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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Turning Points

No matter how well you know that life with a baby is one phase after another, it’s hard to think rationally when you’ve been woken up at 3am three days in a row and your normally sweet tempered baby has turned into a raging ball of fury due to teething. Off the back of weeks of illness the past few days have been a bitter pill to swallow, and if I’m entirely honest there have been moments when I’ve genuinely questioned my ability to do this parenting gig. Fortunately such moments pass quickly (everything is just a phase after all), and other moments come along to remind me what an amazing little person I’ve helped bring into the world, and why it’s all so worth it. Like yesterday, when we got out in the sunshine and went walking on Hampstead Heath, and C tried his first dairy free ice cream (damn allergies). Funnily enough the real turning point in this latest low patch occurred after yesterday morning’s horrific poonami episode as we were rushing out the door to the doctor. As I stuffed C’s poo-filled (I kid you not) trousers hastily into the nappy bin, deeming them too far gone to save (much as I consider myself to be these days) I realised in that moment I had the choice of laughing or crying. And as I’d done quite enough crying up to that point I chose the former. Turns out it was the best decision.

Since yesterday’s turning point I’ve felt considerably better. I’m sure the sunshine is playing it’s part, but what’s really made the difference is doing some exercise. When the baby is ill and in hospital/off nursery I go stir crazy being cooped up inside, although I don’t always make the connection with needing to exercise until I’m entrenched in another slump. Yesterday, thanks to various appointments, I ended up walking for two hours, and by the end of the day my mind was so much calmer and clearer. Today after dropping C at nursery (finally back to nursery! Praise be!) I went to my first spin class in what I worked out must be six years. I’ve been doing Yoga, Pilates and Body Balance classes semi-regularly for the past few months but have yet to bite the bullet and get back into cardio. Needless to say I was terrified beforehand and pretty close to requiring hospitalisation afterwards (God help me tomorrow when my body’s had a chance to process what I did to it), but there’s no denying the endorphins that have lain dormant for so long were firmly kicked back into action. Exercise is vital for keeping a balanced perspective, it really helps to prevent a negative mind spiral.

Another thing that has helped to lift my mood has been finally submitting my university extenuation claim. It’s been tough seeing my fellow students approaching submission day (which was yesterday), knowing I couldn’t hope to make the deadline. For a while I convinced myself that maybe I could, but last week’s illness and nursery absence was the nail in the coffin. I have therefore been vigilant in collecting all the supporting evidence that I could to give my claim the best chance of success. Now I’ve finally sent it I feel a weight off my shoulders. I’m still pushing myself to complete it way ahead of the September resit deadline, but at least now I’ve accepted I need more time and can relax a little and give myself a break.

All in all I’m worn down but not defeated. This crazy ride called parenting ain’t getting any easier, but somehow I’m finding the reserves to ride out the rough patches and keep my sanity (just about) intact. Every day that goes by I have more respect for my own mother and all the other mums out there, especially those with more than one child, and/or with children who need extra help and attention. Until you are a mother you cannot comprehend the magnitude of the task; the endless demands, the sleepless nights, the sheer relentlessness of the responsibilities laid out before you, not to mention the fact all of this is FOR LIFE, or at least until your child/ren leave/s home. Then there’s the constant fight for your identity, the longing for freedom and fun and carefree, lazy days. You could actually kick your pre-baby self for not appreciating how much time you had to do as you pleased. But on the flip side, having a child changes you in profound and meaningful ways. It makes you less selfish, more thoughtful, more organised, and it brings moments of such pure and unadulterated joy you could hitherto only have imagined. So, on balance, I’ll take the lows if it means I get to keep the highs. That said, I’d sell a kidney for a decent night’s sleep. Any takers for a sleepover with a nearly one year old tonight?

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Detox Diet: Day Three (aka The Final Frontier)

I’m not going to lie to you, today has NOT been easy. When my alarm went off at 6.55am I could barely find the strength to lift my head off the pillow, let alone do my pilates DVD as planned. So it was back to sleep for another 45 minutes, and even then I felt like someone had dropped a breeze block on my head from a great height.

At work I was grumpy and impatient – though having to proofread a 310 page document would probably have that effect on me with or without a detox.

At lunchtime, to cheer myself up, I had an extra-large bowl of garden salad with lemon and oil dressing, rationalising that the ingredients would otherwise have gone to waste (because I’m sure as hell having something different for lunch tomorrow – most probably something that’s been deep fried in a foot of animal fat then coated in three consecutive layers of chocolate and cheese) and anyway, how can it possibly be bad to have an extra half of a tomato and a handful of spinach? Give me a break.

After lunch I took a stroll outside, then sat in the sunshine and read for a while. At one point, having watched countless happy people strolling past with iced coffees and frozen yoghurt, I almost succumbed to the sugar craving and had a tic tac to keep me going. But I resisted.

In truth I nearly gave up altogether when my colleagues asked me for a post-work glass of wine, but I hadn’t come this far to fall at the final hurdle. So I made my final revolting (and I really mean that. So many tasty ingredients went into it but the only two I could taste were celery and parsley. Gross.) mean green juice and threw it down the hatch in one, grimacing all the way.

When I got home I forced myself to do the pilates DVD I’d sacked off this morning, and I feel a whole lot better for it (if slightly light-headed given I’ve consumed the sum total of about five calories in the past 72 hours).

Tomorrow I’ve invited a friend for dinner and have promised her a nice big, cheesy lasagne with lashings of garlic break – in your face detox!

As for now, only one portion of ‘fat flushing soup’ and a chamomile tea stand between me and FREEDOM!!! It’s pathetic, I know, but I’m actually quite proud of this achievement….

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Changes

I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but there’s something amiss in my world at the moment. Possible reasons are:

a)      The weather (if in doubt, blame that)

b)      My best friend moving to San Francisco next week (I’m excited for her but will miss her tremendously – just thinking about it makes me well up)

c)       Lack of exercise – after months of marathon training it’s now been over 6 weeks since I did any exercise due to my training-related back injury, so the endorphin supply is running low

d)      Lack of sleep – probably due to all the other reasons, but in recent days my quality of sleep has dropped dramatically, and I’ve noticed when my alarm goes off I’m often slap bang in the middle of a traumatic /stressful dream, which doesn’t get my day off to the best of starts

e)      My overdraft, which is once again getting so large it’s scaring me

f)       Pressure to succeed in writing (see point e, though this is about far more than just money, it’s about realising ambition – or not, as the case may be)

g)      The onset of wanderlust (which may or may not be related to point b)

h)      A combination of all of the above (most likely)

Whatever the reasons, I’m feeling out of sorts and stressed, and I need an action plan to ease me out of the doldrums. That plan is as follows:

a)      Hmm, not much I can do about the weather…

b)      Not much I can do about the friend moving to the US either…Oh dear…

c)       Aha! Here’s one I can work on! Lunchtime Pilates class booked. Let’s see how that goes…

d)      Earlier nights. Switch off technology, have a relaxing bath and go to bed with a good book. This approach I shall trial tonight.

e)      Stopping spending is the obvious one, or moving out of credit crisis London? Neither looking all that possible in the immediate future…Stop eating perhaps? Become a Breatharian?

f)       This one’s obvious: Write more. And believe in myself more. Also maybe give up sleeping and socialising as well as eating in order to find time to get my writing where it needs to be.

g)      I would say go travelling again, which would certainly address point a), but since it would do nothing to help point e), in the short term I’ll just have to settle for booking a (very) cheap weekend away in the UK to keep the wanderlust at bay.

I’m so glad I decided to write it all down. Just a few ‘small’ lifestyle changes and I’ll be back on an even keel before you can say ‘it’ll never work’….

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Pilates Revival

Truth be told, I’ve never really held a deep (or even shallow) belief in yoga and pilates as serious forms of exercise. Granted I have dabbled in both at various stages of my life, and I do appreciate their benefits for people with injuries, but on the whole I always seem to come back to the more conventional cardio options like running and cross training in the gym.

But after attending a free pilates session today as part of Team London Bridge’s #lovelunch promotion I have to say I’m coming around to the idea this might actually be something worth incorporating into my life more regularly. I left the office feeling stressed out and stiff and have returned in a Zen-like state, completely free of aches and pains (one neck exercise we were taught will definitely be included into my stretching repertoire from now on).

It strikes me, now I think about it, that an important – yet often overlooked – factor in people’s enjoyment of yoga and pilates in particular (given their reputation as relaxing practices) is whether or not they like their teacher. In a gym class it’s somehow easier to tolerate an instructor with an annoying voice or irritating manner – you just grit your teeth and get on with it, focusing on the end results for those abdominals. But yoga and pilates are different – you have to like your instructor. You have to trust them. If they annoy you then you’ll never reach that place of inner calm and tranquillity that your practice demands, and therefore you will fail to reap the benefits.

Another important factor is where the class takes place. If you can hear the busy main road with its beeping car horns and shouting builders then you’ll never be able to relax enough to get the most out of your practice.

Today’s class was held at Globe House, a charming bare-brick space with a New York loft apartment feel that’s set back from the hustle and bustle of the roads around London Bridge and has a lovely calming atmosphere. The instructor, Liz, was neither annoying in voice nor irritating in manner. Far from it – she was warm, friendly and clear in her instructions (unlike many of the yoga and pilates teachers I have come across in the past, who have you twisted up like a lump of scrapyard metal in your pursuit of the elusive posture they’ve just demonstrated).

I nearly didn’t go to today’s session but now I’m really glad I did – it might just have ignited a new passion for pilates. Watch this space…