To thine own self

For years and years I pushed my own needs and desires to the background in order to survive in this world.

If others think I’m ok, I’m ok was the unspoken mantra of my life and so I’d peddle, push, placate by following what I thought others needed me to be for them.

Often pushing myself over the edge and having bi-annual breakdowns where I’d cry for hours, releasing the tension and pressure of putting my needs to the back of the line.

And then I’d stick a smile back on my face and revert back to this pattern.

There’d be times where I’d get some counselling and feel a freedom as I allowed myself to surface my needs and desires.

And slowly I started to change my way of living, acknowledging my own needs and allowing myself to be a priority in my life.

I stretched, through relationships, into new territory.

Learning I didn’t need to be thin, pretty, demure to be loved. Learning I could voice my needs to my partner and I deserved to have a say in what was going on.

But I feel stuck at the moment.

I really don’t have a clue about how I can be true to myself – my needs, my desires, my introverted nature – where I am.

The nature of life at the moment is stretched and it doesn’t show signs of letting up.

I feel like something has to give.

Work is great, but full on.

Motherhood is a journey that I’m privileged to experience, but comes at a great price and requires constant patience, a tempered nature that isn’t naturally easy.

I am growing, expanding and stretching developmentally and spiritually, but it takes energy and focus. 

My partner has different needs to me, with each of us on opposite sides of intra-extroversion and it feels like we’re running in a different direction to each other at the moment. Needing different things from each other.

It feels like my life is a jigsaw puzzle, one which isn’t fitting together at the moment.

And I asked myself this morning whether it is possible to be true to myself in all this – to prioritise myself while still keeping the world spinning.

And the phrase ‘to thine own self be true’ came to mind.

So I turned to Shakespeare to see what ‘to thine own self be true’ actually means. What was he talking about?

I learnt there are several interpretations – firstly, it could be a call to do ‘the right thing’ (whatever this means). It could also mean that you should be honest in your actions. Finally, it could be advice to put yourself first.

So the literary father isn’t as clear in his directions as I first thought…and I’m just as lost as I was before about what I should do.

One thing is sure though, my puzzle pieces of life aren’t fitting together and I need to do something about it.

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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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Self-care

I’m finding it really hard to write this post. I’ve written and deleted, written and deleted but still nothing seems to be coming out right.

My words seem mundane, I’m worrying about who might take my words personally and read into them more than I intended, I question whether these are words to share or if they would be an overshare.

And this all points in one direction – I haven’t been taking care of myself as I should have recently.

It’s been a mentally and physically exhausting time and the effects are taking their toll on me.

You see, the start of this year has been wonderful – celebrating my son’s first birthday, having two full weeks off work to spend with family – but it has also been trying beyond my limits with my routine out of kilter and, most distressing, Jenson not settling into nursery.

It was hell to leave him screaming with distress at our nursery ‘settling’ sessions and difficult to come to terms with the fact that our little monkey might not be ready for being separated from us. For a week Gregg and I were left in the unknown of whether we would both need to reduce our hours at work to provide full-time care for our son since he was finding the transition to nursery too distressing.

And as life as we knew it hung in the balance, it was unbearably hard.

Did we parent him in a way that made a transition to nursery more difficult for him? Would Gregg still be in support of all the parenting decisions that are so important to me – co-sleeping, extended breastfeeding, sling carrying – with his desire to support Jenson to be ‘independent’? How would our lives be if we were to cope on one salary? Would this impact plans that I dream for us as a family – plans that rely on our savings.

And the stress was too much for me.

Despite the fact that we turned a corner, he settled into nursery just in time – I’ve been left feeling broken and out of kilter.

My back was agony since I was carrying so much tension and I turned back to my old habits of eating too much.

Eating for comfort when things were too much.

Eating sweet stuff at work when this is something I’ve rarely done over the years.

Supplementing my lunch with crisps and other food that I didn’t need for hunger.

Eating more desserts than I usually would.

Eating more in social situations to squash my awkwardness or just because I was not being mindful of what I was eating.

And I’ve been worried more about what other people think of me.

I’ve clung onto the things that haven’t gone well at work and with friends and family.

I’ve pulled out all the things from my past that I didn’t do well to beat myself up with.

I’ve worried that I’m going to be ‘found out’, found wanting and that people will see me for the failure I am.

I’ve felt not enough.

I feel like my internal axis has shifted and suddenly I feel intrinsically ‘not ok’. I feel like my foundations have been shaken with the force of an earthquake and are full of cracks.

So how do I get back to where I was before all this happened?

The first thing is admitting that I’m not ok. I’ve been telling people – speaking to friends, telling my mum about how I’m feeling this weekend, sharing with my sister about what’s going on, speaking up when topics are causing my anxiety to spike to protect myself, talking to my husband about it all.

The second thing is reminding myself that food is not the issue. It’s the manifestation of what is going on underneath. And so, while I need to pay attention to the food stuff and try to not stuff myself silly, the most important thing is what’s going on underneath – not loving myself, not expressing myself, not having a release for the emotions that I am feeling, not being kind to myself while everything is a bit trickier than normal.

The third thing is remembering that this is just a moment in my life. It’s a hard moment, but just because I’ve gone a step back doesn’t mean that life will always be like this. It feels all encompassing at the moment when it’s just a short period of my life.

The fourth thing is that I need to put my self-care at the top of my priority list. I need to take a lunch break at work, find some sort of exercise (apart from running around like a headless chicken to get everything done in life!), I could benefit with doing some short meditations, writing a bit more than I have recently, painting my nails, reading a good book, cuddling up more with my husband, checking in with close friends, spending time with my son doing nothing but playing, putting down my phone more, having some ‘cave time’ cooking alone in the kitchen with a podcast on.

And finally I’ve requested some counselling through work to try to work out how I can be kinder to myself and how I can cope with my anxiety when everything feels a little bit harder than usual.

I hope this post can help you if you’re going through a hard time. I hope you can take comfort from knowing you’re not the only one who has a dysfunctional way of coping with hardship – I’m in the same boat as you!

It certainly feels better to have everything out in the open – to say I’m not ok, but that’s ok.

Life is full of ups and downs and just because this bit is down doesn’t mean that it always will be.

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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.

Acknowledgement

I had another coaching session yesterday – there’s a common pattern starting to emerge that each session brings with it a blog post. Because each session allows me to reflect on some aspect of my life and make small steps towards where I want to be – able to love myself unconditionally.

So what did my session bring yesterday?

In a way, not much happened. I reflected on how challenging I had found my recent break away. It was lovely to see friends and beautiful to be in Wales, but it was not the restful time I needed it to be. Because I didn’t let it be.

The one day when I did nothing – I let the others go off on a walk and spent 5 happy hours in my own company – was the one time where I felt myself relax and unwind a bit. The one time that I felt I gained a bit of energy and resilience…which was taken away when Jenson awoke at 2am and wanted to play for two hours before going back to sleep.

I reflected with my coach that I’d have really done better if I had stayed back every day. Let the others go on walks, rambles, trips out and instead stayed and cocooned by myself for a few hours. But I hadn’t even seen that as an option because I hadn’t checked in with myself about what I truly needed each day until I got to breaking point.

So I ended the session with the acknowledgement that I need to get more in touch with myself to know on a moment-by-moment basis what I need. Whether it’s to go out, stay in, say ‘yes’ to an invitation or gracefully say ‘no’. But I don’t know how to get more in touch with myself…the voice that said ‘ENOUGH!‘ when I was at breaking point only comes out when I’m on my knees through fatigue, over-stretching myself and doing things that are not right for me for an extended period of time. It’s something that I’ll mull over for the next few weeks – how to listen to myself more without piling on another task for myself to do (i.e. committing to meditate for 15 minutes each day).

I also acknowledged that motherhood is hard. Beautiful, rewarding, exhilarating, but HARD.

Oh so hard!

It has stretched me thin with sleep deprivation, requirements for more patience than I’ve ever had, selflessness that I’m not used to. A surrendering of myself again and again and again to protect and nurture and raise my little son.

And I also acknowledged that this deep heart work I’m doing – the sort of thing I do with the people I coach – is hard.

Oh so hard!

It is work that involves looking deeply within myself, leaving no stone unturned on my mission to live with greater courage, truth and love. Actively looking at why I don’t consider myself as being ‘enough’ and asking why that is, reflecting on where I still people please and analysing why that might be, looking at the internal critical voices that drive my behaviour to start to rebalance them with kinder, more loving voices.

So I didn’t leave my session with any great revelations, but I know that being able to acknowledge what is going on for me is really important. As I write and reflect on this, I realise that it’s the start of rebalancing the critical voices with a kinder voice that says ‘you’re doing important work Amy, and it’s ok that you find it difficult. Keep on going, dear one’.

So I’ll keep on going, even if it is hard. For I sense that while the price of being here is high, the reward is going to be great.

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Tender

I shared with you recently about a lot going on in my life. Connecting so strongly with the grief in my heart, feeling the call to more, returning to work after the life changing event of becoming a mum, learning all the lessons in store for me about mothering my beautiful, spirited son.

I was lying next to him tonight, feeding him and missing Great British Bake Off (thanks, my little joker. You knew I was wanting to watch it, I’m sure!) and once I accepted the reality that I was going to miss it, I stopped fighting the frustration and tapped into what I was feeling.

And here’s what I felt – a tenderness inside me like a bruise.

Being bashed around so much with exponential personal growth, changes to everything I know and the uncertainty and unpredictability of being a mother and not knowing what the future holds for me.

I am tender and a bit battered and a bit bruised.

There’s no denying how I feel – if just is. And there’s no real changing what’s going on for me – it’s my journey.

What I do know is that I need to show myself kindness and gentleness. I need everyone around me to show me the same gentleness and kindness too as I live this season of my life.

I know if won’t always be this way. But it’s this way at the moment.

There’s no great reveal or revelation about what I can do about where I am. But just expressing it – sharing it with you, dear friend – lightens the load and helps me walk the path that I’m on right now.

It’s not the easiest of roads but I’m sure it’ll lead to somewhere great.