Speaking Shame

Today I am feeling discombobulated and out of sorts. Tiredness is making it hard to process my emotions, but I am trying to allow myself to feel them instead of burying them; to appreciate that, in this moment, this is how I’m feeling, and whilst it may not be that pleasant to feel this way, it’s okay, and it will pass. I have learned through my studies that acknowledgement without judgement and self-compassion are essential when dealing with negative emotions, so as well as doing my best to practice those I’m trying to rebalance my mind and body with gentle exercise classes like Pilates and Body Balance (particularly the latter with its mix of Pilates, Tai Chi and Yoga).

As part of my Master’s research I’m reading a book called Daring Greatly by shame researcher Brené Brown, in which the author stresses the importance of allowing ourselves to be vulnerable in order to become resilient to shame. In the spirit of this teaching, the following is a snapshot of the things currently swirling around in my brain:

  • I’m worried about the world my son is going to grow up in.
  • I’m worried I’m not doing enough to make it better for him.
  • I’m worried I’m not a good enough mother, that I’m too selfish to ‘do motherhood’ properly.
  • I’m worried about having another child, and whether I would cope.
  • I’m worried about having another miscarriage, or not being able to have another child at all.
  • I’m worried that sometimes I’m not a sensitive enough wife.
  • I’m worried about my ability and motivation to succeed in my chosen field.
  • I’m worried that this venture will fail like others before it, and that I will let this failure eat away at me until there is nothing left.
  • I’m worried about money.
  • I’m worried about (everyone’s) health.
  • I’m worried about death.
  • I’m worried that even when my life is damn near perfect (which it is) I still manage to find things to be worried about.

Many of the things in this list elicit feelings of shame, but as Brown herself says, speaking shame is the first step in defeating it. When we keep these kinds of emotions secret, they send us into a negative spiral, preventing us from connecting and empathising with those around us. They gain power over us, making our focus turn inwards and closing us off from the world. But when we shine a light on those emotions, admit to having them, share them with others, we realise that we aren’t alone in having them, and their power dissipates into the ether.

After writing my list I already feel lighter. What’s on yours?

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Motherhood (cont’d), Guilt & Moth Balls

I have decided that the topic of the research proposal for my master’s degree will be guilt and shame in new motherhood, because my God if there are two emotions I’ve felt near-constantly since having my son 9 months ago it’s those. I was pretty good at the guilt thing before having a baby, particularly where pursuing my ambitions (writing, studying, going freelance) was concerned. But since the baby things have amped-up ten fold. Now, on top of kicking myself about not pursuing the ambitions, my inner monologue spends much of the day berating me for all the things it perceives I’m doing wrong as a parent. Whilst the rational side of my brain knows it’s wrong (or at least grossly exaggerating) and I’m doing the best I can, it’s a hard voice to ignore.

Since returning to London in January (how is it already March?!) we’ve started to settle into a routine, or at least we had started to, until the cycle of nursery-related illness started. In the past month alone I’ve had to keep C home from nursery three times (once for a full week). He’s currently on his second round of antibiotics and whilst he is livelier in himself he’s still coughing and congested. It’s felt like Groundhog Day for weeks; as soon as he starts to show signs of improvement he gets ill again. I feel bad for him but also for myself (and here’s a prime example of where the guilt comes in), because when I have to keep him home from nursery it knocks my schedule out of kilter too. Last Friday, for example, I had to miss a whole day of uni, and given that returning to my studies has been having a hugely positive impact on my mental health that hit me hard. As weekends are family time and Mondays/Tuesdays are time with my son, that’s meant not being able to do any uni work for several days, which is stoking the embers of my anxiety nicely.

But on the flip side, I’m trying to make the most of being with C on Mondays and Tuesdays. I’m conscious of the importance of being really present (the other part of my research project involves mindfulness interventions) and not distracted (still working on this but getting better). I’m also trying to make sure we have fun together, because I know this time will never come again. We now attend Zip Zap baby classes every Monday morning, which he loves, and this afternoon I took him to a free trial of the local Gymboree class (not so sure about that one – bit too ‘organised fun’ for my liking). Nothing makes me happier than seeing his little face light up when he experiences something new. He’s such an explorer and I want to nurture that as much as possible.

When I’m not guilting or attempting mindful parenting, I seem to be permanently preoccupied with a million and one things, from the important (booking summer holidays) to the exciting (organising my best friend’s hen do) to the downright mundane (moth balls for the wardrobes). It’s incredible how every spare second can be filled with so much stuff. Pre-baby me was not dissimilar, the difference now is that there’s even less spare time to do it in. Sometimes it feels like life is one giant to do list, by day it’s things relating to the baby and by night everything else. It was only last weekend, when my husband gave me the greatest gift of breakfast in bed and some time to read my dusty stack of magazines, that I realised how long it’s been since I allowed myself to just relax.

On the social front we’re managing pretty well. Now we have a baby we’ve realised that the best way to keep the social life ticking over is to invite friends round for dinner. Fortunately my husband is a total Masterchef so it’s working out well (for me, as it means I don’t have to cook..). I’ve been ordering cases of premium wine like there’s no tomorrow (in the guise of wanting to broaden my horizons, but in reality just wanting to get rat-arsed and have less painful hangovers) and our flat is perfect for hosting dinner parties in. We’ve also enlisted a couple of babysitters so we can have the odd night out too. I have to remind myself that a few months ago this seemed completely out of reach – it’s all about the small wins when you are navigating early parenthood, and this certainly counts as one of those!

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Third Trimester: Entering Warp Speed..

Today I’m 27 weeks’ pregnant, officially at the beginning of my third trimester. I can hardly believe how fast the last few weeks have gone, it feels like only yesterday I was staring at the digital test in disbelief, and now we’re 13 weeks (or less!) away from meeting our little man. Crazy. Despite the sleepless nights, leg cramps, mood swings and anxiety, I’m so excited about entering into this next phase of our lives. I know it’s not going to be easy – far from it – but I’ve needed a new challenge for a long time and this will certainly be that!

Talking of challenges, this week I’ve finally put to bed the first (long!) year of my Master’s course (or at least I hope I have – results of the assignment are still pending..) which is a huge relief. Now I can finally turn my attention to the list of ever-more-pressing baby-related tasks that need doing. We’ve managed to sort the basics (so he will at least have somewhere to sleep and something to be moved around in) and have this week managed to confirm a creche place starting in January (this has been really worrying me as in Belgium creche places are few and far between, with women urged to start the application process when they are only three months’ pregnant – what?!!!!!), but we have yet to fill out all the complicated paperwork (in French – which complicates things more, given that neither of us have much of a grasp of the language) which will confirm our maternity/paternity leave and baby-related benefits. And as for all the other stuff we’ll need, I’m not sure where to start!

Something else I have confirmed, after thinking about it for a while, is the presence of two doulas at the birth. In case you don’t know what a doula is (as I didn’t a few weeks ago), they are basically non-medically trained birth support partners. Apparently, evidence suggests that women who have additional support beyond their partner and medical team have shorter, easier labours. For us, there is also the additional concern of our limited language skills, so I see our team of doulas as being critical in ensuring that our wishes are actioned by the medical team. I also figure that the more support we have the better – living abroad is great, but at times like this you miss your friends and family more than ever.

So things are moving along, which is just as well, because if his recent Tyson-esque bouts of stomach boxing are anything to go by, this baby is keen to get out and make his mark on the world….

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Week 23 woes

I knew January would be hard, but this is something else. Navigating the rollercoaster of a stressful job all week, then spending every weekend trying to pull off my end of year master’s assignment would be brutal if I wasn’t pregnant. But it is what it is. The only way out is through. So on I go.

Last night I went to see the doctor. When I stepped on the scales she raised an eyebrow and told me I had put on 3kg in a month. Apparently rather more than the 1.5kg she would have expected. She put it down to ‘Christmas eating’ (fair) and told me to cut down my sugar intake (cue immediate guilt about the double sized portion of egg custard tart I had consumed not two hours before my appointment). She told me my blood pressure was low. I told her I was stressed, so she wrote me a prescription for a magnesium supplement, asked if I needed a doctor’s note for some time off work. I’d love that, frankly, but right now it’s not the solution.

I’m trying to manage my stress better. It’s strange knowing that now I’m not just responsible for myself but another tiny human. Whereas before I would have pushed through the pain barrier, stayed late every night in the office, deprived myself of sleep and food and whatever else stood in the way of hitting deadlines, now I just can’t do it. I’ve set myself boundaries – not working past 7pm being one of them. I’m also trying to adopt a ‘one day at a time’ mentality, focusing only on the things I can realistically achieve in each day, instead of the mountain of things I can’t. If it means deadlines sometimes can’t be achieved, then so be it. I’m human, not a machine.

Prenatal yoga three times a week is helping, but it’s not enough. So when it feels the walls are closing in – like last night – I’m just allowing myself to stop, talk to a friend, have a bath, do whatever I need to get my heart rate back down, my blood pressure back up. This baby is more important than work, than course, than anything. I have to prioritise him.

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Reflections at a milestone / mini lesson in Cognitive Behavioural Coaching

I just finished my twelfth hour of coaching, a core component of my Master’s degree in Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology.

Frankly, I feel elated. But when I thought “I’ll write a blog about this feeling,” my inner critic leapt up and shouted “OI! You should be doing coursework! Don’t let one victory make you complacent! You are still WAY behind!”

This reaction made me laugh, because the aspect of coaching that has resonated most with me so far is the concept of ‘performance inhibiting thoughts’, or PITs. We all know them, those cranky little digs we give ourselves about the things we ‘should’ or ‘must’ do, or the reminders that we are ‘always’ doing this, or that someone else is a big fat so and so, and as far as you’re concerned that’s that.

Since I’ve learned about them I’ve been calling myself out a million times a day. The above examples are just a few of the many ways our inner critics seek to sabotage us on a daily basis.

The key to moving past them is as follows:

  1. Notice when you do it – all the times you label yourself or someone else, the times you overgeneralise or catastrophise situations, the times your views are rigid. Just catch yourself, make a mental note, or even write it down if you like (that’s a great way of internalising it and means you are more likely to succeed in conquering it).
  2. When you have a quiet moment, sit down and read through the list of PITs you have picked up on.
  3. For each one, challenge the assumption, and reframe it in a positive way. Write the new thought down beside the old one.
  4. Next time you catch yourself doing it, recall the associated Performance Enhancing Thought (PET).
  5. With practice, you will re-train your brain!

Thus ends today’s lesson in Cognitive Behavioural Coaching. You’re welcome 😉9c02a298faaebec58a66b077659828b0

Rising from the Ashes

Dad told me I should write more. At the very least some updates on my blog. His dream of having an award-winning novelist of a daughter seems to be dying by the day. And, yet, from the glowing embers of this dream a phoenix (of sorts) is rising. It’s small and scraggy now, stumbling on Bambi-esque legs amongst the ashes, coughing and shielding its eyes from the light. But it exists, this spectre of old, only now coming into being after years of steady manifestation.

By ‘It’ I am referring to my venture back into the world of psychology, and, simultaneously, my journey into the unknown-and-terrifying-yet-also-exciting world of coaching – in the form of a combined Master’s degree.

It’s not exactly how I’d planned it. We thought we’d be in New York City by spring. I’d envisaged endless cups of coffee, walks in Central Park with a new puppy; days stretching out with nothing but study and writing and play. But life doesn’t always work out how you planned. Which means that sometimes you just have to play the hand you’ve been dealt.

We’re not going to New York anymore. Already it feels like a pipe dream blowing in the wind. At first I shed a lot of tears, and then berated myself for mourning a life that never was. The tears dried up. Reality bit. I’d signed up for this Master’s safe in the knowledge I’d have ample time to devote to it. At most I’d have been working on a part time basis. Now, things have changed. We’re still in Brussels, and will be for the foreseeable future. I still have a full time job (really a full-and-then-some time job). Suddenly the very thought of finding more than twelve hours a week to do my course work has me coming out in hives. Right now I’m barely managing six.

I am exhausted. There have been more tears, for this and other – more personal – reasons that I won’t go into here. I am struggling to find my equilibrium. I tell myself that I should meditate and then remember that ‘should’ is a performance inhibiting thought; a thinking error. I’m learning all kinds of new things like this, even though I make such errors daily, sometimes hourly. I tell myself I’m not good enough on a constant repetition loop in my head. Compare myself to others. Panic. I do a LOT of panicking.

And then I switch on my computer, turn on Skype and I become a coach. I listen attentively and empathetically. I silence my inner chatter and focus on another person for a whole hour. And I take them through a process, and share with them what little I know of concepts like self-limiting beliefs. And, like magic, almost always there’s a moment when their faces light up and they get it, really get it. And in that moment I’m suffused with so much joy and energy. Which is how I know that even though it’s hard, and will likely get harder, and even though I don’t know where I’m going to end up, I’m on the right path.

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