Not Just Me

“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.

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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!

You Learn

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It’s funny how songs take you back to days gone by. For me, the soundtrack to 1996 was Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill“. Every song seemed to deeply meaningful to my seventeen year old self and even now, so many years later, I can be transported back to a time spent swooning over a long-haired musician player called Matt when I hear “Ironic”.

Anyway, a few weeks ago I heard “You Learn” on the radio and I started formulating a blog post in my head. I’d never realised how songs can mean one thing to you at one stage of your life and something completely different almost twenty years later. I planned a profound post on living, learning and melting down but I never got round to writing it.

Sometimes the lessons we learn don’t have to be deep and meaningful. Sometimes they can be useful and practical and worth sharing with your lovely readers for different reasons. To save fellow mamas from the morning-from-hell after the first School Mums’ Christmas Night Out, for example.

In order for you to learn as I have, I am going to tell you what I discovered this week. Consider it an early Christmas present, if you like.

1) Getting ready for a night out can be one of the best parts of your evening. A leisurely bath and careful application of make-up can make you feel glamorous and well-put together. This was probably the case before you had children. Equally, sharing a bath with your two little ones can be a beautiful, nurturing and wonderful experience….. sometimes. Other times your son will point out how hairy your legs are and your daughter will pull her “urgent poo” face causing a quick evacuation from the tub for all three of you. Still, at least this saves time.

2) In order to feel Christmas party-ready, glittery and/or shimmery make up is essential. Or perhaps once it was. Racing your two year old daughter to the mascara wand and winning is an impressive victory. Managing to scrape some glittery eye shadow from the carpet and on to your face earns extra points.

3) Preparation for a night out once involved little more than careful outfit selection and meticulous grooming for yourself. Nowadays, I have discovered, the smart mother plans ahead;

I should point out at this juncture that I am not the smart mother. I am not the mother who realises that only a few short hours after getting home she will have to dress herself and both of her children and be out of the house by eight o’clock in the morning and arranges clothes ahead of time. No.

I am the mother who mostly managed to get the laundry washed and dried this week but left it in various piles and bags around the house. Like a complicated and cryptic code requiring a concentrated and sharp mind to decipher. I am the woman for whom lack of sleep and being out of practice at late nights finds she does not have the necessary linguistic skills to enable her husband to crack the laundry code, either.

Socks were estranged from their mates. Tights had seemingly eloped. School trousers had mastered the game of hide-and-seek. And time ticked on. Eight o’clock moved ever closer. My stomach growled and so did I.

The organised and together mother would have made a packed lunch the night before. Locating the contents of a healthy balanced meal-in-a-box and carefully slicing cucumber to the expected standards would be a non-issue for her. Not for me though. Several trips to the fridge and thinking out-loud was helpful. “Cucumber. Butter. Salami. Yoghurt. Fruit…” repeated on a loop proved crucial to ensuring sustenance for my son and prevented him sitting down to a box of dry Weetabix with a drizzle of olive oil for lunch.

4) Now this one is important and I need you to try to remember it. Ready?
LOOK OUT OF THE WINDOW AT THE WEATHER BEFORE LEAVING THE HOUSE. By doing this you will know in advance that is is raining out and you will dress yourself and your children accordingly. This eliminates the need to return to the house, select the correct key from a bunch of many, disable the alarm and find waterproofs for all. Big time saver. Also, you can’t open the door to your house with the keys to your car. The little button doesn’t open the house.

Lastly, remember to check your diary for notable events at school each day. It will remind you that today is Christmas Dinner day and he didn’t need a packed lunch anyway!

In the words of the great Alanis:

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You live you learn
You love you learn
You cry you learn
You lose you learn

Sometimes there are lessons to be learned where we least expect them!!

Bye for now!

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pps: Hello and welcome to my new followers! You can catch up with all Mummy Kindness posts! from the beginning, here.

ppps: Here’s You Learn.

In Plain Sight

I haven’t written anything for a while. I’ve been steering clear of the internet and the news because, well, it’s better for me. I’ve always been quite a sensitive person but recently the part of me that experiences empathy seems to have gone in to overdrive and I can’t seem to stop over-identifying and worrying about anything, everything and sometimes nothing. So I guess I went into a bit of a self-imposed quarantine. I haven’t read any blogs or watched the news. I’ve tried to exercise some self-care by switching off for a bit.

To a degree, it’s helped. I can’t tell you what’s going on in Syria or what the political parties are up to, but on the most part I’ve been calmer as a result of detaching myself.

Until yesterday. I read a news story so horrific that I can’t even write the words here. It’s shocked me so deeply that I still can’t seem to shake an awful feeling of panic and dread.

Writing is cathartic for me and I’ve often found that putting the proverbial pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) helps to exorcise ugly thoughts, so I’m sharing what went through my mind yesterday as I fought off a panic attack. I hope that after I share it I’ll feel lighter.

In Plain Sight

Too many thoughts for one head
Such a cold and cruel world
A self-imposed bubble and a head in the sand
Smiling and chatting and going about day-to-day life
Hidden in plain sight
Avoiding the news and the internet, too much pain
How do people to it? Carry on as if everything is fine
It’s not fine. It’s just not.
Fragile, raw, exposed.
Salty wounds. Bad news everywhere.
Shallow breathing. Panic.
Wanting to take my children and loved ones and lock us all safely away. Where the horror of the world can’t find us
Too much love for one heart. Too much worry.
Happy thoughts being quashed by dark ones
Rising hysteria and hot tears
Worry. Endless, incessant worry
Breathe. Concentrate on your breathing
Remember the small ripples. The things you can control. The good in the world
Counting blessings. So many blessings.
So much to lose
Small. Inferior. Ineffectual
Remember your self-care
Stop. Stop reading.
Hold them. Squeeze them.
Wrap them in an impenetrable blanket of love
Keep them safe
It will pass.
The lights will change.
You are loved.
You are brave
Remember this.

I worry that sharing this may seem attention seeking, but I’m also pretty sure that there are lots of others who, like me, find life painful and hard sometimes. Who feel too much of others’ pain and who sometimes forget that in our own way, we are making a difference. We are casting small stones into an enormous lake and starting ripples. We are significant. We’re brave.

You see, bravery comes in many different forms. Sometimes being brave means running in to burning buildings and performing heroic acts of greatness. Other times, being brave means taking the next breath, drying your eyes and putting one foot in front of the other.

Onwards, friends. Bye for now.