Whispers of self-doubt can quickly set about our dreams and aspirations. Hushed voices, thick-set with self-deprecation. Whispers that in my experience, left unchecked, fast become deafening roars.
Nothing speaks louder to my self-doubt then when I draw a blank.
When my mind (often so a whir with sentences and turns of phrase, that all I want to do is sit and write) echoes with the sound of inspiration closing the door on its way out.
No matter how hard I stare at the screen or the pen in my hand, inspiration flits away, a few laughing steps ahead.
And I doubt.
Possibly, however, I should embrace the stillness where the storm of a story so recently took residence.
Allow the muscles of story-telling and talking to stretch out languidly, lazily skimming their words across my consciousness, without any pressure to provide.
Perhaps I should indeed sit quietly for a while. Note that my body and mind is asking for silence and not over-rule it for fear of an un-adhered to blog schedule.
If I permit the silence, then I shan’t be able to hear the whispers of self-doubt…
…instead, perchance, the footsteps of inspiration, tip-toeing back into the room.
“If the results don’t come back showing an infection, then we will send her for a kidney ultrasound.”
The doctor was referring to my nine-year-old daughter.
As we drove home, I reached over and held her hand, repeatedly squeezing it three times. Sending the words ‘I love you’ up to her.
My fear was real. It was also irrational.
I spent the evening Googling, ‘Blood in urine. No other symptoms’. Never Google. Never.
I didn’t sleep. My mind racing ahead to a thousand unthinkable conclusions. My heart vulnerable. Nerve endings worn on the outside, from the moment I held each of my children in my arms for the first time.
Logic, statistics, all stacked in her favour but still, I lay next to her that night, inhaling the scent of her hair. Feeling the rapid beating of my own heart, mismatched to her quiet breathing.
Results on Friday. The week stretches ahead of me. Acres of un-slept nights filled with unfounded fears.
Nothing fuels fear as fiercely as love. The fear of loss. The fear of pain. The fear of the unknown. The fear of careless words and stones thrown. Tearing of tethers, ties that break.
My voice is reassuring, my smile willing. Doing nothing for the heavy stone in my chest.
I know, you know, we all know, that the doctor’s phone call on Friday will bring relief.
Until then though, I hold my breath and try not to blink when I look at her. For fear of missing a single moment.
I look so hard. The profile of her face, the upturn of her nose, the way her smile creases into dimples, cementing them into my mind. I love fiercely.
Fiercely and fearfully.
For that is the beautiful agony of parenthood.
‘Are you sure that is the jean style you are looking for?’ The young (very young) sales assistant enquired, with an ever so slightly patronising tilt of her head.
‘Our more standard jeans can be found over here.’ With an assertive turn of heel, I was marched in the direction of standard skinnies, no rips or detailed denim for me. No, no, for I had three children in tow and I am in my late thirties.
For a moment I found myself being led away from the rails I had been happily browsing, suddenly self-conscious in the trendy American apparel store. My cheeks pinked and my inner critic began to mock me with the words ‘too old’.
Then my pink cheeks became a flush of indignation. Hold on here…who is to say I am ‘too’ anything?? Who is setting the expectations?
‘No thank you’. I said firmly, the new assertive Rose making her stand, ‘…these jeans are just what I am looking for.’
I kept those jeans in my hand the entire time I browsed the store. In truth, they weren’t the jeans I was going to buy and as I approached the till to pay for my (shock and horror) every so slightly cropped jumpers, I slipped them carefully back on to a shelf. However, that wasn’t the point.
I’ve always been a goody-goody rebel. On a mum’s night out, I’m the one wearing biker boots and drinking a bottle of beer (just the two mind you), fearful of stepping over the line of ‘what is expected’ and not being ‘included’.
I have realised though, that I no longer need to be included. I just want to be accepted, by myself. To be happy in my own skin.
The word ‘too’ gives our self-critics too much (excuse the pun) ammunition. Too old, too sensitive, too kind, too worried about what others think. I have spent too long (see, there is that word again) allowing outside forces and their expectations to shape my sense of self.
That day, in the trendy clothes shop, fate was in cahoots with my self confidence and decided that I need to stop living by the ‘too rule’.
In addition to jean-gate, I had been contemplating having a second ear piercing but had hesitated because that’s not what middle-class mums over the age of 35 do in this neck of the woods. Then, in that moment, stood knee deep in ‘on point denim’, three children tugging at my sleeves and one bored looking husband loitering hopefully by the exit, I made a decision to change the narrative and erase the word ‘too’ when referring to myself.
With that I pierced my ears last week, and I wore the cropped jumpers, with a vest top underneath…wouldn’t want to catch a chill, because…
…I should have liked myself enough to do it a long time ago.
To make a marriage.
Bend & Snap.
No person is set in stone.
Move with the changes. Embrace the flow.
Sometimes choppy waters, sometimes a meandering stream.
Wear your love as a life jacket. Always row as a team.
Water the roots. Don’t let life get in the way.
Still hold hands, kiss…say ‘I love you’ every day.
When storms hit, pull the ropes in tighter.
Keep sight of the silver lining. Find your inner fighter.
Be each other’s greatest fan. Let your voice cheer loudest.
Have faith when others don’t. Be sure to be proudest.
Chart your love in small remembers;
Passion burns bright, but forever is in the embers.
Look toward the horizon. Look to your sunset.
End your days telling the story, of the moment you met.
How I wish I could fast forward you to now, 22 years on and help you look back and see how beautiful you are.
I wish I could magic away all the unkind words you mutter at your reflection as you stand in front of the mirror in your room. Replace them with the truth.
I know every night you sob into your pillow, haunted by the picture drawn of you by a classmate, pinned up in the school corridor. A ball with two bunches. Laughing faces crowding around the notice board.
I know you can still hear the taunting poem echoing in your dreams ‘She’s fat, she’s round, she bounces on the ground, her name is Rosie.’
It was prepubescent puppy fat, prior to womanhood. That didn’t matter though, I know. Their words wounded, left their mark, like nails in wood.
But I have something I need to tell you. I need you to listen hard.
Under that baggy jumper you always wear, hiding a body that is too thin right now, a future miracle waits to happen.
I want you to know, that this body of yours, the one you berate, the one you use to control the chaos that is your life right now, this body is going to do something amazing one day.
Your body is going to create three human beings with his eyes and your lips.
Your body will soften and strengthen. You will eat cake, turn your face to the sun and my beautiful, you will TAKE UP SPACE.
Food will nourish your body, it will make you strong, you will come to understand its power to make you thrive. It will become the means by which you nurture friendships and tether family.
Extended family Sunday lunches, Saturday night spaghetti suppers, custard slices and pots of tea, eaten in front of the Eldorado omnibus. Happy memories from your own childhood, reconjured in a mouthful.
Your body and mind will conquer and create so much. Your body only deserves kind and gentle words, my love. Your body will become the vehicle with which you will LIVE life.
Your body will extend three ways, outside of your body and call you mummy. It will cartwheel, climb trees and bump its knees and you will love every inch of it.
It will stop being the tool with which you damage your self-worth.
You will eat the cake.
No longer dying to be invisible.
You take up space.
Stand in it my love, stand in your space.
All my love,
Your future self xx
The definition of an empath according to the law of Google:
(Chiefly in science fiction) a person with the paranormal ability to perceive the mental or emotional state of another individual.
Well unless I am living in a very long episode of Star Trek where the crew have a lot of washing and forget to put the bins out, empaths are not just found in the world of Sci-Fi.
In fact, I am pretty sure I am an empath, although I certainly can’t read your mind. Not highly strung, not over-sensitive, not too emotional or any of the other things I have been labelled or called throughout my 38 years, but an empath.
According to Psychotherapist Judith Orlaff, empaths do very much exist as a personality type. Highly sensitive individuals who both feel and absorb others emotions.
It would appear this may well be the reason the begging homeless man sits on my shoulder all day, the reason I physically feel his loneliness. The unthinkable news story that will steal my sleep for days, as another mother’s grief pulls at my chest and leaves me sobbing into my pillow.
I had for years believed all of the negative descriptions of myself; ‘You give too much, you do too much, you feel too much, you care too much’ so the list went on. It didn’t seem to matter what I did, according to many others I was always feeling, experiencing or caring about it ‘too much’. The legacy of being labelled all these things was that I lived feeling as though I was somehow flawed. An emotional time-bomb who could be set off by the news, a charity appeal, even a children’s story.
However, I don’t actually know how to do or more truthfully, be anything else. I don’t know how to switch off feeling so acutely.
I am however learning how to decompress. How to slowly unpack the jumble of emotions from inside my head. Unpick which are my own and which I appear to be carrying from others.
Spending time in nature is a huge help. The quiet and solitude a healing balm. I have also become stronger at setting boundaries. Turning down invites to large parties or events where I can become overwhelmed. All those conversations, all those emotions,,,they follow me home. The hardest lesson but unequivocally the most helpful has been putting distance between myself and the draining friendships that left me feeling exhausted and anxious.
With these strategies, I no longer feel that being an empath is a negative attribute. It isn’t another stick with which to beat myself with. No longer a perceived flaw in my emotional make-up. It is simply, who I am.
Perhaps, just perhaps, in a world so full of anger and hardness, those who feel too much, the empaths. Perhaps they are the universe’s way of readdressing the balance.
Not such an out of this world thought after all.
Life is a balancing act. Holding on and letting go.
Holding on to hurt, holding on to words, holding on to a thoughtless comment or deed. I’ve held on to many. A heavy burden to carry.
I’ve also held on to small hands, vistas, laughter, tears of joy and loving someone so much you can no longer catch your breath.
It is only very recently that I have begun to consciously seek to let go of the type of holding on that holds me back.
The hurt that we bury deep inside. The hurt that tethers us to unhappiness. Hurt that we dig back up every time we no longer feel worthy, when we feel alone, when we feel threatened or simply, when we are tempted to play self-destructive games.
We dig the hurt back up and we poke at it with a mental stick, until once again it is raw and felt as acutely as the day it was inflicted.
This month I unexpectedly found myself face to face with someone who had hurt me. So much so, that I had withdrawn from our once shared social group. You see, I am porous, no Teflon coating here. Words and actions can cut deep.
Always fearful of confrontation, I could feel my hands beginning to tremor, my heart fluttering like a trapped butterfly in a bell jar. I had a choice in that moment, to scuttle back to the safety of my car or have the conversation I had been dreading and finally free myself from the weight of words.
I’m still not sure what the catalyst was that evening, what gave me the strength to finally voice my hurt. Perhaps it was sheer emotional exhaustion or perhaps it was realising that I was holding myself back. I was no longer in possession of a generous heart, just an injustice I had spent too long nursing.
Only I could stop the power of a heavy heart.
I went and spoke to the person who had hurt me. We ended up standing in that car park, in the dark that cold evening, talking for a long time.
I apologised for not having given them space to have this conversation before. For withdrawing. Then we hugged and in that moment….my heavy heart lifted.
We can’t go back and re-write the past. We can’t undo wrongdoings or rebalance the scales of injustice but we do have a choice as to whether we allow something to shape our forever or not.
We can choose to create a new now and to create a new ending.
In the playground, I say hello and smile but I confess these days I avoid the loitering group by the school gates and the coffee morning chats.
I have a sphere of lifelong friends, those I can and would call on in the darkest of hours, both metaphorically and literally and I feel secure with them. Some live hundreds of miles away, others just a couple of roads.
Friendships, when we are children, are often fluid. Judgement rarely exists and resentment over playground spats are short lived. However, even as grown ups we can confuse friendship with a desire to belong, to be liked, and for those of us who wear our hearts on our sleeves, the stakes can be high.
More than once I have found myself emotionally winded by curve balls of disloyalty.
The result of being bitten by the playground, is that you become twice shy.
Last year, I began to retreat more and more, to sit on a wall at the back of the playground at pick up. Busying myself with my phone, reading phantom emails and searching, with fierce concentration for the non-existant anything in my bag.
I didn’t mean to be rude to the mums who hadn’t been unkind, when I walked out of the school gate, a quick smile and a hello but my beating heart would see me bustling straight to the safety of my car, as soon as I had small hands clamped in mine.
I had isolated myself in order to protect myself. However, the more I withdrew, the worse I felt. No man is an island but she can become an awkward mum.
It was a dear friend who finally lifted the rock under which I had crawled and demanded I came out and stood in the light of day.
My friend is older and a lot wiser than me. She said “Rose, you need to go into that playground your head held high. I want you to remember you deserve to stand there. I want you, at pick up, to find another mum, standing on her own and tell her, she looks nice.”
…and because I trust her, I did.
I made eye contact with a new mum and told her I liked her coat and just like that…the spell was broken.
In truth, I still don’t involve myself in gossip and avoid those who take pleasure in lifting the lid on other people’s confidences but I’m no longer afraid of these women. I’ll find the ones with a warm smile and pass the time day. I’ll ignore the sideways glances and silently repeat the following affirmation “I am a good person, I am a kind person, I deserve to stand in this space.”
I stood up from the wall.
The advent of nativity season is also that of tea-towel donning. I am constantly reminded, thanks to all the tea towel donning, of the words my father used to drum into me as a child,
“Be a shepherd, not a sheep.”
He wasn’t referring to the bun fights over costumes in Year One. No.
A true eccentric, my father has always been, slightly off-kilter shall we say.
I can still distinctly remember his dalliance with going everywhere barefoot, including shopping…painful for the average 14-year-old. Even now, in his sixties, my father sports a rather spiffing set of curled whiskers and wears a cravat and tasselled loafers.
I have inherited a fair few of my father’s traits, not least his occasionally flamboyant dress sense. However, for much of my teens and twenties, I fought against this inevitable expression of my genes and allowed self-doubt to shoehorn me into social norms that for me, felt far from normal.
It wasn’t until I had my own children that I began to understand the importance of those words.
To be a shepherd, is to be true to you.
Anything else, in my father’s eyes, is to devalue yourself and the result will leave you feeling empty and worse still fragile. I spent many years feeling fragile.
I would like my three children to grow up valuing themselves. To understand that their quirks and differences are undoubtedly some of their greatest assets.
“Bang your own drum!” I chant, “Embrace your quirks!” I sing.
Very likely, these words are still falling on deaf ears. I have an eight year old painfully pre-occupied with ‘fitting in’ but at this moment in her little life, conforming makes her feel good…and that’s OK too.
You see, there is nothing wrong with being the same as everyone else either. Conform if it makes you happy, conform if it makes you feel secure. However, don’t conform if doing so leaves you waking in the middle of the night with a sinking feeling, because you have moved so far away from yourself, you can no longer feel the sparks of ‘living’ dance inside you.
I have been on a long journey of self-discovery. It has taken until now for me to understand how very right my father was.
In order to find contentment, you need to allow the voice that wants you to walk barefoot or wear rainbow colours in your hair, to be heard.
Note to self: Put your tea-towel on my lovely, wear it with tassels and be a happy shepherd.