“Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer.” ~Maya Angelou
In a few weeks my blog will be a year old. Writing it has been a hugely cathartic experience for me in many ways. Mostly it’s shown me how many of us hide our struggles from the outside world and pretend that we’re fine when we’re anything but. I know this because you, my lovely readers, have told me so.
I think I’m a more compassionate person now. Before I might have taken mild offence at the mother who doesn’t return my smile at the school gates, for example. I’d have thought her stand-offish, cliquey or rude. Now, more than ever I remind myself that everyone is struggling in their own way and we never know what’s going on behind the scenes.
I’ve learned so much in this past year, about myself and about others. I know I’m not alone and I hope that If you’ve been following my blog you’ll feel the same.
Sharing your personal thoughts on the internet is a bit like writing an intimate and private diary and then handing out photocopies in the playground. I quite often go to kids’ parties and wonder if any of the other mums read my blog or think I’m mad for airing my dirty laundry in public. I frequently have moments of panic at the realisation that thoughts kept private by most people are in the public domain in my case.
When these negative or self-doubtful thoughts hit I always remind myself how supportive my readers are and of the messages I’ve received from women who thought they were the only ones who find life hard, comparing their lives with others and coming up short. Women who felt I’d written their own thoughts for them. Imagine that? When push comes to shove we really are all in the same boat. We just need less pushing and shoving and more holding on to one another, really.
The past month or so has been very tough. I’m looking in to ways to cope with the being a far more sensitive person than I used to be, but at the same time I’m trying to look upon this character trait as a gift. Yes, I get far too affected by news stories and by the struggles of others and this often brings me to my knees. But at the same time I find helping others as much as I can to be healing for me. The fact that evidence points to this blog helping other people is really rewarding.
It’s with this in mind that I want to share something that’s been on my mind today. I have a very strong feeling that I’m not alone in this feeling either.
Yesterday was a brilliant day. I threw an end-of-term/Christmas party for Monkey’s new class. The children really had a fantastic time and it was lovely for the parents to get together too. I sat down in the evening and reflected on the success of the day; how the mums at the new school are so lovely and how happy I am with the school. How settled Monkey is after his first term and how glad and grateful I am that everything is going so well. I looked around me at my house and my amazing husband whilst my beautiful children slept upstairs and I felt….panic. And fear.
Yes, that’s right, panic and fear.
These are the two feelings which generally follow moments of joy for me. Panic that things are too good to be true and fear that something terrible will surely happen. Feeling happy makes me feel vulnerable. So, so vulnerable.
I am so fortunate. I am so blessed and so grateful and I have so much to lose. It’s overwhelming sometimes. I’ve also experienced a lot of darkness in the past two years and this has served to really illuminate the bright times. I think living in shadow makes light brighter when you finally reach it. I’m much more grateful for the joyful moments which in turn makes me afraid.
Some pretty awful things have happened in my life, most of which I’m not ready to share yet. I know that terrible things can befall good people and I’ve discovered first hand what it’s like to have your world fall apart in an instant. It’s difficult not to flash back to hard times, especially when there’s an abundance of joy.
One of my favourite writers, Dr. Brené Brown talks about this in her book, Daring Greatly. She calls it Foreboding Joy:
“Scarcity and fear drive foreboding joy. We’re afraid that the feeling of joy won’t last, or that there won’t be enough, or that the transition to disappointment will be too difficult. We’ve learned that giving in to joy is, at best, setting ourselves up for disappointment and, at worst, inviting disaster.”
Vulnerability is the key here and it’s behind the tendency to try to dress-rehearse tragedies in order to prepare yourself, should anything terrible ever happen. It’s a waste of time, it really is and it sucks the joy out of life. Your brain doesn’t realise that the tragedy isn’t actually happening so your stress levels rise and and you’re stuck in a state of fruitless anxiety for no good reason. Goodbye peace and hello anxiety.
Dr. Brown recommends “leaning in” to vulnerability rather than fighting it. She says that gratitude is the antidote to Foreboding Joy:
“The shudder of vulnerability that accompanies joy is an invitation to practice gratitude, to acknowledge how truly grateful we are for the , the beauty, the connection or simply the moment before us.”
I’ve been working on this, and it really does help. When the panic sets in I remind myself how grateful I am for my blessings. I focus on my breathing and I remember that it’s okay to be vulnerable. It’s uncomfortable and difficult but necessary.
Being grateful helps to diffuse the dread and gets my mind back in a positive place.
It’s ironic, really that sometimes happiness can hurt. It’s the wrong order of things. Allowing yourself to be happy when it hasn’t been your default setting of late requires concentration and feels risky…like tempting fate. It’s all of these feelings that make us human.
So my plan is to stop giving small things big shadows… stop standing in my own light. I will remember to enjoy the wonderful moments and be grateful and not fearful of them. Because life is a hard, beautiful, joyful and painful teacher and lessons are everywhere.
I’d love to know your thoughts on this post, especially of you’ve had a “me, too!” moment reading it. Please leave a comment below. Thanks!