The Perfect Mirage

I am pleased to say that once again the black clouds have lifted. Reading back through some of my recent posts, I feel like a different person. I can’t say whether that’s down to increased medication or my CBT but I don’t suppose that really matters.

One of the questions my therapist asked me to consider is what I feel makes me “good enough”. Even though I wrote a blog post on this topic a couple of weeks ago, I still can’t put my finger on what, specifically, makes me “good enough”. But at the same time, I can’t think of anything that makes me not good enough, either. Perhaps being good enough is not something we can quantify. Like the meaning of life. It’s different to everyone and it may even change on a daily basis.

With this in mind, I’ve been thinking a lot about the tenth point of my Mummy Kindness Manifesto:

“I will not compare my insides with everyone else’s outsides.”

The simple fact is that pictures we all post on social media are the carefully edited highlights of our daily lives. Of course they are. Not many of us will happily share photos of our children mid-meltdown and ourselves au-naturel with frizzy hair and no make-up. Yet most of us use these images as a benchmark for the so-called perfection that we feel we need to achieve. I said in my last post that I feel perfection is a bit of a myth, and a dangerous one at that. We can blame our lack of perfection as the reason we may “come-up-short” against the goals we set ourselves. If only we were cleverer/prettier/thinner/wealthier everything would be so much better.

Nobody’s life is perfect.

Even the mother who seems to have it all will be comparing herself to someone and aspiring to be better. Imagine a world where we stopped comparing and remembered that social media pictures are really just a mirage. Where we remind ourselves that perfectly-put-together mum who sometimes makes you feel like a dishevelled frump has her own issues going on. Imagine if we genuinely started to remember that we don’t need to compete with each other, and we’re all doing our best.

No-one’s life is perfect, and not every moment is photo-worthy. But if we can find a few moments a day where things are good, I genuinely think we’re winning. No-one sails through life (and especially not motherhood) without a succession of tantrums, tears, snot and stress. Stopping every so often and realising that the kids aren’t fighting and for once there aren’t crumbs under the sofa is a mini victory, some days.

Of course there are many beautiful, amazing moments but they can easily get lost in the madness and the busy if we’re not careful. I’ve been making a conscious effort to stop and take in some of the lovely moments as they happen, and to try to remember them last thing at night. This has really helped me. Rather than thinking of what I haven’t got done today or running myself down for the things that went wrong, I’m trying to give myself credit for what I did get done. I might not be giving deep, joyful sighs at the wonderful day we’ve all had, but overall, there is usually something to smile about.

So I’m going to share some pictures that I’ve taken during the Easter holidays. Lots of them have been shared on my personal Facebook page as they’re full of smiling, joyful kids and happy me. Some of them haven’t… I wonder if you can tell which are which?

Madam and Me. All made-up and profile picture-worthy.

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Madam and me. Make-up free and mid-meltdown.

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Yours, truly. Fully made-up complete with falsh lashes and pout. On my way to a wedding.

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Yours, truly. At home this morning. Keeping it real (am I SERIOUSLY sharing this picture?! Have I LOST MY MIND!?)

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Playdate for ten at my house.

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Cakes we made.

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However, Madam spent much of the baking time (in fact, too much time in general) doing this….

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Look, world. See all the fun, crafty things we do?

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My children are perfect, you know. Always so well behaved…

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Look at my perfectly adorable, smiling child. See how happy she is, all of the time?….

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… Or not, as the case may be.

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Oh look! How adorable, she painted her own toe-nails!!

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…. Oh bloody hell!!

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And did you notice my lovely, tidy house in the pictures? I didn’t include this, on Facebook though, did I?

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So here’s a snapshot of my life. Warts, spectacles, tantrums and all. And you’ll notice that I’ve still Instagramed all of the imperfect pictures. I’m not that brave!

So next time you’re comparing your life with someone else’s, even mine, remember that we’re all the same, deep down. We’re all fighting our own battles and projecting our own little mirage to the outside world. Cut yourself some slack, I’ll do the same, and let’s remember that good enough is enough, thank you very much.

PS, as always, I’d really appreciate your help sharing the Mummy Kindness via my Facebook Page, so please do like it here

What are your views on real-life versus social media perceptions? I’d love you thoughts so please do leave a comment. Thanks!

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Truth

“The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life flow no longer in our souls.”

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (November 12, 1815 – October 26, 1902) in her speech to the National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1890.

Truth. This word means a lot to me. I’m having to face a lot of truths at the moment. Truth can be painful. Speaking truth can leave you feeling vulnerable. Vulnerability is frightening. Truth can be terrifying.

But fearless truth telling can heal. Not only myself, but others who hear (or in this case read) it.

The truth of the matter is, my depression has been back and there has been absolutely nothing that I could do to stop it. No amount of late night over-thinking, crying, pretending, talking or remaining silent has managed to keep the Black Dog from my door.

So I am going to share my truth here. It might be painful to read and to write, but if nobody talks openly about taboo subjects like this, more and more people will suffer in silence. If one person reads this, and in doing so feels less alone, or seeks help it will be worth the emotional effort that writing a post like this involves.

Each time it returns, my depression seems to have mutated. Like a germ that’s become immune to antibiotics. Like something from a zombie film, lurking where you least expect it.

Seven months ago my biggest problem was anxiety. Crippling, physical, exhausting anxiety. Talk-based CBT helped this, as did medication, and now it’s not such an issue. This time around the relapse has involved a lot more paranoia and the darkest of thoughts. Feelings of being worthless, a burden, a disappointment.

Depression is a very cruel illness. It robs you of the ability to take on board any rational advice or listen to logic. You just can’t believe anything good about yourself at all. You seem to feel too much of everything and at the same time, not enough. Nothing makes sense in my experience, when it comes to depression. Thoughts which to any other person are ridiculous, horrifying or absurd seem perfectly acceptable. During a conversation with a friend who was once sectioned for her own safety, for example, I felt that perhaps that wasn’t such a bad thing to happen. At least there would be rest. And quiet. And help.

Last week I had a long conversation with my doctor. He increased my medication and referred me for more Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. During my assessment I answered several questions which gave a picture of where I am on a depression scale. Despite all of the feelings I’d been battling I was still crushed to hear that based on the answers I gave, I’m considered to be seriously depressed. The fact that I felt surprised by this news is ridiculous as I’ve been living with this for weeks now. But the truth is, I keep expecting someone to tell me that this has all been a mistake, I’m just a bit tired and no, I haven’t actually got a mental illness after-all.

One of the doctor’s questions covered suicidal feelings. Not a conversation I ever expected to have. But I answered truthfully. My truth is that whilst I would never, ever put my family through it, I can, at this point in my life, understand why people do choose to end their lives as a result of depression. I’m sorry if this is painful and shocking to read, but this post is about truth.

I am speaking my truth here, in the hope that saying this things aloud (or on screen, as it were) will banish them away. In my darkest moments, I truly believed that the world would be better off without me, and that my husband and children would be better off with a different wife and mother. I feel I should stress again, before anyone calls an ambulance, that at no point did I ever plan to act on these dark thoughts. There are too many people whom I love for me to ever do that. But what I am saying is when I read news stories about women who’ve ended their lives, I can understand the feelings of desperate desolation that must have driven them.

After leaving the doctor’s, feeling very fragile indeed, I messaged a good friend who has personal experience of depression herself. I explained my feelings to her. Her response contained the following wise words:

“Please try not to be heartbroken- we both know depression is always there in the background and it’s inevitable that there will be relapses throughout our lives. What’s important it how we deal with them”.

She went on to commend me for getting help. Her message was of great comfort to me at a time where I just wanted to take to my bed and howl.

But here’s the thing. Each time my depression comes under control again, I think it’s gone forever. When it returns, it comes as a massive shock to me. In writing this I realise how ridiculous this sounds, but it’s the truth. I can’t seem to accept the fact that this may in all likeliness be something that comes back again and again throughout my life. The thought terrifies me. I can’t really even bear to think about it.

As I write this, I am thinking about the people who I know, who may read this. What on earth is possessing me to write down my very darkest thoughts and share them on the internet? What will people think? Will it look as it I’m attention-seeking? But then I re-examine my reasons for this post. I am writing not only to help myself, but to try to help others. Not just those suffering from depression themselves, but those trying to support loved ones going through it.

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I “came out’ about my depression through this blog. Before doing so, only a couple of people knew about it. My closest friends weren’t even aware. They sent me incredible messages of support once they’d read my first post. But I admit, and so will they, that after that it became somewhat of an elephant in the room. No-one liked to broach the subject and I couldn’t seem to bring it up. I began to feel paranoid that I’d alienated myself from my friends, who were becoming used to reading my inner thoughts rather than hearing them in person.

I find the subject far easier to write about than to speak about and I’m very good at putting on a brave face to the outside world. But last week, on the insistence of a close friend, my friends and I finally had the conversation. I struggled not to fall to pieces in a busy restaurant whilst discussing it. They offered support and suggestions. They were relieved and so was I. I hope that next time (and I really hope there is never a next time) I’ll be able to reach out to them more and let them in.

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I sometimes wonder whether I actually feel too much. Too much of other people’s pain as well as my own. At the moment I have close friends going through horrendous divorce, serious ill-health and parental cancer. I spend so much time worrying about them whilst feeling incredible guilt for not being a supportive enough friend. Because at some point, like this past few weeks or so, I can only focus on myself and my family. I have to put our needs first but that feels so selfish. I have to concentrate on myself more and stop worrying so much about others.

Yesterday my friend’s one year old daughter broke her ankle for no apparent reason. The photo of her in her cast was enough to have me feeling low for an entire morning today. Other people would of course worry about a baby in distress. But for me, it seems to consume me. I internalise it and find it hard to switch off the worry. I suppose this is something for me to address once the therapy resumes again.

I’m really struggling with whether or not to publish this post. It still feels to raw and I’m worried about upsetting my family and friends. I’m also worried about what acquaintances will think.

So I’ll share this quote, to give myself a bit more courage:
“Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind”
Bernard Baruch (Often incorrectly attributed to Dr. Seuss, apparently).

So, if you’re a friend or acquaintance of mine and you’re reading this, don’t feel awkward when you see me next. I’m determined to get through this again and raising awareness is part of the process for me, it seems. In writing this I can feel a few subtle sparks of positivity somewhere deep inside, some flickering enthusiasm building slowly. It will be OK again. I will get through this again, bit by bit with the support of my loved ones. I have asked for help, and of that I am proud.

Before I hit publish, I’m going to take a deep breath and remind myself once again of my reasons for sharing this. To help myself to heal, and to help heal others.

If you’re reading this and you’re suffering, please do get help. Speak to someone. If you’re worried about someone, please offer support. Only by being supportive to one another can we break the stigma and help one another. And that’s the Truth.

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All pictures credited to the Brave Girls Club

Opportunities In Opposites.

I have been thinking a lot about the fourth point in my Mummy Kindness Manifesto:

“I will accept that others will do things differently to me. This doesn’t mean that they’re wrong, I’m wrong, or that they think I’m wrong.”

I think that we are missing huge learning opportunities by negating the opinions of others who don’t see things the same way that we do.

I’ll give you an example…. Unlike you, another mother may only give her children organic foods. That’s her choice. If deep down the reason this bothers you is that you feel that you should be doing the same, ask her advice, get some recipes. Or just accept the fact that her choice is right for her children and your choice is right for yours. It’s not a competition. We all have the same goal; to be the best we can be for our children.

Your best and her best will be different and you can still both be right. She may be the opposite of you in may ways, but there are lessons that we can all learn from each other if we stop assuming that we’re being judged for our choices or differences in opinions.

In his book Buddhist Boot Camp, Timber Hawkeye imparts the following incredible pearl of wisdom:

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“The opposite of what you know is also true”.

By this, he means that we all experience life differently. There are infinite theories on what is right and wrong. But however sure we are of our version of the truth, someone else can believe the exact opposite to us and still be right according to their set of beliefs and circumstances.

Few opinions are as strong as those regarding the choices we make as parents. But our job is to align our choices with our beliefs and values and respect other parents for doing the same. Even if their values an opinions differ to ours. As parents we come to our own conclusions and we must allow other parents to do the same without assuming they’re critical of us.

Nothing is ever certain in life, and especially not when it comes to parenting small children.There are no absolutes. What works for you and your family may change from one week to the next and being too judgemental about others may force us to eat our words. In fact, I remember being a perfect parent once. Then I had children! Now I sometimes find myself bribing my children with chocolate buttons before pre-school if they will JUST GET IN THE CAR!!

I have just finished reading an incredible book called Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. In her chapter on Wholehearted Parenting she says :

“Who we are and how we engage with the world are much stronger predictors of how our children will do than what we know about parenting”.

This speaks so me on so many levels. I am a really strong believer in being the type of person that we want our children to be, and leading by example. But this is so much easier said than done. If we are busy judging other parents and being hard on ourselves, what are we really teaching our children? That anyone different to us is wrong? That the only right way is the way our family does things?

Brene Brown sums this up perfectly:
“If we want children to love and accept who they are our job is to love and accept who we are”.

Criticising other mothers perpetuates a feeling of “us and them” when in reality we should be pulling together. If we want our children to be inclusive of children with other values, beliefs and needs we need to lead by example. We can start by having enough faith in our own choices not to feel threatened or judged by someone whose version of right is the opposite to ours…remember, “the opposite of what we know is also true”.

Our children will encounter so many different types of people in their lives. One of my greatest fears is that a child of mine would ever bully, exclude or discriminate against a child that was different to them for any reason. I would feel that I had failed as a parent.

I believe that this kind of behaviour is learned and that it comes from a place of fear or ignorance. An inability to accept someone who is different to us. If your child encountered someone with autism (read more about J here) or had a very sensitive child in their class (read more about W here) would they welcome their differences and get to know them?

How can we teach them this?

By embracing the Different. By accepting that the opposite of what we know is also true. By realising that those with differences to us (even if we’re only starting with differences in opinions on what to feed our children) are also often as right as we are. By leading by example. By having faith in ourselves.

By respecting, welcoming and learning from the differences in others and by modelling who we’d like our children to be.

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