I’m not alone

I’ve been coming to terms for a while now with the fact that I’m not somebody who enjoys small talk.

It’s made me feel shame that I’m not enough – that I can’t easily fit into the world of people who enjoy nothing more than being in a group with others, laughing and joking, sharing the every day occurrences of the world.

I’ve got a few good friends with whom I share a different type of relationship. It’s not a bond borne through years of knowing each other – it’s a bond of letting ourselves be fully seen.

We may not know what we’ve done on a day to day basis, but we know what makes each others heart stop with wonder or fear or anger. We know what stops us from stepping into our true calling. We share our highest dreams and our lowest moments.

We share from our depths of our souls. 

But that’s only with a handful of people and I’ve felt quite alone for much of life with how I’ve felt, not sure how I could both honour myself and find my path through a world built on a different type of interaction.

It feels like I’m speaking a foreign language – stilted, awkward, unsure.

It’s hard to share this as I feel like writing my truth – how I love deep conversation – discounts or belittles the pleasure and the fulfilment that other people get from chitchat, banter, sharing what’s going on in the day-to-day. And it’s not that I think it’s wrong to enjoy this way of living – it’s just not right for me.

And I’m finding myself feeling more and more uncomfortable living at this level.

Feeling this way and being unsure what to do about it has felt really lonely.

I felt unsure what to do or where to turn until I read a section from the book I’ve been reading recently called Soulcraft.

Reading these passages felt like a coming home to myself and I wanted to share them in case you feel similarly alone in seeking deeper soul connections:

We spend much of our time talking about trivial matters and practical ones – the weather, plans for the day, routine office events, frivolous gossip, the new movie, canned jokes, the latest shopping acquisition, the next technological miracle, stock-market shifts. Chitchat, the every day wins and losses. So little of our conversation addresses our passions, loves, emotions, dreams, or our creative insights and soul stirrings.

An effective strategy for tuning our awareness to the frequency of soul is to minimise every day conversation that separates us from the here and now and from what is truly meaningful. This can be a rather challenging discipline. Sometimes it seems almost everything in our culture conspires to distance us from the heart and soul. So many messages are ads, trying to tell us something of questionable usefulness while ruthlessly pandering to our vanity, insecurity, or happiness – new toys, fashion, entertainment, or insurance against the inevitabilities of life.

Few people ask the bigger questions. For the Wanderer, however, nothing is more important: she seeks the hidden treasure, the spring bubbling in the desert, the song of the world.

Constant superficial conversation keeps us from noticing what’s going on with us emotionally or spiritually or in our bodies. Small talk alienates us from ourselves – perhaps a purpose as well as a result. 

Sacred speech is conversation that deepens. It deepens relationship and enhances the fulness of our presence wherever we are and whomever we are with. It is dialogue centred in what exists here and now between us. We speak from the heart and address what truly matters – our feelings, imagery, dreams, life purpose, our relationships, soul stories, our discoveries of how we project aspects of self onto others or learn to withdraw those projections and our meetings with remarkable humans, animals, plants and places. There is no requirement that such conversation be solemn or hushed. The sacred is often funny as well. We laugh at our oh-so-human foibles and the jokes that life plays on us everyday. The more real our conversations become, the more alive we become, the more we want to scream or shout or cry. 

What a relief to hear that my experience is one shared by others. 

What joy to feel fully understood and to know I’m not alone. 

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Allowed to feel

I’m looking after Jenson, my son, as my husband goes to London to spend the day with his mum. The morning started off a little sketchy, with Jenson calling out for his daddy and the slightest thing setting off tears.

I tried to distract him and get this day going by suggesting a trip to the park. But I realised his trousers and his coat were soaked from playing in the garden earlier on.

I couldn’t leave him like that. I had to change him before we could set off to have a bit of fun and adventure for the morning.

He wasn’t keen on getting changed, and so I tried the parenting advice of offering him alternatives to give him some sense of choice.

“Do you want me to dry your clothes with the hairdryer? Or do you want to change into something dry?” I asked him. And after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing – tears and tantrums he said that he wanted to change his clothes.

So off we pattered into the bedroom to get him changed and ready.

But as I tried to undress him and put him in something more appropriate, he lost his cool. He was screaming, clutching his clothes, almost throwing up with the effort of crying. Furiously resisting me taking off his damp clothes.

Sometimes I’d think “ok, you can stay in your wet clothes” – for example, he hates having the rain cover put over his buggy, so quite often he ends up getting wet as I push him around. The screaming and tantruming is often not worth the price of him getting slightly damp in the rain.

But this was different, I couldn’t let him stay in something so wet with the cold weather outside.

It wasn’t a choice to just go with the flow this time.

And so I continued onwards in my wrestling to take off his clothes. Cajoling and begging and pursuing the removal of his clothes regardless of how he reacted.

It just kept getting worse.

Until he was almost naked, screaming and red-faced.

And so I did with my friend Laura Grove had suggested when he was a newborn, stripping down on top myself and hold him in a skin to skin embrace to calm him down.

I held him as he cried and went through cycles of sniffling and then wailing and then calming and then crying, finding peace, then going back to some more crying.

And eventually, he fell asleep, deep asleep, in my embrace.

I kept on humming deeply all through this, not ‘shushing’ him but instead making a sound which I hope expresses to him I hear you, I’m sad with you, I understand.

I thought about all the other times that I have tried to work through similar situations. Usually this involves getting us out of the house ASAP to provide Jenson with some distraction of the outside world.

But this situation today is revealing something deep inside me, the belief that it’s important for him to learn that it is safe to feel.

In a world where masculinity so often involves the denial of feelings in the pursuit of toughness, being constantly strong and capable, focusing on nothing but logic, thinking and reason, I need him to know that it’s okay to feel.

Is it okay to feel sad, frustrated and to express that whatever way is appropriate, even in tears.

Part of me worries about how he will fit if he grows up sensitive when the world doesn’t show kindness to delicate boys.

How can he be someone who feels when his friends and peers might mock him for this?

And how can I parent consistently in this way – encouraging Jenson to feel – when my husband has a different approach of distraction, himself actively avoiding feeling any negative feelings? 

How do we co-parent consistently and with compassion to him and with our different styles?

I don’t know.

But what I intuitively feel is that it’s important to allow Jenson to feel so that I bring forward a future with more space for the full spectrum of human feeling in him and for men of future generations – joy, suffering, wonder, anger, peace, frustration.

I want Jenson – and other children around him – to know it’s okay to express their feelings instead of bottling them up.

Because I know all too well what bottling things up results in – looking for distractions, afraid to be with the discomfort, paralysis in not knowing how to feel, discomfort with others feeling the emotions that you’ve deprived yourself the ability to feel.

It’s hard to stay in the feelings with Jenson, to not not try to make everything okay. Especially when I can’t always put things down to just focus on him.

But I think this is important and I feel that the foundations I’m building now – of him knowing it’s safe to feel – will be helpful for him in the future. 

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The mess…

I hate mess.

I mean, I don’t hate physical mess. You can ask my husband about how I leave my clothes strewn around our house like a Hansel-and-Gretel-esque breadcrumb trail of clothes. I also never know where anything is and I’m ok living in a bit of grime, leaving it far too long between kitchen cleans and bathroom wipe-downs (possible a bit too much of an overshare, sorry!).

But that’s me.

I’m ok with physical mess.

What I can’t bear is messy relationships.

My parents rarely fought growing up, but when a tense word was spoken or a disagreement took place, I did what I could to diffuse any tension. Practically singing and dancing to take the focus off the argument, I wanted to make everything right.

And that still stands true today.

I feel an intense discomfort when people around me are not getting on. When there are underlying tensions or I know that people have overt dislikes for others, I want to fix everything into a neat, tidy little box where everyone is happy and gets on.

Everything resolved.

But I’m learning that this isn’t possible. It isn’t my role to be the permanent peacekeeper in other people’s lives, nor is it something I have power over.

So I need to become more comfortable with the mess.

The challenge is how to do this.

So I’ve been thinking this morning about how I can let go of this need for control. Because life is messy, things get broken, people change, relationships move on, people get into disagreements and it’s not my place to try to mend everything.

I think the discomfort with emotional mess is to do with my sensitivity; I’m what I’d describe as an empath, I feel and can take on other people’s emotions really easily. I physically feel the tension when things are left unsaid. I take on the sadness when someone gets left out. I feel the anger of people not feeling understood.

And I don’t know what to do with how I feel.

When I get the urge to binge in order to press down my feelings, I’m able to ask myself what I’m truly feeling. Just by inviting the underlying feeling to come to the surface, I’m able to let it go. I’m able to say ‘it’s ok, you’re just tired’ or ‘it’s ok, you’re feeling bored’ or ‘it’s ok, you’re feeling hurt’.

So logically, I think that I might need to do the same thing with other people’s emotions – surface the feelings in order to release them.

But there’s something inside me which resists this.

Am I worried that the feelings will be too strong for me?

It is because I’m resisting the notion that this isn’t something I can control?

I’m not sure.

I know part of it is fear – fear of change, fear of letting go, fear of how I’d feel to open myself up to the feeling of discomfort, pain, sadness.

And part of it is that I’m not used to doing this, so in the moment, I forget that I need to feel what’s going on in order to let the feelings wash over me.

Part of it is in my identity. I’m the listener. I’m the person who people confide in. And so perhaps part of letting go will involve putting in place healthier boundaries to not get drawn into every dispute.

So there are a lot of different things at play here. Even unpacking how I feel is hard – it feels very messy in itself!

But I know that I’m making a start of breaking free from the unhealthy patterns that are no longer serving me. Just by acknowledging where I am and what is going on for me is the start of a change.

I won’t force things – try to make everything better right here, right now or find a 5 step solution to solving all my issues. I’m just going to sit with these thoughts and see where they take me.

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Feeling

I’m feeling so many things at the moment as my life prepares to shift dramatically again.

I’ve only got 2 weeks left of my maternity leave in Brighton before I go off on an adventure of a lifetime to Asia with my husband and my baby boy. And then after that I’m going to be returning to work full-time and my husband is going to take over the full-time care of my son.

I know these things are right for me – going abroad in search of new experiences as a family is sure to strengthen my family and it fills me with such excitement.

And going back to work and giving my husband time to bond with our son – time I’ve already had – is also so important and right for us as a family.

But I’m still feeling all shook up as the end (or the start of a new beginning) is upon us.

And it would be so easy to push down all the negative feelings with food in this moment, as I have so many times before. The anxiety, the fear, the feeling of wanting to freeze time, the frustration.

But I know that this doesn’t serve me at all.

It just buried the pain deep inside me. A pain I’ll have to feel at one time or another.

So I’m choosing to feel how I feel at 4am as my son plays next to me.

Sadness that our precious time together is coming to an end and that I’ll miss so many ‘firsts’ as I’m back in the office.

Frustration that so much of the next 2 weeks is jam-packed with plans when I just want to be in my baby cocoon and just be with my son.

Anxiety about the unknown – how we’ll cope with a jet-lagged baby (by taking things easy I suppose), whether my husband will cope with the constant haggling we’ll need to do abroad, how our time in Vietnam will work out.

These feelings are sad ones, hard ones, feelings that are due to projecting into the future and thinking ‘what if’ ‘what if’ ‘what if’. So they’re not feelings I can deal with by being proactive.

There are some things I can do –

Reduce the plans in my diary over the next 2 weeks.

Feel the anxiety, frustration and fear – these feelings sit in my stomach and on my chest like a weight.

Acknowledge that this is how I feel. Just getting it out there by sharing what’s going on with you, dear friend, is enough to reduce some of the urge to push down my feelings with food.

So I’ll keep feeling what I’m feeling. It’s the only way of being which doesn’t end with self-destruction.