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?

shame

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Quagmires, Self-belief and Sunscreen

Humans are contrary creatures. We spend our whole lives seeking happiness, meaning and validation, but in the process somehow manage to repeatedly get dragged into the toxic quagmire of anxiety, comparison and ‘never enough’ thinking.

I’ve been languishing in the quagmire again myself this week, worrying about my son’s health – as usual – but this time also about money. We are hardly on the breadline, but we are managing on one income this year. It was a decision we took together that we were – and still are – confident in, but nonetheless there are moments when we waver. Like when the bills are more than we’d anticipated, or when we check the account and realise that we’ve been more frivolous than we should have been for the past few weeks. We knew that moving back to London on one salary would be painful and so it is proving to be.

But it’s important to keep in mind the bigger picture. We made this choice because it’s best for our family that I become self-employed. And the career I have chosen – coaching – is one that is still largely unregulated and full of amateurs. To stand out amongst the crowd I need credibility, and to build credibility I need credentials. The path I have chosen begins with further study, which is why I am taking this year to return to my MSc in Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology at the University of East London. It’s not been an easy road so far this year with my son’s ill health hampering my ability to study, but nonetheless I am managing to forge ahead. Some people have commented that perhaps it’s too much to have a one year old and study for a degree, but keeping up the momentum is critical for my confidence and self-belief.

On that note, I have a tattoo on my right arm which says ‘Believe’ (or ‘Belieber’ as my husband takes great pleasure in saying to wind me up, due to the curly script in which it’s written. But I digress..), in a nod to my writing ambitions. I got the tattoo some years ago when I took the decision to accept a four days per week role in order to devote one day a week to my writing. For a while it went well, I got some commissions for features, was shortlisted for a fiction competition and really felt I was on the right track. But for myriad reasons I got demotivated, lost my confidence, and before long my writing day had turned into an extra day of weekend. I have always regretted this, and, ironically thanks to my tattoo, now have a permanent reminder of what happens when you don’t believe in yourself. But you know what? It spurs me on to never make the same mistake again. This time around I’m older and wiser, and I know in my heart that coaching is what I want and need to do. It will take time and require sacrifice, but I am now in a place where I am able to accept and embrace those truths.

All that said, I still have moments of weakness and self-doubt. I’m only human, after all. But life has a funny way of showing you the way, if only you look for the signs. Take this morning, for example. After a bit of a rough night/morning with my son (bad conjunctivitis, yet another cough, pre-toddler mood swings) I got him to nursery later than planned and was running late for my Body Balance class at Studio Society (I know I sound like such a Hampstead Mum, but I cannot tell you how much this class sorts my head out, it’s literally balm for the soul). I was rushing along the road, battling with my brolly against the wind and the commuters, checking my watch every two seconds to see how late I was going to be and feeling general sense of stress and unease. Then I consciously took a moment to check myself, noting that checking my watch was pointless as it wouldn’t get me there any faster. I decided to let go of the anxiety and trust that my legs would carry me there as fast as they could. If I was a few minutes late to class, so what? The world would keep on turning. And in the end, not only was I only a couple of minutes late, but for the first time today the teacher was ten minutes late! There seemed a certain serendipity in that outcome, and certainly a life lesson.

I have one final point to make in this meandering but cathartic post. In 1999, the year I left school and started university (literally showing my age here), Baz Luhrmann’s song Sunscreen was released. In the years hence I have often found myself returning to the lyrics, and this morning was reminded of these ones specifically:

The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that
never crossed your worried mind
the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.

When I’m in the quagmire of anxiety, comparison and ‘never enough,’ I try to remind myself that none of the things I am worrying about are actually significant. All that really matters in life, at least as far as I’m concerned, are love (loving and being loved by friends and family) and health. I’m at an age where it’s becoming harder to convincingly wear the cloak of invincibility. Several people close to me have experienced cancer in the past year, and right there are the real troubles that Baz Luhrmann talked about. So for as long as I’m fighting for my lifestyle rather than for my life, I will try to remember how very lucky I am.

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Life half full

It is nearly half past twelve on ‘Writing Monday,’ and thus far I have achieved the following: A five kilometre run around Clapham Common (to offset the weekend’s beer and chocolate indulgence in Bruges); the weekly shop in Sainsbury’s; a clothes wash; a top-to-toe clean of the entire flat AND the preparation of a slow cooker gastronomic delight (lamb stew, since you’re asking) for two friends who are coming for dinner tonight. I have also, it would seem, entered into a stand-off with a lederhosen manufacturer in Germany (not a sentence I ever thought I’d write), as the product I returned last week via airmail (due to their mistake in sending the wrong size, I might add) has thus far failed to arrive, meaning that they are now withholding the replacement (in my correct size) until it does. This is a particular problem as said item was ordered for my impending birthday party, which makes swift resolution of the issue significantly more pressing. Given my recent track record with Royal Mail (two of five letters sent by my mum never having arrived), I know which side my money would be on if it wasn’t for the fact I’m already exorbitantly out of pocket from making the purchase in the first place. I could not be kicking myself more for not sending the damn thing recorded, but since they offered me free coloured contact lenses instead of agreeing to pay the return postage cost and the postage was ten pounds via regular air mail and twenty via recorded, I opted for the former – evidently a big (and costly) mistake.

Anyway, I digress. The point I’m trying to make – more to myself than to anyone else – is that it’s nearly half way through Writing Monday and, whilst the level of productivity today has seen is certainly impressive, not one bit of it has had the slightest thing to do with writing. If I was a professional runner, chef or cleaner the past few hours would at least have been lucrative. As it is, I am none of these things. No, for one day each week I am a freelance writer – a freelance writer who is very good at doing anything except the thing she claims to love. In the past ten minutes I have even abandoned my computer again to go into the roof and fix the window so the wind no longer whistles through it (though as that was, in fact, something that needed doing in order to avoid losing my concentration whilst writing that’s technically allowed, no?). To surmise, today I’m feeling mostly useless and frustrated at my own inadequacy. I may have managed to post a blog for every day of the year so far, but in terms of cold, hard cash I’ve hardly covered the cost of the lederhosen dispute with my writing, let alone made enough to pay myself a wage for Writing Monday. Still, I’m writing now, aren’t I? Even if it is only today’s blog? And anyway, we writers write for the love of our trade rather than out of any serious belief we’ll ever earn a crust from it….don’t we?

Right, enough with the negativity and introspection. All is not lost. I’ve just remembered this picture I took in Bruges yesterday and it’s buoyed me considerably. Half the writing day may have been wasted but it was wasted doing necessary things. And now there’s still a glorious half day remaining to make up for lost time. The only question now is what to write about…

Mister Moneybags

(I wrote this yesterday and, for reasons I can’t go into now, didn’t get round to posting it. Let’s just say yesterday was a tough day).

Hey Mister Moneybags, look at you! In your high rise office with your high flying job. Is that suit from Savile Row by any chance? I knew it! And those shoes, genuine Italian leather from last weekend’s jaunt to Milan? How’s the wife? The kids?The mistress? What’s that-two mistresses?! Gosh, you really do know how to live the high life! Has your golf handicap improved? Surely those expensive clubs have paid off by now? Not to mention that public school education. By golly your parents must be proud.

You know what Mister Moneybags? You really have made it, whatever ‘it’ is. You are the definition of success. Everything you ever wanted is yours. You’ve got properties and cars by the dozen, private jets and yachts the likes of which most of us can only dream of. Your family must adore the lifestyle you’ve created for them.

What’s that Mrs Moneybags? You’d rather have a husband than the lifestyle? And not have to share him with dozens of floozies at that? You’re sick of making excuses to the kids about why daddy’s let them down again? And actually if truth be told you’re starting to re-think the marriage altogether?

Oh dear Mister Moneybags, maybe you can’t have it all, after all…

Man’s best friend

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When the alarm clock beeped Maurice groaned his customary groan and stretched out like a tiger waking from a snooze. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and blinked several times. Then, with a whoosh of excitement that coursed from the top of his head to the tip of his toes he remembered: Today was his eighth birthday.

He leapt out of bed and ran out of the room and all the way down the stairs into the kitchen. There he found his mother, his father and his baby brother Teddy sitting at the breakfast table waiting for him.
“Happy Birthday Maurice,” his parents said in unison. Teddy just grinned and waved his rattle. “Here,” said his mother, “sit down and I’ll make you a special breakfast before school. Eggs and bacon okay?”
Maurice beamed and nodded as he took his seat at the head of the table where, he couldn’t help but notice, there sat a large box with a ribbon on it. His father smiled and nodded so he ripped off the paper and shouted “yes!” and punched the air when he saw it was the remote controlled rally car he’d been wanting for ages. “Can I take it to school?” he asked,but his father shook his head. “I think it’s best kept safe at home for the moment,” he said.
Maurice kicked his chair under the table in silent protest, but was soon distracted by the plate of fried breakfast his mother had put in front of him. She sat down beside him, pulled her purse out of her bag and fished a shiny pound coin out of its depths. “Here you go,” she said, handing the coin to Maurice, “I know we normally say no sweets at school but as it’s your birthday why don’t you pick up a little treat from the shop at break time.”

As his mother had suggested, Maurice went to the shop around the corner from school during his lunch hour. When he arrived there was a little dog tethered outside. Maurice didn’t know much about dogs but he thought this was what his father would call a Scottie dog-a Scottish Terrier with charcoal grey fur, a long body, short little legs and ears that looked too big for its head.
As Maurice bent down to pat the dog the shop door opened and an old lady came out. She was wearing a thick wool coat even though it was warm outside and she had a scarf wrapped around her head like a turban. The skin on her face was baggy, like it was too big for the bones and sinew underneath, and she had drawn thick black lines around her eyes.
Maurice stood up and the old lady smiled. “Oh don’t mind me dear,” she said, “Colin loves the attention.” Maurice knew it was rude to stare but he couldn’t take his eyes off the old lady. “Colin?” he repeated? “Yes,” the lady said, “it’s a silly name for a dog I know but it was my husband’s name, you see.”
The old lady stopped to cough, and Maurice noted with alarm that when she pulled her tissue away from her face there were spots of what looked like blood on it. “Are you alright?” he asked. The old lady straightened herself up as best she could and forced her withered lips into a thin smile. “Yes,” she said, “I’m fine, thank you,” though Maurice was far from convinced. “What brings you here, anyway?” She asked. “Shouldn’t you be in school?”
Maurice grinned and pulled the coin from his pocket. “It’s my birthday,” he said proudly. “I’m eight years old today and so my mum gave me this to buy sweets.” The old lady coughed again and winced in pain. “That’s nice,” she said. Her breath was shallower now and Maurice was scared. What should he do? Call the shop owner? Call an ambulance?
As he was thinking trough his options the old lady pulled a small black coin purse from her pocket and began to root around in it. “Drat,” she said, coughing again. “I’m a pound short.” “For what?” Maurice asked. “For a taxi to…it doesn’t matter.” Maurice looked at the pound coin in his hand, hesitated, then held it out on his palm.
The old woman smiled through her obvious pain and took the coin. “That’s very kind of you little boy,” she said, “what’s your name?” Maurice, who had been told never to tell strangers his name, replied without hesitation, “Maurice Brown.” “And you go to the school next door?” He nodded. “Well Maurice,” the old lady said, “I promise to repay you for your kindness today. Though it may be in a different way to that which you might expect.”
Before Maurice could ask what she meant she had flagged down an approaching taxi and climbed unsteadily into it, coughing and wheezing all the while. Colin jumped in after her and she shut the door and drove off. Maurice returned to school empty handed.
That evening, after his birthday dinner there was a knock on the front door. When Maurice’s father came back into the room he was carrying a large box. “Another present?” Maurice asked. “From who?”
His father put the box down onto the table with great care and handed Maurice an envelope with MAURICE BROWN written on the front in thick marker pen. Inside there was a piece of paper, upon which was written:
Dear Maurice, if you’re reading this it means I’ve gone to a better place, so please don’t be sad for me. When we met today I could tell you were a special little boy. In return for your kindness I would like to offer you first refusal on this gift. I hope you will love and care for it as I have, and that it will bring you great happiness. God bless you, Annie (the old lady outside the shop).
Maurice put the note down and stared at the box, and as he did a scratching noise from inside made him jump. Suddenly he knew what was inside, and began tearing at the wrapping. He opened the box and, sure enough, inside it sat Colin the Scottie dog. When he saw Maurice he jumped up and licked his face, making everyone laugh.
“Can we keep him Dad?” Maurice asked. His dad looked at his mum, and his mum looked back to him. “How could we say no?” she said with a smile. “We’re so proud of what you did today Maurice.” Maurice beamed back at her. “This is the best birthday ever,” he said, and Colin barked his agreement.

Dilemma

I’m currently struggling with a dilemma. It’s of both a personal and financial nature, because I’m trying to decide whether to spend money that I don’t currently have on my personal development. In other words, the big question is whether it’s worth getting further into debt for.

There are pros and cons to both of the options on the table, and I intend to weigh them up very carefully. For the first time in my life – rather embarrassingly, given I’m now 31 years of age – I’m starting to think about my financial future. I have no savings to speak of but am fortunate not to be in an unmanageable amount of debt either.

If I don’t take the plunge with the personal development option I’ll be out of debt and saving for my future within a year (providing I buck the longstanding trend of frittering money away on holidays as soon as my finances are looking vaguely under control). But I will always wonder if I should have gone down that route, and where it might have led me.

If I do take the plunge, the goal of saving within a year will be pushed back. Realistically it could be quite some time (and by this I mean a very long time) before I’m in a position to put down a deposit on a house anyway, but in doing this I’ll have to accept it will be even longer. And yet…I might have gained something that money can’t buy which will help me for the rest of my life.

I don’t believe that money can buy happiness, which is really just as well considering the sector I work in and the salary I’m currently on. That said, I’m fully aware what money can buy is security – and the ability to splurge on the occasional weekend away, which those who know me will attest to my being rather partial to.

I’ve always struggled to balance my desire to ‘make a difference’ with my desire to enjoy life to the full and it’s a struggle that’s getting harder as time passes. But something’s telling me that now’s the time to take responsibility for my actions, to make a plan and stick to it, whatever sacrifices that entails. Because there will be sacrifice with either option, of that I’m sure.

I’ve always gone with my heart over my head but now I have to decide whether to keep doing that or buck the trend and be ‘sensible’ to the detriment of my own personal development. It’s a quandary, but one I am determined to solve, and which I’m certain I’ll come out the other side of stronger.

Living below the line – for real

Last night I caught the tail end of a TV programme about people in this country who have to feed their families on less than £2 each a day. According to the programme, recent research estimates that nearly five million people in the UK are struggling to feed themselves properly and eat nutritiously.

Watching the families’ struggle had a sobering effect on me, and made me realise just how fortunate I am. It also got me thinking about the poverty divide, and how so many people wrongly claim to be on the wrong side of it when really they’re nowhere near.

So often people – myself included – say they have no money, and yet no sooner has the breath escaped their lips than they are buying their daily speciality coffee and Pret a Manger salad. Admittedly such purchases are often the difference between being in the red and being in the black, but real poverty is about far more than having a few hundred pounds to pay off on your overdraft and/or credit card.

Real poverty is parents going without food to ensure their children don’t, or families having to swallow their pride and visit food banks so they have enough to survive. Real poverty is scouring the marked down section in the supermarket out of necessity every single day rather than to secure the odd bargain now and again. Real poverty is having to choose between heating and eating.

So next time I’m about to complain about not being able to afford a night out (when I’ve only just had a night out), not having savings (when, even after my recent pay cut I’m still able to afford £150 each month to pay off my credit card) or not being able to afford holidays and clothes (when I go on plenty of the former and have more than enough of the latter as it is) I’m going to stop and think about the families on that programme. I’ll put myself in their position and imagine what it’s like to struggle every single day just to put food on the table and keep the house heated. And I’ll keep my mouth shut.