Wholehearted living is engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am brave and worthy of love and belonging.”
If I could bottle up my aspiration for my life, and that for the people I love (you included, dear one), it would be that we live wholehearted lives. That we know deep inside us that we are enough, worthy of love and belonging.
The tricky thing for me to grasp my head around is how we can just be worthy as an inherent trait. Like Déscarte’s ‘I think, therefore I am’, should I feel ‘I am, therefore I am worthy’?
I want to believe this, yet it challenges the very way I have lived my life for so many years…feeling only as worthy as what I do for people…and how I quite honestly don’t think that others are worthy of my love and friendship just as a fact of being. I mean, there are some people I don’t like (because we have nothing in common, I don’t share their values and principles) and there are some people who don’t like me (because I have nothing in common with them and don’t share their values and principles).
I suppose writing these words down makes me realise that there are other questions that rise up in me – whose love and belonging is it that makes me enough?
And suddenly I sense an ‘aha!’ moment.
Could it be that I’m basing this enoughness, this love, this acceptance of belonging on external people when really the true measure is that I’m meant to base it on is myself?
Could it be that I’m enough for myself and that’s all that matters? Worthy of my own love? Worthy of my own acceptance and belonging?
Could this be enough for me?
I want to wait and let these thoughts ruminate and percolate…and I’ll let you know what comes of this mindset shift.
I can’t quite believe that this is my one hundredth blog post! It blows me away just how quickly time has passed and how much I’ve seen, grown, changed over a period of 18 months or so. And I want to spend a few moments exploring the changes that have taken place with you, dear one.
I was prompted to start this blog whilst taking part in the Local Government Challenge, a work competition that turned me upside down and inside out. Competing taught me so many things about standing firm in who I am, stepping into leadership and challenged my view of success (from success = winning to success = doing my best and all I can from the process). From there I galloped onwards, standing firm in the value I bring to work. I managed to successfully negotiate a pay rise (something I would have been too timid to ask for in the past) and secured what, at the moment, is turning out to be the job of my dreams.
It has taken hard work, perseverance and a lot of soul searching but I’m living definition of success – giving my best and getting all I can from work each and every day.
I’m not sure the me of 18 months ago would recognise the woman I am now. I look back on the early posts where I worried so heavily about what you would think of me, lovely friend, for writing things about myself that were in any way positive, confident, complimentary.
Sure, I know I’m not perfect. I can be moody, insecure, shy, but I now proudly own all that I am and don’t mind sharing my self-love with you! I own both that which I love – my optimism, my generosity, my imagination – along with that which is not so great.
I also own those facets of myself which I feel aren’t desirable in society. What I mean by this is what someone described as my ‘core of steel’. I look (and am) soft, gentle and compliant but there’s a strength in me, a determination, a power that will not be shaken. And I have strong views which I used to lock away for fear of being rejected, but now I let out. I don’t believe in the bullshit of pretending all is perfect – I own and speak up about my battles. These things may not be ‘acceptable’ but it’s who I am and I own it.
Positive body image has been an issue for me in the past. I’ve struggled to accept that my body isn’t curve or fat free. I was trapped in a spiral of comfort eating and couldn’t find a balance between eating only the amount I needed to function (and not a morsel more) or free-fall binge eating.
I know my journey to full body acceptance isn’t over yet. Sometimes when Gregg touches me on the stomach or hips, I want to fling his hand away as these are the areas that I can find, on a bad day, ugly, wanting, fat.
And yes, sometimes I still comfort eat. But much less than before and when I do, it doesn’t hang over me like a cloud for the days that follow.
I suppose the main change over these months is that worries about my body take up less head space, and that I know that these struggles don’t define me. They’re not the whole me.
The whole me is someone who has body parts I love – my legs, boobs, height, bottom, cheekbones, skin. The whole me knows that my body isn’t the most important part of who I am. The whole me may not have the ‘perfect’ body, but would rather spend time doing that which lights me up rather than working on getting to physical perfection.
These are the thoughts and reflections that I want to share with you on my 100th blog post. I know I’ve come so far and I can wait to see where I’ll be when I get to blog number 200.
A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post about putting myself first and described how I’ve been feeling about this new way of being:
When I look at this blog post and others that I’ve recently shared with you, dear one, I think there is a theme starting to emerge. One of wanting to live my life for myself. Of casting off how I’ve lived before.
It feels akin to what a snake must feel like when it’s ready to cast off it’s skin. Skin that has become too tight for its body.
Instead of jumping into action and naming all the things I was going to do to put myself first, which could have been so easy for the compulsive planner that I am (“remove all plans from my diary”, “have a ‘me’ day once a week”, “tell one person per day what I’m really thinking” etc.), I decided to just sit with the truth that I want to put myself first and see what came my way.
And here’s what I’ve noticed…
I get high from saying ‘yes’
Or more precisely, I get a low from saying ‘no‘ to what other people ask for. So agreeing to other people’s plans has become the easy thing for me to do.
Why do I get a low? I suppose it’s because I automatically feel like the person I’m saying ‘no’ to will feel hurt and rejected, or will feel that I’m valuing something else over them, which, in looking at the cold, hard facts of the situation, I am.
Valuing seeing other people, valuing my own quiet time, valuing other plans more than I value them.
I’m sensing that if I’m to be able to say no with any ease in the future, it might be helpful to change this dialogue. To acknowledge that saying ‘no’ is factual – I’m not able to commit to them – not emotional – I’m shunning them for better plans.
Because the irony is that when other people aren’t able to see me when I invite them somewhere, I don’t feel hurt, rejected, undervalued. I don’t respect them any less. My love for them and my ability to see them aren’t linked.
So perhaps this is the mantra I need to repeat – my love for you and my ability to see you aren’t linked.
Having rules helps
I’ve established a rule recently of ‘one weekend a month without substantial plans’. So basically one ‘keep free’ weekend a month. It would ideally be two weekends a month, but partly due to my coaching course, which takes up a weekend a month, and partly due to a list I’ve got of people I want to see and things I want to do in 2017, it has shrunk down to one free weekend a month.
Even that feels exhausting – running through work, rushing through life, having plans at every turn.
But it also feels good to have committed one weekend a month to just enjoy time with my husband, to explore Brighton and, if I want to, to just lie on my bed the whole weekend and marathon a netflix series!
And since this rule came into my life, it has been easier to say ‘no’. To explain to people that it’s not that I don’t want to see them, it’s that I need to value my mental health and this means having one weekend a month with nothing in the diary.
It also makes it seem less personal – it’s a rule I have which applies to everyone.
Putting myself first is hard!
As I’ve started to put myself first, I’ve realised that it is really, truly, madly hard work. And sometimes bloody exhausting. I’ve had two occasions with close family where I’ve not been able to say ‘yes’ to their invitations, once with my mum and once with my mother-in-law.
I felt really uncomfortable stating my needs and not being able to see them as quickly or for as long as I would like if I had nothing else going on in my life. I still feel really uncomfortable with what I had to say to them to protect my own sanity. I felt rude, it was upsetting and, if truth be told, I even felt a bit angry at the lovely suggestions they put forward because it ‘forced me‘ (yes, I allowed myself to be the victim!) to have to say no to them, which I found really hard.
But as hard as it is, I also know that it’s right. It’s important. It’s part of shedding the skin of my people pleasing ways. And that’s worth the hardship, the risk of being seen as being rude, the moments of upset.
I was speaking to my hairdresser, Pete, yesterday* about getting older and he was saying how uncomfortable he finds it to be in his 40s. The one benefit of getting older, he said, was not caring about what people think anymore. He doesn’t get involved with drama, generally does what he likes and cares less about the opinions of other people.
And I think that is the key. Caring less.
Not being hard hearted to other people or trampling over them to get to what I want, but being less sensitive to the opinions of other people, which often cause me to feel blown about like a ship on a stormy sea.
Or perhaps it’s not about caring less about other people and is instead about caring more about what I think, feel and need. Putting myself in the driving seat of my life. Loving, caring and looking out for myself.
It makes me think of the screensaver I’ve currently got on my phone that says ‘I will not trade my authenticity for your approval’. This is what my heart is crying out for. To be authentically, unapologetically, truly myself. And to give myself what I need.
So I’m going to continue walking along this path of discovery, unbinding myself from that which no longer serves me. And I’ll keep sharing how I’m getting on with you, dear one.
Thank you so much for coming along for the ride and joining me on this journey of discovery!
*(if you live in Brighton and want a great haircut, check out the Bomb – both Pete and Caroline are amazing hairdressers and awesome people!)
I was speaking to my lovely friend Anita a few weeks ago and she mentioned that she had been looking at the beauty products – creams, lotions and products that cover-up – when she had a thought come to her:
“Why I am using these things? I don’t need fixing.”
And as I heard her words, I felt my eyes fill up with tears. I felt a resonance with her desire to accept herself exactly as she was without need to cover up, hide, accept the lies told by a beauty industry that profits on women thinking that we’re not enough as we are.
Anita’s words have been in the forefront to my mind this week because I’ve become aware of the stealthy addition of more and more grey in my hair. In past years, I’d find an odd grey hair, pluck it out and not think any more of it. But now I’m finding myself facing an ever growing number of these hairs and I’m confronted with the signs of growing old.
And it makes me think that something needs fixing.
Because I’m afraid of not being seen anymore, not being desired anymore, not being of interest to anyone anymore.
But what if I shifted my mindset and told myself in the face of these grey hairs that I don’t need fixing? That instead it’s our culture that needs fixing.
That we need to view people not by the colour of their hair or the firmness of their skin but by the strength of their hearts and minds?
So I’m going to resist colouring over my grey for a few weeks to see how that feels and keep on repeating to myself those wise words from my dear friend – I don’t need fixing.
This is the first post I’ve written since starting my new job and it’s so nice to be writing to you, dear one, instead of reading policies and taking in a wealth of information that doesn’t quite make sense at the moment. Writing to you here feels like coming home – it’s a beautiful constant in my life and I’m so thankful for it.
Starting my new role in a different company is a step change like I’ve never known before. It’s scary, exhilarating and beyond a doubt the right move for me to have made.
It’s not just in my role that I’ve experienced a change though…every morning this week I’ve set my alarm 30 minutes earlier to meditate, journal and get myself in the right headspace to cope with the manic day ahead.
Yes, it’s painful initially to wake up 30 minutes before I have to and I’ve wanted to turn off my alarm and dive back into bed, but I’ve gained so much from this time and it’s a practice I’m keen to continue.
I’ve had space to ask myself what I’ll need for the day ahead – peace, confidence, compassion, stillness – so there’s less rushing ahead with the day and more awareness of what I need to feel my best.
I’ve spent 10 minutes writing in my journal about how proud I am of myself and all I’ve done over the previous day which has shifted my mindset to being one of love and compassion instead of worry and criticism.
I’ve also used my oracle cards a few times as a prompt to consider different perspectives and all the cards I’ve pulled over this past week have had a similar message on them.
This is what I want to share with you today, dear friend.
All the cards were about speaking up, putting what I had to offer out into the world. The wording on one of the cards explains what I’m trying to say so much better than I ever could. So here it is:
“Perhaps you look at the world and already hear so many voices speaking. You may wonder if your contribution would simply add noise. You may wonder if you can really help, if you have anything genuine to add, or if there is just too much noise anyway! Do not despair. It is part of your divine destiny to add something of great value to the world, something that has its place even amongst all that activity, something needed in the hearts of all.”
This spoke to me so powerfully because I’m wanting to dive deeper into the work I’m doing here on Courage, Truth, Love.
I want to write more frequently.
I hope to start a podcast to learn how to speak my truth with as much confidence as I do in written form.
I want to grow and extend the help I offer in this world through training to become a coach…but I’ve been questioning whether there’s enough space in this world for me.
I’ve seen how many websites, podcasts and coaches there are out there and I’ve been doubting whether my voice is needed, important, valuable.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that doing all these things is valuable for me – I can’t imagine where I’d be if I didn’t have this safe space to share all that I’m learning with you…but I was doubting if what I had to offer was of any use to anyone else.
And this card confirmed that there is a space for me – my voice, my reflections, my offerings – in this world. When I step back and read the words of this card again, I see the truth there is space for all of us to offer up what we can.
So if you’re wondering whether there is space for you in this world, take these words as confirmation that there is space in abundance, that there is a pressing need for you to step forward and offer up what you can to this world.
It may be that your ‘divine destiny’ is to offer up acts of kindness, speak words of comfort to others, bring laughter and joy to this world or share a different perspective that makes others think.
So bring forth what you have to offer and know that there is enough space for you and there’s enough space for me.
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that I’ve struggled in the past (and still do today to some extent) with low self-esteem and a reliance on food to comfort myself when I find life to be too difficult.
The trouble is that I’m quite a sensitive soul, so I find a lot of situations to be too ‘difficult’ for me – feeling socially awkward, shy, embarrassed, sad, frustrated, angry – and my default setting seems to be a desire to turn to food to soothe myself instead of acknowledging and dealing with my emotions.
I’ve written about my struggles in some posts before because I think that, like me, many people turn to food in times of difficulty and if you do this, it’s so easy to feel alone and broken, like something is fundamentally wrong with you.
If I’m not careful, I can easily get trapped in a cycle:
Feeling unable to cope, eating, berating myself for being so fat…
Feeling unable to cope, eating, being disgusted with myself for being so fat…
Feeling unable to cope, eating, hating myself for being so fat.
For those of you who battle with the same issues, if you can take anything from this post, please let it be the knowledge that you’re not alone in your struggles.
I say this because I think the most destructive thing, the thing that prevents me from moving on, is getting tunnel vision and labelling myself as fat and only fat. I zoom in on the areas of myself I find hard to accept – my wobbly tummy, my thighs that rub together, my not-quite-double-but-working-up-to-double-chin, my arms that splodge out and look massive when resting on my sides…
And yes, I know that I’m a UK size 12 and that’s fairly small all things considered.
And I know that there are people starving across the world who would love to be fat.
And I know that events in Syria, the election of Donald Trump and the fallout of Brexit are much more dire and important than the news of me eating a huge main meal, a family bag of crisps and too much chocolate…but in the moment when I feel shame from overeating, my relationship with food can make me feel very isolated and can make my struggles seem all encompassing.
But recently the dialogue has started to change and I’ve stumbled across a way of thinking that has the potential to change my whole relationship with food…the knowledge that this is not all I am.
Let me give you an example…when I recently started a session of Amy-bashing, bullying myself for all my short-comings with food and my body, I reminded myself that my body is not just made up of the parts I find hard to accept – my tummy, legs, chin and arms.
I have parts of me that I fucking love. My beautiful, soft, blemish-free skin. My freckles that pop out in the sun.
I also have long legs that I love. I have high cheekbones and a smile that I’ve been told lights up a room.
And you know what? I’m more than my physical body. I’m also a being who is mostly kind, patient, generous, faithful, loving, hard-working. And yes, I struggle with being scared how how I feel and eating my feelings away…but I’m also courageous in writing this blog and sharing my vulnerabilities with you, dear friend.
And yes, it’s my sensitivity that makes the difficult emotions so hard to deal with, but it’s my sensitivity that makes me love my friends and family so intensely. It’s my sensitivity that pushes me to make a difference in the world. It is my sensitivity that allows me to see when someone else is hurting and spurs me to reach out to them with love.
And suddenly from beating myself up for my shortcomings, I’m filled with compassion and a deep self-love that warms me.
In stepping back and acknowledging that this is not all I am, I’m starting to find an inner best friend whose voice is so much kinder that the inner voices I’ve listened to in the past.
So know, if you also struggle with low self-esteem and unhealthy coping mechanisms, be they food, alcohol, drugs, smoking, that this is not all that you are. You are so much more.
For in knowing this, you can shift your whole perception and step into a life of greater courage, truth and love.
I want to share this post with you because, although it’s such a simple one, it’s one we could all do with hearing again and again:
This message first started calling to me when I started doing loving kindness meditations. These meditations focus on sending wishes of love and kindness to people I love, including myself.
The words from this meditation are so special to me, dear friend, and I’ve started to silently repeat them to myself when I’m feeling a little bit scared or anxious:
May I be happy,
May I be free,
May I ride the waves of life,
May I live in peace
This message of self-love has also been reinforced through encouragements friends have sent my way over the past months. One occasion that sticks in my mind came from my friend Heather. I recently messaged her about some cakes I had been baking and said I was worried about fitting into my bikini for an upcoming holiday. Her response made my heart so happy – I often think of it when I get anxious about my weight:
Don’t worry too much about the bikini – the most beautiful thing in a bikini will be a happy, healthy you, regardless of cake.
Her words grounded me and put things into perspective; I know that my happiness is so much more important than the size of my tummy and I will only be happy through loving and accepting myself.
I again felt a call to increase my self-love when I was reading a book and one character said to another:
“You need to love and accept who you are or you won’t ever be happy.”
This message of love has been everywhere!!!
So what will I do to increase my love, particularly during this Christmas time and the start of 2017?