Happy Holidays… but why its ok if they’re not.

Autumn is a magical time of year. Everything turns golden, the heating comes on. People don’t look at you strangely for wearing big chunky boots with your pretty dresses… the best mornings are full of blue sky and steam that rises from inside your lungs when you breathe. You get to smell woodsmoke in the air, cook stews and casseroles to come home to. Leaves crunch under your feet or the mud squishes underneath your wellington boots as you meander through woodlands that smell of damp and earth and allow you to feel completely grounded and at one with nature.

It is also the prelude to December… I was born a week before Christmas and I normally look forward to that special week – full of family and friends, twinkling lights, good music (Smith & Burrows’s Christmas album will always be a favourite), amazing food and of course the presents, although I’ve always been much more of a giver in that respect. It’s wonderful…

Until it isn’t.

Until the tiredness snakes its way into your bones, or the kitchen gets too hot whilst you are cooking what feels like your eleventh thousand Christmas dinner. Your bank account is looking sorry for itself, you’ve forgotten to buy your husbands aunties cat a Christmas present (true story), you need to write a heap of cards for the neighbours or people at work, you need to have dinner with your extended family and you know that the noise of eating, the amount of food, the anxiety around getting it ‘just right’ and the feeling of being too full are all triggers to your own issues with food. Maybe you count on work as a distraction and routine to keep you sane and the thought of an enforced holiday scares you more than you would like to admit. Perhaps you are breaking bread with people that don’t understand your sexuality, maybe you would love to be spending your day with a loved one but can’t because you need to spend it with family who don’t understand. There is alcohol, so – much – alcohol, and that can be incredibly hard for so many reasons. It’s not an easy time. Last year I wrote on another platform about how we can never fully understand how hard Christmas can be for each other and this year I’m feeling the truth of that even more so. It could be the first Christmas without someone, or the last Christmas we know we’ll have someone with us. And it’s merry and jolly and bright because it’s Christmas… but in reality, it’s not at all jolly and bright… it’s hard, and it’s a struggle and that is ok.

It’s ok because it is ok not to be ok. It’s ok to find all of this too much – all of this preparation and buying stuff and thinking about food and making arrangements with people you haven’t spoken to for the last 11 months. It’s alright to go to a quiet place and just sit and do nothing, or to cry, or to scream into a pillow. It’s healthy to get the lead on the dog and whisk him out of the door faster than his paws can touch the ground because you just need to get out and away and breathe the fresh, cool air into your lungs for 10 minutes, by yourself, for yourself.

These few weeks are stressful. They are stressful for people who seem to have everything together and they are stressful for people that let us all know about it when they don’t. Most of us still have to do the everyday stuff – going to work, keeping ourselves healthy, care giving, paying bills, looking after kids – and then we have this big day looming on the horizon which everything has to be perfect for, which we need to be perfect for.

But we don’t. Not really.

Because it’s a day.

Just a day.

Take it hour by hour, remember to breathe. Meditate, go for a walk, sleep. Look after yourself and be considerate to those around you.

The season of goodwill to all men.

That includes yourself

❤️
Main image credit: Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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Validation Isn’t Just For Parking Tickets

Image by Jason Rosewell @ Unsplash

A couple of weeks ago, I reacted to something inappropriately – I dismissed something that my husband was feeling and I realised as soon as the words left my mouth what I had done, but by then of course it was a little late to take it back.

I’ve been having a lot of thoughts lately surrounding vulnerability and validation. I think vulnerability may come up more in its own post about the subject, but validation is so very important.

And I neglected that.

A bit of background information would be helpful here… My husband has an old Mk 2 Golf that is very much a project car. We have named her Christine after the Stephen King novel as she is, lets say, high maintenance? (Although she hasn’t tried to kill me yet, so I’m taking that as a bonus 😉)

Anyway, Christine has some relatively nice alloy wheels. On this particular Saturday we had to pop out to pick up some toilet seat hinges (such a glamourous life we lead!) and also a few grocery bits. However, before we got to Screwfix, my husband had to do a three-point turn which was tighter than anticipated and he scraped the front passenger side wheel on a curb. He got out to check and it had left ‘a huge gouge’ in the paint. He was pissed off – mostly at himself, but also because of all the time and effort he has put into that car, and now something else, so easily avoided had gone wrong. It had already been a hugely stressful week, he wasn’t looking forward to fixing the toilet seat, it was hot, we were tired and hungry etc etc…

We went around to the supermarket and as we got out of the car, he came around to take another look, I also looked and… I couldn’t see anything. I was expecting ‘a huge gouge’ out of the paint. I’m not into cars in the slightest, to me it just looked like a regular alloy wheel. He pointed it out to me – a scrape along the outside edge and… well, I did the worst thing I could possibly do, I laughed.

Not in a cruel way – I wasn’t laughing at him, but in more of a relived way. I told him that it wasn’t that bad and hardly noticeable. I did the one thing that I always try not to do, I minimised his feelings, I invalidated his concern.

Of course, this did nothing to improve his mood. I tried to explain to him that my initial reaction was just relief – for him – that it wasn’t as bad as I had expected. But it was too late – the fixing of the toilet seat when we got home was punctuated with swearing and the slamming down of screwdrivers, which was completely understandable. I hadn’t heard him, I hadn’t realised that actually, it wasn’t about the wheel at all.

It was a build up of things, of worry and anxiety that had filled our week off. It was the driving to and from Bristol which had stressed him out for a number of reasons. The additional driving down to Dorset to a specialist vets appointment which was anxiety inducing, hot and once again gave no real conclusion to an ongoing concern with our dog. It was the social obligations which had taken their toll, it was the thought of going back to work after not exactly having a relaxing time off. It was the lack of decent sleep on and off for a fortnight due to stress. It was the thought that Saturday and Sunday should have just been two days to finally chill out – and now because of an error of judgement, there was something else to ‘fix’.

But… it wasn’t my job to fix this situation, and it is never our jobs to fix other people’s problems. My job – which I neglected to notice – was just to hear his frustration. To recognise it, acknowledge it and act accordingly. Because when we feel heard we feel empowered, we may not realise it at the time, but we do realise when we aren’t heard and the space that it puts us in.

I should have said sorry and bought him chocolate 😊

My husband, upon reading it to this point

However, this ‘trying to make things better’ is something that I think we have all been guilty of at some point or another. Its horrible to see someone we love and/or care for upset, angry, or frustrated so we try and do what we can to bring them out of the situation. It can also sometimes be uncomfortable for us and so we want to move past those feelings quickly so that we can get on with our day and put whatever unfortunate happening that has just occurred behind us.

Is that selfish? No, I don’t think so. I think that we all experience uncomfortable feelings – definitely in adulthood but we would have done so as children as well. We all have our own feelings about feelings – I am uncomfortable with anger for example. If I am ever angry then I don’t know how to safely hold and sit with that emotion, and if someone is angry at me or around me then I don’t know how to react, so I go very quiet, very small and just take it. But we would have all had instances in childhood where we felt strong emotions – such as anger, resentment, sadness and also the extremes at the other end of the scale such as love, generosity and giddying waves of happiness. How those feelings were reciprocated by parents and caregivers when we were at the cognitive developmental stage where we didn’t know how to express ourselves, will undoubtedly shape how we learn to deal with them as adults. This also applies to when we see someone else expressing these emotions that we struggle with – we react in the ways that we were reacted to.

With the incident with the car, I just wanted to make it better for him – but he was also angry, and I didn’t know how to deal with that and so my innate reaction was to get us both out of that situation as quickly as possible.

It didn’t work – and why would it have done? Making light of the situation wouldn’t have made the scrape in the wheel go away. We could have held hands and laughed and skipped our way into Morrisons, but his feelings of frustration and anger would have still been there. The situation that caused the discomfort wouldn’t just disappear if we ignored it.

Our feelings – whatever they may be – need to be heard. Talking about feelings, with a partner, friend, parent, child etc is such an important step in honouring our true selves and opening up those bridges of communication. If I made my husband feel silly over the car or if I repeatedly tried to distract him or judged or minimised his feelings every time something went wrong – even if its not about a subject that I am particularly knowledgeable on – then he’s going to stop communicating when he is upset, and this won’t just apply to what is happening in the garage. However, it is also important to realise that his emotions aren’t mine – I don’t have to crouch down and hold my head in my hands and get angry and frustrated at instances like the scrape in the tyre, I just need to communicate that I can see that he is upset and angry and keep the dialogue going.

Instead of laughing, I could have said something like ‘Oh dear, that must make you feel frustrated’ – and then instead of storming off into the supermarket ahead of me, he perhaps would have said ‘Yes, I had just got the car how I want it/its going to take time to fix/but its not just that…’ etc. It would have opened up the space for him to communicate and to have his feelings heard.

It isn’t dangerous to have our feelings out in the open – even the ones that can feel really difficult to express.  No bolt of lightening is going to come and strike us down if we dare to actually feel these difficult emotions and communicate with each other about them, in fact, much the opposite will happen. Learning to recognise our feelings and our emotions for what they are allows us to be more in tune with ourselves and with those around us – it allows us to communicate honestly and openly and it teaches us that our emotions – whatever they may be – are valid. In turn, this plays an important role in being able to trust our own instincts, for example if we begin to recognise fear or unease for the emotion that it is – instead of squashing it down and ignoring it because ‘it doesn’t feel very nice’ – then we become better at protecting ourselves and those around us.

I’m not there yet with anger. I can now recognise it as something that I need to be mindful of and work on – and I am very fortunate that I have some wonderful friends and a wonderful husband that are more likely to encourage me to talk about my anger when I feel it and help me unpick it, rather than try and ‘fix’ it with platitudes, but these things do take time and a lot of patience. When I have been angry in the past and I have pushed it down and tried not to feel it because I have had that belief for 34 years that ‘anger is bad’ – where has it gone? It hasn’t come out of me, no, it has stayed and whispered in my ear that what I feel doesn’t matter, that what I feel is ‘wrong’, that what I feel makes me a bad person… and do you know what other name we have for that voice? Depression.

So, encourage people to talk – those that you love, those that you care about. Let them know that it is ok to feel what they are feeling and that no emotion – however hard it may be to experience is ‘wrong’. We cannot be shining beacons of light and grace at all times; life doesn’t work like that.

In order to appreciate the light, we must also experience the dark – and the dark can look different for each any every one of us.

Philippa Perry has written about this subject in her wonderful book ‘The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (and Your Children Will be Glad That You Did)’ and during my most recent round of therapy, I have found this book – and some of her talks on YouTube to be highly illuminating.

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The Problem With Looking for a Saviour

So, today’s post is a little different…

This is the first writing of mine that I have shared on Elephant Journal 🐘 But it is something that I have wanted to do for years! I’d really appreciate it if you could click through and have a read, I’d really love this one to do well 🧡

https://www.elephantjournal.com/2019/05/the-problem-with-looking-for-a-saviour/

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Together


Photo by Maarten Verstraete on Unsplash

I told him that I was frightened of my own mind
again

And he wrapped me up
took me out

And he held my hand whilst we counted the stars
together

And the universe, and he
calmed me

Again
together

Codependent

Image credit: Dominik Vanyi @ Unsplash

Codependency was a word that I never fully grasped; it was something I never fully understood and something that – even now – I struggle to spell!

And yet, I was it, I was it to the letter. If anyone wanted an example of what a co-dependant person looked like, they could just bring me forward, with my phone firmly planted within my hand and my attention off elsewhere, and show me off as a good and fine specimen of someone who has fallen into that trap…

I hadn’t become this way intentionally of course, I hadn’t even become this way consciously, but I had become it all the same. It had happened over years, namely with one person, but there are little glimpses and tell-tale signs with others too. However, with this one person it was powerful, it was overwhelming and it was becoming very, very damaging.

This was a person who I had never met and who I had no real intention of meeting. He was a man who I had met online years ago, our conversations had started out regarding a shared interest in mental health and we had formed a friendship of sorts. Sometimes it is easier to talk about the hard stuff with someone if you don’t have to look them in the eye… and so, we gradually opened up to each other. He told me things that he had (allegedly) not told anyone else and I listened and advised the best that I could. When I suffered dips in my mental health, I turned not only to my husband and closest friends, but also to him. He always replied, always acknowledged my feelings… and then always reciprocated with his own.  

This isn’t a writing about how a friendship turned sour though, far from it. We don’t talk now, after a very difficult conversation we decided to have some time apart and whilst I admire him in many ways and still sometimes feel like I have lost a huge pillar of strength within my life, I also know that he has to address his own problems before we could ever hope to build a healthy relationship.

I also know that I need to address mine.

Because co-dependency doesn’t just spring up from nowhere. I became co-dependent because I had a need for something, something that was lacking and something that even now I struggle to identify. My over whelming desire within this friendship, was to fix; I wanted to make everything better, I could see the damage that was being done by my friends behaviours, but I could also see the things that would help him and I could see such potential – if only he would listen!

But he was listening, wasn’t he? We would have these long conversations; we would talk our way round the same situations day, after day, after day. He would ask me ‘What do I do?’ and I would reply with logic and compassion. I harnessed everything that I had learnt in therapy, everything that I had read about mental health and addiction. I would read articles online to try and improve my knowledge of the specific things he was struggling with. I would talk to my best friend – a qualified mental health nurse – and relay information, I would find song lyrics that resonated with his struggles and send him the music so he didn’t feel so alone. I would speak to him first thing in the morning and last thing at night, I would engage in behaviour that was damaging to my own mental health, in order to prevent him from either a) getting what he needed in that moment from someone who was potentially dangerous for his mental health or b) hurting someone else. But this was friendship, right? This was helping him, surely?

No, and no.

I remember very clearly the moment that it all clicked. It was on a day off, so I had been at home by myself all day and, yes, talking to him via text for a good part of it. I was feeling pretty tired – this was at the end of last year, so very much still combating my own medication withdrawal and Fibromyalgia symptoms. I ran a bath, loaded up Insight Timer and I saw a talk on the homepage by Michelle Chalfant about codependency…

I led in the bath and listened to her describe the behaviour I had been exhibiting, for years. Not just ‘oh, that kind of applies’ but every, single, item on that list I could identify and relate back to something I had done. I realised that I was not ok, if he was not ok – and he, was never ok.

It was like my empathy with this man had gone into overdrive, I wanted so desperately to make everything better for him that I had completely neglected myself in the process. He hadn’t specifically asked me to, he hadn’t directly put this stipulation on our friendship that I must behave in this way or he would leave – but I kind of felt that way all the same. I am learning the reasons now why I did that, I am working through my own feelings and my own motives for that behaviour – but it’s not easy.

We carried on talking for a while after that, but something had shifted. Truthfully, I was scared, I was scared to let him go because if I didn’t have him to ‘help’, then what would my purpose be? I was also very scared that actually, he wouldn’t care. That he would just say ‘ok then’ and go and I would end up with the weight of rejection upon my shoulders. I was also scared that all of this, all of these conversations, all of this kindness, this empathy, this care that I had willingly and freely given over months and years would be for nothing.

I was scared that it made me selfish.

Co-dependency is complex. My motives for my behaviour came from a number of different places – from the need to be heard, to my need for validation and also my natural desire to help and to empathise. The times that he would say ‘yes, this makes sense’ were the glimmers of light and the behaviour he continued to exhibit that went against that very same piece of advice, extinguished those sparks. But he would learn from that for next time, right? So I kept on, persevered and tried to be a good friend. In the end it just exacerbated those ingrained feelings and beliefs of being unheard, but to me, that was familiar and so it was ‘safe’. It was known behaviour so it was comforting even though it stung like ripping off a sticking plaster each and every time. I found that I couldn’t trust him, and yet I confided in him still. I found that I got angry with him, but it felt more like being angry at a child. I found that I was sinking into his problems whilst my own screamed at me from the surface…

Letting him go would also mean I didn’t have a distraction from my own problems anymore.

Eventually, it was my decision to end contact with him. It wasn’t pre-meditated, it wasn’t a thought out ‘I am going to have this conversation and it will be resolved by X, Y and Z’. It was a row – it was an insensitive comment made by him about my husband on a day when I was feeling depressed and in pain and having to brave it out at work. It was the argument that ensued and this voice that bubbled up inside me and screamed ‘this is not ok!’.  I had been ignoring this voice, my own voice that said repeatedly, for months, ‘I am done…’ but I should have listened to her; my inner child may be small and gentle but I was doing her no favours by not hearing her – eventually she screamed, a scream of pain, a scream of frustration and a scream so powerful that my decision was made in that instant. I was done.

Afterwards, it felt worse than any romantic break up that I had ever endured. I spoke to friends about it; I spoke to my husband and my therapist about it. I meditated on it, I questioned what I had done, and I checked his social media profiles to see if he was ok… but I didn’t go back.

One thing I noticed in those first couple of weeks was how much time I had! I wasn’t tied to my phone anymore. I also noticed that my confidence improved – I wasn’t hiding behind someone else’s problems. Yeah, sure, this meant all of my problems came to the surface but I could own them now. I tried to turn some of that care and affection back onto myself – and some days I manage it, some days I don’t, but at least I am trying. It’s something that will take months, if not years because it isn’t straightforward and this type of behaviour has roots that are buried deep.

I still miss him. I still wonder how he is, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. I am learning the importance of boundaries and the importance of true friendship. I am learning to listen to the voice of my inner child because she knew what was up before I had even registered it. I am learning to forgive – both him and myself and I am learning that we cannot, ever fix someone else.

We can love them, we can support them, we can validate their feelings and we can send them all the articles and song lyrics in the world.

But we cannot fix them, for that is a path they must walk alone.

Squad

Image Credit: Tatiana Vavrikova @ Pexels

This writing came about last year as part of a Blurt* picture challenge. I decided to create writings instead of pictures throughout the month and ‘Squad’ was one of the prompts…

Squad is I think the first one of these challenges that I’m left drawing a blank on. It’s not a word that really enters my vocabulary. I know loosely what it means of course and my husband plays with his ‘squad’ on Pubg… but as a subject matter for me to write about….? I enlisted Google on my quest…

Crew, posse, gang: an informal group of individuals with a common identity and a sense of solidarity. The term is a bit flashy and is more likely to be heard in hip-hop lyrics than in spoken conversation.

Well, I don’t listen to hip hop, so no wonder I am a little in the dark on this…

I do have a sense of solidarity though, with two women who have grown to be my best friends.

Friendship has always been a tricky one. Our childhood years are so formative in the way we view the world around us and the relationships we form within it – and given that I spent so many of those years being bullied by a group of girls who would be your friend in first period and your worst enemy by lunch…my idea of ‘healthy’ friendships became a little skewed.

It also affected my ability to trust, especially other girls. I remember in one therapy session, a good few years ago, my therapist quite rightly pointed out that the people I chose to confide in, were always men. And why wouldn’t they be? Women (in a friendship capacity) up until that point in my life had ways been the ones to cause the most damage.

(The men I was choosing weren’t that great either if we’re being honest, but that’s another writing.)

But then one morning in the Dr’s surgery, there was a woman with a young baby. We started talking… that young baby is now 9 and if I ever have children I would want them to be just like him. The woman is one of my closest friends, she has been my rock, just as I hope at times I have been hers. She has intelligence and compassion by the bucketload and she helps me see things clearly when my own mind is playing tricks. We’ve been to Dublin, to London and to Wales and I trust her with my life. We’ve laughed and cried and despaired together; she was my maid of honour, along with her daughter as my bridesmaid when I got married, I’ve decorated her house and she’s the only person I trust to look after my highly-strung pooch. She’s an absolute star…

She makes my ‘squad’

Not long after meeting her, my husband pointed out a framed picture on his Facebook feed. It was of a pencil drawing of two characterful dolls ‘Falmouth Dolls’ – a girl he knew from way back in school was selling it. I loved it and arranged to pick it up. That girl is now my other best friend. Amazingly strong, beautiful, wise and talented… she is the embodiment of magic and I don’t know where I would be without her (and her two wonderful girls). I introduced her to my friend above when I was planning my wedding and I just sat back and watched as two of the most important people in my life bonded over so much. She read at my wedding and helped the day run so smoothly. She reminds me when I need to pause and practice self-care and I do the same for her. She has taught me so much and I have come to think of her as a guiding beacon of light, especially over the last few months. Sometimes our texts to each other are short little check-ins, reminding each other to breathe – other times they are essays that span pages. She has restored my faith in humanity on many an occasion and I can see us still texting (or whatever the crazy futuristic equivalent is) every day when we are 90…

She makes my ‘squad’

I am so blessed to have two such wonderful people in my life and this writing is a good reminder to myself that I am worthy of the friendship that these wonderful women bring and that I am a better person for knowing both of them. I’m not sure I am 100% comfortable in referring to them as my ‘squad’, I like to just think of them as my friends.

Something that I once questioned would ever exist at all.

*Blurt is a charity that ‘works to increase the understanding of depression, from the perspective of those who have actually experienced it’. They are a wonderful resource and collaborate with schools, medical practitioners and employers to help reduce the stigma and create awareness and understanding of depression. Check them out @ http://www.blurtitout.org or @theblurtfoundation on Instagram @Blurt alerts on Twitter or @Blurtitout on Facebook

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