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.

20131221-233110.jpg

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!

Advertisements

Having A Word With Myself.

For the past couple of weeks ours has been a sick-house. For one week P had can’t-get-out-of-bed flu, and for the following week both kids had bugs too. This is, of course, no different to thousands of other families across the country in January. The thing is, though, is that their illnesses knock me for six. I don’t just mean that they pass their germs on to me (although I am writing this through streaming eyes with scratchy throat). What I mean is, psychologically, it takes a while for me to recover from the fact that they have been ill. The obvious reason for this would be that of course, any parent worries when their child is ill, even if it’s just a nasty cold. Having sick kids is stressful and exhausting and generally pretty horrible. As mums, our own needs are usually pretty low down on the priority list and when your children are sick, this is more apparent than ever. For me, I can live without an uninterrupted wee and deal with not getting in the shower until 2pm. Their needs are more important, particularly when they’re sick. And as soon as they’re better, in theory, things go back to normal.

Or not.

I’ve mentioned before that I consider myself to be “in recovery” from my depression, in that it’s a constant work-in-process that I need to remain aware of. One day at a time. There are thought processes and strategies that I use to keep myself on the upward bounce as much as I can. But I find that in stressful times and particularly when there’s been illness in the house, I don’t get the chance to pay attention to my own emotional wellbeing and this can take me down a slippery slope.

So the purpose of this post is to have a word with myself in order to get back on track. Contradictions will follow, I’m afraid! That’s how my mind works.

When I was getting professional help with my depression and anxiety (which I highly recommend. Getting help, that is, not the depression or anxiety. That really sucks) One of the things the counsellor repeated regularly was this: “Rachel. It is what it is.”

Let me explain….

I struggle with overcoming the notion that I have no justification in feeling depressed; I have two beautiful children, an amazing husband and the support of my family and friends. There is a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs, food on the table and countless other blessings. What right do I have to be depressed?

I have a strong tendency to compare my circumstances with others who I feel have far more reason to feel low. I have friends who have recently suffered through bereavement, infidelity, miscarriage, divorce and serious illness. And that’s just people I know. Don’t start me on the pain and suffering out there in the wider world.

Drawing these comparisons can leave me feeling self absorbed, selfish, ungrateful and ridiculous. None of these feel good, let me tell you. So I remind myself that my own struggles are no less valid because others have suffered more. Telling yourself you can’t feel sad or upset about certain things because others have it worse is like saying you can’t be happy because others have it better than you.

Depression is chemical. My brain doesn’t produce enough serotonin to keep me on an even keel. This is simply not something I can control. (More on the subject of control on future posts). The same way that a diabetic can’t control their body’s insulin production, I can’t control the fact that primarily, the cause of my depression is chemical and physical. It “Is What It Is”. All I can do is be aware of it, “own” it, recognise what triggers it (like sickness in the house and letting myself get tired and run down) and use the tools at my disposal to manage it.

Luckily for me, on the whole, the good days far outweigh the bad and there is one quite simple tactic that I use which really helps me keep things in perspective, and that is practicing gratitude whenever I can. Because I really am grateful for what I’ve got.

In writing this I’m concerned that it’s going to come across as a bit sugary or cheesy. But It Is What It Is, it helps me be a happier person and maybe it’ll help someone reading this too. So I make no apologies.

Here’s an example;
A few minutes ago, I surveyed my living room. There are toy bricks EVERYWHERE. There are play-doh crumbs under the table. There are very small handprints all over the patio doors. A half-built train track lies abandoned in the kitchen waiting to trip someone over. A little pile of clothes shows me where my strip-o-gram of an eighteen month old daughter has stood and removed all of her clothes. Just because she can. She doesn’t care that it’s snowing out and she’s recovering from a nasty cold. My house looks like a bomb has hit it.

I can look at this situation in one of two ways; I can grumble and moan about the mess or I can smile, thinking of Madam’s excitement and pride at the big tower she built by herself, hence the bricks everywhere. I can be grateful for the toys we have that keep the children busy whilst I jot a few ideas down for this article. I can be grateful for the children themselves, that they’re better now. That they’re up to their usual mischief. That they’re well enough to climb the walls.

Another example, and one that I cringe a little bit about sharing, but I’m going to anyway, is the ironing. Boring subject I know. I LOATHE ironing. But at least once a week (ideally, but rarely, more often) I stand and I work through the enormous pile of ironing. I often huff and puff and complain about this. It’s categorically the dullest activity ever. But what I try to do, whilst I’m ironing, is be a tiny bit grateful. Grateful for the little ones who bring the clothes to life. Grateful for the fun times they spend wearing their clothes. Grateful for the job my husband has that requires him to wear a shirt each day. Despite the ironing it necessitates.

Similarly, when washing floors and cleaning mucky little handprints off a surprisingly varied array of surfaces, I try to be grateful for those little hands and feet. I try to remind myself that whilst raising (and especially cleaning up after) little ones is hard, one day they’ll be grown and gone. And I’ll look back on the days of smeary windows and crayon wall graffiti with nostalgia. And I’ll probably wish that I’d spent more time enjoying them and less time worrying about cleaning up after them.

And every so often, when they wake in the night, I might sit and hold them for a few extra minutes, and be grateful for them. I’ll hold them a few extra minutes after they’ve fallen back to sleep. I’ll drink in their sleepiness. I’ll try to forget and forgive myself for those dark early days and nights where I wanted to be somewhere or someone else and I’ll remind myself that they won’t remember. I’ll be grateful for the fact that I am able to be grateful. Because if I’m feeling grateful, then I’m feeling better. And now that I’ve finished writing this, I’m feeling a bit teary, but I’m feeling better. And I’m grateful for that, too.

20130120-130149.jpg

Picture credit: http://www.bravegirlsclub.com