A tiny step

I am currently sat on the train going to work and wanted to share a quick experience with you, dear friend.

It’s been a bit of a night for me, well, to be honest, every night is a bit of a night at the moment with 4+ wake-ups with Jenson where the only way to settle him is to sit up and cradle him in my arms.

And so today I’ve got out of the bed on the wrong side. Too quick to temper, my inner child stamping its feet if something isn’t 100% right off the mark, feeling like a grumpasaurus. And it’s only 7:15!

I was reading my book on the train – one about developing as a leader – and judged for myself for my shortcomings. I feel I have still so far to go to become anywhere near proficient at what I was reading.

But then I found myself looking at what was going on, as if from a third person’s point of view. And I realised that I was being less than kind to myself when what I really need is patience, understanding, gentleness for myself.

It hit me then and there that this voice was the gentle, balanced one that I’ve been wanting to find for a while. She was finally speaking out! Not after the fact of me being mean, judgemental, less than kind about myself, but joining in with the conversation, appearing in the moment!

Her voice is one that counters all the internal ‘mean girl’ comments I make to myself, the qualifier voice that discounts my experiences (you can’t be sorry for yourself because ‘X’ person has it worse off than you) and the part of myself I fondly refer to as ‘Mabel’ – the timid, scared child side of me who is constantly trying to make me feel safe in an unpredictable world.

To me, this new voice seems like a witness of sorts. Able to step outside what is going on and give me a more balanced view.

I know that this experience is a small thing, a tiny step on my journey to greater kindness for myself, but it feels like a massive thing that I want to celebrate! So even though part of me feels weird sharing this with you (will you think me strange for giving names and characters to all these sub-personalities that I’m formed of?!), I’m putting it out there.

Because this is huge! The start of an internal rebalancing, the discovery of a kinder internal voice, a hope for greater peace and self-love in my life.

Magazines

My relationship with magazines was one of love when I was younger. I subscribed to ‘Bunty’ magazine and how I loved all the stories and imagination inside. One of my strongest memories from being a child was going on holiday with my family for two weeks (three weekends) and the delight of coming home to discover that I had three (yes, three!) Bunty magazines to read. To pour over, cover to cover and feast upon. I loved it so dearly and I look back on this period of innocence with such fondness.

After Bunty came Mizz. I can still remember stories from its ‘cringe’ section – most prominently a girl who went swimming in a river with a boy she fancied and had a 💩 float into her mouth. It wasn’t the most enlightening read, mostly fashion, gossip and a whole host of quizzes you could do with your friends. On consideration, Mizz was not that bad! A bit like eating a chocolate bar – it had limited nutritional value for the soul – but was nice to consume.

There have been several other magazines that have my love and a fond place in my heart – vegan life which I get monthly and inspires/challenges/provides me with inspiration as I aim to live a life of greater love for the planet and less cruelty towards animals. It’s not a ranty vegan publication but has articles about art, interesting recipes (I recently learnt you can use chickpea flour to create a vegan omelette from its pages and Jenson loves it!) and interesting articles about social affairs.

Positive news is another magazine I’ve recently found. It shares the positive stories that so often get overlooked with the mass media of doom and gloom. Desert wasteland that is becoming green, zero waste pioneers, how the majority of UK voters want to see politicians of different parties collaborating more to solve the issues the UK faces instead of seeing division and fighting between different parties. I don’t subscribe myself to the magazine because of my shopping ban but the few I’ve bought for myself over the years have brought sunshine to my soul.

And then there’s the French magazines I bought in my university years to improve my linguistic skills. Femme Actuelle was the cheapest (and aimed at a very different market of middle-aged housewives!) and so it was the one I bought weekly as a student. It had recipes, articles about cleaning and fashion that I’d never want to wear, but it was harmless and a nice way to learn French.

I started this blog post off wanting to rant at the body-shaming, product-pushing, patriarchy-promoting sham that is female magazines…but I’ve enjoyed remembering that there is some good in the media I’ve consumed.

It just needs to be chosen carefully.

You see, I feel myself have a visceral reaction when I see the magazines left in my work lunchroom. I hate them so much for so many reasons. The gossip they hold about who has gained shocking weight, whose husband is leaving whom, which celebrity looked the best on the red carpet. A different scandal each week.

It makes me so sad that we women are consuming something which breeds hatred to women. That we are judging others with the same judgements that will then boomerang back onto us. How we aren’t thin enough, not rich enough, not good enough at sex, not young enough.

When the truth is that we are all enough. Full stop. We just are.

I’m not writing this to judge anyone who reads these magazines (although it might sound like it!). I understand wanting to get away from the world for a few moments, loving the fashion, enjoying a bit of schadenfreude, pleasure at someone else’s misfortune.

I feel angry at their very existence.

So there you are, my thoughts about magazines. They can be good, they can be bad, a lot of them are ugly to the core. I wish we would collectively stop buying the mean, women-hating, product-pushing ones so they would cease to exist. But all I can do is my part…not buying them, ignoring them and instead send out love into the world.

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Why don’t you let me love you?

I want to share something with you today which was a really powerful experience. It happened when I was being coached this morning as part of my fortnightly commitment to being coached myself. As a coach, it’s something I think is really important for me to do. To practice what I preach and get support to reflect and continually grow and develop.

This morning I was talking about how I sometimes feel so frustrated to still be on this journey to ‘enoughness’. Still, 20+ years into discovering how I might feel fully enough, fully acceptable in myself I feel that I should be there by now. I should be able to feel grounded and accepting of myself, regardless of what anyone else thinks about me. I should know that I am enough. I should know in each and every circumstance that I am worthy of love and acceptance.

But I don’t.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made great leaps in this area. I’ve stopped people pleasing so much and am now aware when I choose to engage in this behaviour. I’ve learnt to pay more attention to what is going on with me than what I think other people are thinking about me.

And yet I feel that I’m still not quite there (and sometimes feel that I’m far away from being there).

It makes me so frustrated.

I was talking about this with my coach today and we decided to spend some time tapping into my heart about this subject. Because this frustration seems to come from my brain. The part of me which says ‘you’ve worked on this for so long, it should be fixed‘ and ‘you’ve read so much about this and know the theory, why aren’t you able to be fully accepting of yourself all the time?‘.

So I stilled myself and asked my heart what was going on and I sensed that deep inside me is the longing to rock and cradle myself just as I soothe and cherish Jenson, my son. I saw this deep part of me singing Marvin Gaye’s ‘how sweet it is to be loved by you’ to me. I felt the possibility of boundless safety and security and love.

And then a great wave of sadness and grief washed over me and I heart these words –

“why won’t you let me love you?”

I felt such sadness for the angry words of criticism I speak over myself. I felt grief for the judgement I put on myself for my size, my shape, my body. I felt loss for the disregard I have for my feelings and my experiences. And I cried for myself in that moment.

Why won’t I let myself love me?

It’s a question I’ve been asking myself all day and I’ve been imagining what it might look like to let me love myself and I’ve felt what I can only describe as a blossoming of my heart and an awareness of what looks like to love myself as I’ve gone through my day. I wanted to share this with you, dear one, in the hope that my revelations can help or encourage you too:

Running late for a meet-up with a friend, berating myself for being over 90 minutes late due to Jenson’s nap, I knew that loving myself meant taking deep breaths and appreciating the view of the sea I was cycling past to get to herself instead of having a mental stream of anxiety and annoyance at my shortcomings.

It meant having an honest and open conversation with my husband about something personal I’ve been grappling with for a while instead of holding it in and shutting him out. Because I was worth him hearing what’s going on for me.

As I saw my body in the bath I shared with Jenson tonight, I knew it would mean seeing myself with such love and joy – the same way I feel when I see my son, roley-poley body and all. Knowing that my body is just an encasement of something much more – my soul, my essence – and letting my love for the ‘more’ fill my heart to the brim.

There is the possibility of such joy, such acceptance, such peace if I let myself love myself. This feels like a path I want to walk, a future unfolding within myself, a journey to letting myself love me.

And I hope, if you grapple with any of these things I’ve mentioned, that you can start loving yourself for you too.

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Good enough

I’m currently sat in the kitchen with the mess of unpacking from our family mega-adventure around me and am thinking about the imminent changes in my life. The main one being that I’m going back to work in less than a week (less than a week!!!!!!!!), leaving my son in my husband’s care.

Geez, where did those six months go?! Six months which, at times, felt interminable. Six months that I loved and struggled with and where I poured my heart and soul into this new little creature of mine.

As I’m sat here contemplating the upcoming changes to my life, the one thing that sticks in my mind is ‘your best needs to be good enough’.

This thought has been milling around for a while. Since I wrote the post about not feeling I could call myself a vegan anymore because of the leather sandals I bought myself in a pre-travel frantic dash around town and the eggs I eat. I was so grateful by the replies I received from people who read this blog of mine saying that I was being to hard on myself and reminding me that being vegan is about attempting to exclude animal exploitation as much as possible (that’s how the Vegan Society defines a vegan lifestyle).

And I found myself face-to-face with my perfectionism. Again. 🤦🏻‍♀️ Judging myself unless I am able to reach a standard of perfection. Which is impossible as I am human, not super-human.

What if I hadn’t bought those sandals and didn’t eat those eggs? I’d probably have realised that a medication I’ve taken wasn’t vegan and be in the same situation of not being perfect and therefore not being good enough.

But my best needs to be good enough.

And this thought that ‘my best needs to be good enough’ again came to mind when I saw the below Brené Brown quote and remembered all the times at work where I was secretly weighed down in the pit of my stomach with fear and shame for not having done something ‘well enough’ (when I had done my best in the given circumstance).

Times when my plans haven’t gone as well as they could or I’ve received difficult feedback from something I put my heart into. I want my best to be good enough in those circumstances.

As I find myself on the cusp of going back to work, I know this needs to change. Now being a mother and pulled in different directions – wanting to give my all to my jobs (both my full-time Organisational Development role and my work with coaching clients), having great friends I want to stay in touch with, writing this blog and wanting to be home as soon as possible to spend time with my son and husband – I know that my best needs to be good enough.

So I will remind myself of this on the days I leave work with not everything done. If I’m home late sometimes or I miss any milestones for Jenson. When I leave texts to friends unanswered for longer than I’d like. When I haven’t posted anything here for over a week.

I’ll be doing my best and that has to be good enough.

And in this spirit, I’m going to leave this post here. I know it’s not the most brilliant post, I could review my words and make it more eloquent. But with the time I’ve got, this is my best, and that’s enough. ❤️

Internalising

I’ve been on a path for a while to find acceptance with who I am. Acceptance of my body, acceptance of those parts of my personality that I often think are ‘too much‘ or ‘not enough’. Too sensitive, too emotional, too bossy, too strong-minded, not funny enough, not extroverted enough, not laid-back enough.

I have long periods of peace with who I am and have made great strides forward in gaining love and acceptance of myself – I know that my body does not define who I am inside, I’ve learnt to find beauty in my strong body instead of berating it for not being waif-like and I’ve also gained a great respect for my body after being pregnant and giving birth to my beautiful baby boy. It is so much more than flesh that should bend to my will – it is precious.

Yet I’ve noticed my mean girl voice come back into my head of late. Judging my body that has not and may never return to its pre-pregnancy form. And commenting on all the ways that I’m not enough and too much in each situation. Doubting that I’ll find acceptance from those I hold dear. Fearing they’ll find me lacking in some way.

I experience this mean girl voice as an uncomfortable niggle, like a bruise I can’t stop touching. Sometimes I can say “thank you for your thoughts but I don’t need to hear them” to my inner mean girl and other times her words stay in my head and make me feel paranoid and self-conscious, wondering if everyone else is bored by me or thinking how much I’ve let myself go.

Luckily I’m able to do the former a lot more than before but it’s still exhausting to deal with.

But when I ask myself what my mean girl is truly about, I know it is an internalisation of tiredness, of being overwhelmed by this new experience of being a mother, of things being too much in life, of feeling that I’ve lost myself to then find myself and then feel lost all over again.

There are people I know who deal with these feelings by externalising them – talking about it, crying or raging. But with me, I’ve always internalised what’s going on for me.

I don’t know why this is, although I do think a lot of pressure is put on girls to be happy and that being sad or angry or grumpy is seen as unacceptable.

Perhaps it’s not the ‘why’ that is important though. The key is what I do now that I’m aware of the internalisation. Because I know it’s not healthy for me.

Thank the mean girl

I could continue to fight this voice or I could treat her as what she is – a prompt that something is out of kilter in my life and needs addressing. So I could thank her and deal with the underlying issues. It’s exhausting to do this, especially as the mean girl voice raises its ugly self when I’m feeling particularly vulnerable. But if I start to look at what is going on underneath, I think it can only get easier.

Put myself first

Over the past few weeks my husband has taken Jenson for a few hours to give me the space and time to do things for myself. And it has been what I’ve needed to reconnect to myself and feel back to my normal self. It’s what I’ve needed to keep my mean girl at bay. So I think I need to keep on having this time to keep my sanity. For me, it’s not a nicety, it’s a necessity.

I’ve also found myself being ‘rude’ over the past few weeks as I’ve prioritised my needs over other people. I already feel torn in so many ways since Jenson came on the scene and I can’t split myself anymore to accommodate other people. So I’ve turned people down, I’ve asked people to visit at a different time that suits me or said no altogether to seeing them, I’ve not gone along to things I didn’t want to. Because if it’s a choice between being seen as rude or going crazy, I’m going to opt for rudeness.

Share away

I have written before about how I find it hard to share what’s going on with me face-to-face. There are a few good friends who I feel safe sharing with – those who have earned my trust, are good at asking the right questions that open me up and have been as vulnerable with me as I am with them. And to be honest with you, I think it’s fine to be like this – to have a select few people who are trusted to hear my stories as I’m trusted to hear theirs. But I need to find time to connect with them around the time constraints of motherhood.

Externalise

I know that pushing down what I’m feeling is a one-way street to comfort eating and people pleasing. The two things I’m proud to have stepped away from for the most part. So to not push down my feelings, I need to find a way to externalise what’s going on for me in a healthy way. This blog is a huge part of that – sharing my experiences and expressing what I’m going through with you, dear friend. But I also think that there are other places where I can externalise my feelings. And I’m taking some steps to get there by arranging some coaching for myself to deal with the perfectionism which says ‘it’s not ok to not be ok’ and holds up an ideal of what I should be – funnier, easy-breezier, more extroverted.

I know that this is going to be a journey I take over the rest of my life – that of tuning into my intuition and learning to listen myself and what I need. It feels hard to be here, but it also feels honest and truthful and like things can only get better from this point onwards.

My personal mean girl

I have a mean girl voice inside me. I think we all have a version of a mean girl, although many of us don’t listen to her much.

I’ve been a bit poorly over the last couple of days. Nothing major, just bunged up with cold and with a bit of a cough. And coupled up with broken baby sleep (albeit around 7 hours a night), my usual defences against my mean girl had been lowered.

I looked at myself in the mirror and saw a puffy face, eyes without their usual shine and then my gaze lowered and I saw my post-pregnant body through mean girl eyes. I don’t want to share what went through my mind, but my thoughts were less than kind about how I looked.

In the past these thoughts would have sent me on a spiral down a rabbit hole of promises ‘I won’t eat any sweets today’ that I would most probably break because it was a promise made out of meanness, not kindness. And then the cycle would continue – promises (broken) and overeating followed by such shame and guilt.

I would perhaps look at myself through the day, pinching any excess fat, or would desperately avoid looking in the mirror so I wouldn’t have to see myself through these mean girl eyes.

But today I saw my mean girl for what she was – mostly tiredness, perhaps a distraction from the reality of being dog-tired and a habitual way of thinking which no longer serves me.

And with this knowledge, I was able to say ‘thank you, mean girl, for your input, but I don’t need you today’.

And instead I showed myself kindness.

It’s taken me over 30 years to get to this point – able to show myself kindness in moments of stress and when I’m a bit low – but now that I’m here I couldn’t be more thankful.