The Shoes We wear

Something happened to me recently that got me thinking about what we portray to the outside world. The kind of masks we wear, how often we wear them and for what purpose. I’m not just talking face masks, but whole body masks.

When I think back to my child’s first day at school, I was the happy, smiley, confident mummy that waved goodbye at the classroom door and then pelted it back home to have a cry in private, my heart breaking at the thought of her being so small and alone in a big, strange place.

I watch my eldest as she struggles to navigate this world. Trying to make her way in what has been such challenging times. And though she speaks little about her inner thoughts and feelings, I can pretty much gauge how she feels about herself and her world on a particular day, by the way she dresses.

It’s a useful technique this observation of clothing style since it can, for the most part, tell a lot about where someone is at. I mean you also have to take into consideration posture, the way they walk and talk, but attire is a great starting point and sometimes openly reflecting on it can start a conversation and make change happen and sometimes….well, it goes pear shaped. I remember bumping into someone who was dressed like they were having a hard time and when I asked how they were “you seem a bit down today”’ I was swiftly cut off and pretty much never spoken to again. Years later I found out that they suffered from depression and perhaps my question on that day brought shame, or perhaps they felt too vulnerable.

So sometimes the internal and external are a true reflection of each other but sometimes it’s poles apart. Sometimes people have huge amounts of internal turmoil yet are amazing at displaying to the outside world the opposite; calmness, confidence, a certain grounded-ness or a sense of “having their shit together”? We can be very good at dressing in a way that portrays something else. Do we consciously (or maybe unconsciously) dress in a way to boost, bolster or perhaps inspire us to feel a certain way? Just take a moment to have a think about dressing for an interview, going on a date, a special ceremony, a night out or the school run.

How do we ever really know what is going on inside another person? And how willingly would we honestly respond when the ‘feeling shit and looking a bit shit’ are noticed? I know that for me, it would largely depend on who asked, where I was and how vulnerable I felt at the time- hence my running home to cry in private after school drop off.

Anyway, here’s the event that precipitated this whole line of questioning.

I had a day off. I was looking forward to doing my thing; napping, slobbing about, maybe catching up on paperwork, when I get a phone call that made my stress levels soar. I jumped out of bed, threw on some clean clothes, bunched my greasy hair into a top knot, sprayed myself with perfume, shoes on and ran. I collected the person and took them to hospital…and there I stayed the whole afternoon and into evening feeling dirtier by the hour, flitting between hunger, thirst, worry, anxiety and at times tearfulness. I noticed as I waited that my face was neutral but my body on edge, tense from holding in the array of emotions I was trying hard not to feel for fear of them spilling out into some messy puddle in public.

Partly to take my mind off myself and partly out of curiosity, I started looking at how other patients in hospital were presenting. The lady opposite me was well dressed, looked clean and well-groomed but she was in pain and quietly managing it with the stoicism of her era; body straight and quiet demeanour. The youth next to me also looked clean yet the more I secretly observed him, the more I noticed an air of unkemptness about him; his clothes were very baggy as though he was attempting to hide his body, his hair seemed messy, his skin sallow. The older man on the other side was filthy but given what his uniform said about his job, that seemed a given- he looked shocked yet was covering it up well with his manly posture and jokes. I looked quite presentable, casually dressed but pristine. I smelled alright considering I hadn’t showered since the day before and my tied-up hair hid many a sin. I looked like I could have been casually visiting someone.

Then I looked down at my feet. The shoes I had slipped on were filthy, quite tired looking, saggy feeling and grey in colour. Just how I felt; dirty, exhausted and overwhelmed with emotion- sagging inside.

And I thought, “I am my shoes”.

It dawned on me that perhaps I need to check out, not just clothing, manner, states of cleanliness and presentability, but also shoes. Usually they’re the last things one puts on and so, at times, they may be more telling about the state of one’s mind and soul than all other indicators.

The highs and lows of Social Media: when is enough, enough?

I had a bit of a Social Media (SM) mental meltdown recently. I was becoming more and more intolerant of reading the same sort of stories, comments, questions, gripes and anxieties. Other people’s feelings and opinion were getting me angrier by the day and I was feeling increasingly judgemental which I recognise is not very therapeutic (I’m not a therapist 24/7 so I know to cut myself some slack here).

I found myself deliberately looking out for ‘annoying’ posts/comments/revelations with the knowledge that it would set off a chain reaction of uncomfortable feelings within me justifying that pissed off feeling. I wanted to be angry at the world and the angst riddled population.

I was clearly giving out negative vibes. Several clients decided to end all sessions with me, my general day-to-day responses felt largely ignored and even my own family were dismissing me. Or at least that’s how it was perceived.

I tried long walks, meditating, deep breathing, dancing, singing, seeking fun moments to lift me. The relief was temporary and would remind me that there was another life out there. But, that naughty nugget of anger and general discomfort clung on. I felt it on my back, on my shoulders and my head was so full of it there was little room for anything else. The simplest of instructions would go in one ear and fall out the other. I would read things over and over but couldn’t remember the content. My tongue was constantly ready to unroll and lash out.

What ultimately swung the decision to cut myself off all SM was that I’d have moments of inspiration but absolutely no desire to tell or share with anyone. I couldn’t be arsed I was that consumed with feeling angry, rejected, and, quite possibly, a tad depressed. I’d very low self-esteem, doubting myself, my career choice, questioning my ability etc… So, I removed myself from the things that seemed to fan the flames of feeling and acting pessimistic, intolerant, judgmental, angry, belligerent and all that plethora of challenging and difficult feelings. I took myself off the SM grid.

It was a risky move since SM drives business. Posting, commenting, and putting oneself out there attracts potential customers. Coming off it meant possibly dropping off the radar damaging my private practise. But for me, it was more damaging being on there. What I was feeling was important. My mental health was/is important and needed addressing.

It’s a dreadful place to be where feelings and reasons for existence depend upon SM interaction. There seems to be a pressure to be ‘seen’, have posts ‘liked’ and ‘shared’. Noticing how the lack of responses (even positive responses) or how surges of negative responses can pound away at self-worth and self-esteem is damaging.

I don’t know about anyone else, but there is a part of myself that slowly sneaks in telling me to compare myself to everyone else. Other people’s posts are better; better liked, more worthy, more interesting and, definitely more loved than my own. ‘Ha ha! Your posts are basic’ mocked my other self. How on earth people find the time to discover interesting articles or affirmations, dress them up with banners, photos, snazzy colours, and post once, twice, three times a day is beyond me.

After more than 6 weeks of being SM free I’ve come to realise that I don’t care about that anymore. I do my stuff and others do theirs, because in the grand scheme of things, I have to be happy and fulfilled by what I do and how I do it. I can but strive to do what I do, for myself, not to gain ‘likes’ or ‘shares’ or have expectations of responses but simply because what I find, what I post, what I write is meaningful and important to me. It may touch a chord with one person, it may be ignored. Ultimately there is no better or worse, there is just different.

Lockdown

So, here we are.

Lockdown is easing and I’m dreading it. I’m dreading the total relaxation of rules, dreading society getting back to ‘normal’, whatever that means.

I’ve loved Lockdown. It hasn’t filled me with stress or anxiety, quite the opposite. I’ve loved the peace and tranquillity that it brought. Less traffic, less pollution, quieter streets, less harried and hurried people. I’ve loved it because It took me back to memories of my early years, a time when life was simple, life was uncluttered by things. I didn’t know this at the time- Lockdown has given me a lot to reflect on!

My parents came over to the UK as political refugees when I was but a baby. They didn’t speak the language, had no social groups and virtually no money, so much of my early life was spent doing free things like walking, reading, listening to music, pottering about- no tv because we couldn’t afford one and my parents wouldn’t have known how to go about getting one anyway. We didn’t socialise, didn’t shop, had very little contact with people. It was just us. And my memories of that are blissful, peaceful, happy.

So when Lockdown came and we had to stay indoors, be just with our immediate families, couldn’t go to the shops etc….it was a nice feeling for me, because, unbeknown to me, it harked back to those halcyon days.

I feel that in many ways, Lockdown has brought out the best in people. Communities have come together, people have been taking more notice of each other, respecting each other more. We have greeted, waved, clapped. Nature became important, being in it and appreciating it became necessary. For me, life became more humane. It felt better balanced and harmonious. I spent more time drinking in my children, drinking in the world….and I don’t want to let that go.

My fear, for it is a real deep, pit in the stomach, anxiety riddled fear, is that once all businesses, education establishments, pubs/clubs, parks etc… open, we will return to that rushing, speeding, competitive, consumerist lifestyle that was before Covid-19 (BC19). We will forget about the community spirit, forget that nature needs us to be more careful with it, forget to take time with our children and really listen to what they are saying. Life will be spent getting up, rushing ourselves and our kids out the door, making money, spending money, over consuming (food, drink, gadgets) and buying things we either don’t need, because we are trying to keep up with the Jones’ or because we believe that how we are perceived by the external world is what makes us worthy. Big car, big house, expensive clothes, jewellery, all the gadgets and mod cons = success and happiness.

We will have forgotten how we survived with just the basics. We will have forgotten that life is for living, being in the moment, living each day as it comes, however it comes and adapting to that. We will have forgotten to look after ourselves, each other and the planet. We will have forgotten that a simple life can also a good life.

And the end of Lockdown is also a bittersweet reminder of the end of my childhood as I knew it. Life was simple but life was also tough. The older I got the more aware I became of family struggles, the more I experienced being in survival mode all the time. And thus ended those halcyon days.

My Lockdown has equated to my first 6/7 years of untroubled times. The easing of Lockdown is a reminder of my life after.

 

54321- The Self Soothing Plan

Isolation: Week 1. The 54321 plan for self soothing.

I am ‘stuck’ indoors with my family: 2 kids (15 and 5), a crazy-mad puppy, an angry/feeling displaced cat and my husband. What could go wrong – apart from getting ill or running out of loo roll?

Well, lots. Let’s face it, it’s a weird situation being at home all together, all day. Trying to work, trying to contain stressful feelings, trying to keep some sort of normality flowing. Getting used to being all together 24/7, getting under each other’s feet, needing some personal, peaceful space etc…

The day it was announced schools were going to shut my husband and I drew up a brief plan of how we were going to sort out family life. Synching diaries so that we could manage phone calls around the children, writing up a loose study plan for the 15 year old and a list of ideas of things we could do for, and with, the small one. It was all fairly relaxed and easy going but even on day 1 it fell apart. The eldest rebelled against the pre-agreed schedule, I got annoyed for feeling like I was holding down the fort being mum, teacher, housewife and counsellor while everyone else just got along in their own little bubble, some phone calls were rearranged at last minute, some went on for a bit longer than planned etc…

So, what to do when it all goes to pot? Usually I do a bit of meditation and a bit of Reiki for myself. If angry cat lets me, I try some on him too. God knows he really needs it! But it’s hard these days when there is no peace or space to do this.

So here’s something I do with my trauma/anxious clients to help them self soothe when I’m not available and when life becomes too overwhelming: the 54321 plan. It helps to bring them back to the present, the here and now. It helps to refocus and bring the front brain back online and is a really good way of bringing peace and calmness to body and soul. The amazing thing is that it doesn’t take long and once you start recognising the signs that you need a bit of a breather from a stressful time, or need to soothe, it can become an automatic part of your mental health first aid kit.

I use this myself when I feel a bit angry, agitated or busy inside and need a little bit of me time to get into a calm, recharged place. I particularly like doing this outside with my bare feet in the grass as it seems to help me to ground myself. If you cannot go outside then find a space, any space and get as comfy as you can. Sometimes it helps to close your eyes.

Take a deep breath in and release. Now

5: name five things you can hear

4: name 4 things you can see

3: name 3 things you can feel

2:name 2 things you can smell

1: Take a deep breath in and release.

Try not to rush this. If you find that the calmness has not come, start again and this time really try to describe the sensation and extend the answer. For example: Name 3 things you can feel? One response might be ‘my clothes’. So, what does they feel like, what are the textures like? Are they uncomfortable, itchy, soft, warm. Are there zips, draw strings, buttons? And how do they feel?

You can mix it up a bit. Next time try 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel etc…there is no set rule as long as you start at 5 and finish with 1 big breath.

Remember, we can’t plan for every event, every situation, every outcome. All we can do is try and accept that things may change at any given point. And when that happens, and it becomes overwhelming: 54321. Then feeling more grounded, calmer and recharged, rethink, refocus and go with the flow.

Hopefully this will help you get through those hard, stressful times.

 

Family Influences

The other day I was out walking with my husband and we started talking about our retirement- I have dreams of moving to the coast, my husband said he wanted to be wherever the children (and hopefully) grandchildren were. It sparked off a long discussion because a) I hadn’t even considered grandchildren in the equation and b) I was perhaps a bit too happy at the prospect of being several hours drive away from our kids. It brought into question what kind of grandparents we would make. Him, door-step availability, close enough for impromptu get-togethers and me, far off and living my life while trying to foster ‘independence’ in our children. Two extreme viewpoints but both with validity.

So, what kind of grandparent would I be?

If our primary caregivers have a considerable amount of influence over the way we turn out, then it stands to reason that now, the way my mother behaves as a grandmother should inevitably influence and provide me with some sort of blueprint as to how I might eventually be with my future grandchildren. So, check this out for a start: my mum lives at least 7 hours drive away and, when considering my husband’s need to be near his progeny…..yep, his mum lives round the corner. Coincidence?

What I mostly find myself wondering about is the extent to which our future grandparenting roles are influenced by the way our parents behave as grandparents. I find this particularly fascinating because my parents never got to experience watching their parents be grandparents. And recently, watching my mother with my kids, it strikes me that in many ways, she behaves like, well, a mother and it irritates me because,  I’m their mother and the parenting is my role. And yes, this causes friction between us.  But isn’t this understandable? How could she possibly know what the role of a grandparent is when she has nothing to compare it to? Simply put, she just knows how to mother.

It’s important for me to think about this because (as clearly noted by the mere geographical location of my mother) the influence that she is already exerting over my idea of being a grandparent, is pretty strong and, up until recently, completely subconscious. And, if by watching her ‘grandparenting’ style I just assume or, perhaps accept, that the way she interacts with my children and the way she treats them is ‘normal’ grandparenting, (whatever that means) then that will inevitably have some influence over my grandparenting style and subsequently, my children’s future grandparenting style etc etc…… and so on down the generational line. And in all honesty, I’m not that happy about the way it is as it can be a very confusing ‘Is she my mother/grandmother?’ type of relationship thing that my children have going on with my mum. So, it falls to me to change this, to find a way of perhaps defining another type of grand-mothering role so that I can start laying down some kind of blueprint for future generations. Perhaps that means aligning myself more with my husband’s idea of being ever present and readily available.

Which brings me to the following thoughts: what am I learning from watching my parents interacting with my children? And perhaps more importantly, what behaviours am I taking and what am I discarding?

Who are your influences? How deep an impact do they make in your thoughts, behaviour and decision making? What will you change, if anything?