When I look at my baby, this strong willed, determined, independent little thing, I’m scared. I’m scared that the world won’t understand her like it didn’t and doesn’t understand me. I’m scared that she will be too much for people just like I have been told I’m too much multiple times.
I’ve been called selfish a lot growing up and it has left a deep mark in me, burrowed deep into my core like hot branding. Like every day when I wake up I have to find ways to do everything I can to prove that’s not who I am. To prove that my communication may seem direct at times but that my heart is anything but that. (In my case, whilst I don’t have an official diagnosis of Asperger’s, I’m pretty certain it has something to do with it).
Am I selfish? Maybe? Yes. My friends might (hopefully) tell you otherwise. But I just want to shout fuck off now to anyone that thinks that way or has made me feel that way. I’m at that point in my life where I’m sick of altering myself to please others, so that I’m not too much for them. And I get it, I do, I’m not saying that it’s OK to be rude or obnoxious or unkind. and I don’t think, I hope I’m not any of those things (at least not too often). What I am is outwardly confident, sometimes loud, ambitious, passionate, neurodiverse, caring and misunderstood.
I see it in her too, shes 10 months going on 18. Like lots of babies, she knows what she wants and when she wants it. She’s independent, impatient, quick and stubborn. To be honest, qualities I quite admire because I see her as a future change maker, a world shaper for the better. But, I’m scared she will be misunderstood like I was. I’m scared people will be unkind, I’m scared they will pass to her their judgement and make her feel like she should be different or something more.
I’m scared she will grow up and feel like me.
Sometimes I just want to shout at the world and tell it to fuck off. To find a small planet with people that understand who I am and what’s in my heart. I’m fortunate enough to have lots of friends that do understand but I’m also surrounded by people in a world that doesn’t.
I’m scared that my baby will be too much for the world but really I’m just scared that the world won’t be enough for her.
To my baby,
and to so many I know are struggling. You are not selfish if you put yourself first. You are not selfish if you stand up for yourself. You are not selfish for doing what’s right even if it means people might get hurt. You are not selfish for being ambitious or outspoken or passionate about making a positive change in the world. You are not selfish when you stand your ground. You are not selfish for asking for what you need. You are not selfish if you can’t help today.
I don’t apologise for being myself, I’ve spent the past 30 years doing that and I’m not doing it anymore.
If you read this and think ‘she sounds rude’ or ‘self centered’ or, for want of a better word, ‘selfish’, this article isn’t for you. People who truly are selfish don’t go around worrying if they are. If you don’t get this blog, that’s OK, it might just mean that you haven’t been made to feel like you need to apologise for being yourself every day, incase you upset someone, for simply being yourself. And if you don’t get it, then you just don’t get it.
If you’re like me please stop now. Stop living your life to make others approve of your nature and just start living. Be loving, be compassion, be the change you want to see. But stop thinking you’re selfish simply for caring about yourself or your family or because you communicate differently.
You are not selfish, you’re just living in a world filled with lots of people that don’t understand, but I understand.
Today has been eventful and emotional. I had my second online CBT session by text. Unfortunately, anyone that knows me knows that my brain works at 100mph and texting therapy was just making me more anxious. I would watch the minutes go down on the clock feeling like time was escaping and like I would never have enough time to fix things.
At about 10 minutes in I started crying, a lot. I felt trapped in questionnaires and like I would never get help. Luckily One of my best friends Dave called and confirmed it was time to ask for face to face support. The CBT therapist was amazing and has referred me for face to face and so the waiting begins again.
This week has been full of both love and anxiety. I’m so lucky that I have an amazing bond with our 5 month old Harper and we get to see family and do classes together throughout the week. But I also ended up in A&E with chest pains (likely anxiety) and unable to go into the hospital, because of PTSD from her birth, so instead waited outside for 2 hours.
I dream of being in a hospital every night, even if what I’m dreaming about has nothing to do with hospitals, that is always the setting. I actually wrote a blog a couple of weeks ago explaining it all that I have yet to post.
Today I just wanted to share the nightmare that I had 4 weeks ago. One that I feel sums up how I feel perfectly but in a rather abstract way. I’m not entirely sure of the reason I’m sharing. Maybe it helps to share, maybe I hope it might make others feel less alone.
I’m fine, I will be fine and I’m so happy. Anxiety and mental health just has a funny way of making this life a rollercoaster.
Somewhere in the universe…
Weeds and concrete – 20 weeks later
I have woken from a dream tonight that was uneventful and extremely significant, terrifying, and detailed at the same time. I woke at 2:30am, it is now 5:30am and after lots of Google searches on post partum haemorrhage and retained placenta I still can’t sleep because I cant shake this awful feeling of dread.
I have had a couple of nightmares recently that have lasted what feels like minutes and that have been relatively uneventful but terrifying at the same time, enough to shock me awake.
My dream was based in theatre. No one spoke about why we were there, my body felt fine and yet invaded at the same time. I knew something was going to happen, something needed to happen but I didn’t know what. I wasn’t told and I didn’t ask. I just sat and waited for them to prepare.
In a theatre room.
Outside the room was derelict weeds and concrete as far as the eye could see. No buildings. An old abandoned wasteland in the middle of an unspoken or acknowledged tragedy. It looked like what I can only describe what it must be like to return to Chernobyl in present day. It felt unbreathable outside of the dirty smeared windows that spanned the entire left side of the theatre room. Despite that we didn’t acknowledge it. It almost felt deceitful. Like I was somewhere ‘other’ not where I was supposed to be but unable to talk about it.
One of the midwives was washing her hands in the basin to the right of the head of the ‘bed’. I use the term bed loosely, it was a slab of smooth silver with mental legs and steps. We kept talking about how damaging hand washing was but how necessary it had become. Particularly in her role as a lung disease surgeon. Which of course left me wanting to hold my breath. It was spoken about as if it were something highly transmissible but something we just had to forget about and move past as we both shared the air in that small space. Covid.
I felt alone in that place because I was alone. Not only was I in a theatre without my husband or baby, I was alone in the world, the world was shut for business and life due to the pandemic. There were no friends there were no family. Come to think of it there were no doctors in that room which only furthered my anxiety about what we would do when it all went wrong. Subconsciously my mind remembered being pregnant and having a baby in a real pandemic.
I badly needed the toilet which would delay things if I left the room. The more I process it I realise I couldn’t leave the room. I was trapped there because all that existed was the room. The doors were not real, no one was coming in and no ones was leaving. I was not ever leaving. I offered to take one of the cardboard dishes and go in the corner of the room. The midwife confirmed that would be a good idea. In my actual story (not in my dream) and reality I hadn’t been allowed to leave the hospital until I had been to the toilet twice in a kidney bean dish and done at least 500ml each time. (Yes very dignified). I went multiple times before they were happy for me to go. Constantly drinking jugs of water. I actually asked if I could have 2 jugs at one point so I could just get it done and get out of there.
Had that experience in reality caused me to become trapped in my dream? That place was the only place I could exist in, outside of the unbreathable air and concrete weeds beyond the window. Yet it did not feel like a safe place to be. There was no where to run and no where to hide.
The room itself was clean but old. Like a scene from a theatre room decades ago. Everything was sterile and nothing was friendly or inviting. The walls were plain and empty. The tools were freshly polished and clinical. The room was empty and full at the same time. All I could see clearly was the metal bed, the metal basin on the wall and the midwives. A majority of the rest was not visually blurred but mentally. I knew there were lights and tools. But no door and no anaesthetic or drip.
Strangely, and rather, un inkeeping with the scene, the midwives appeared trust worthy. They were friendly and smiled the whole time. It was a strange dichotomy between their experience of reality and mine. Almost like there weren’t really there, just in my imagination. I was actually as I had felt all along, alone.
So much happened in that short time that seemed to last a life time and yet it was just that, short. The concept of time in my dream almost didn’t exist but as I woke it was likely less than 5 minutes; the parts I can remember.
I half expected to see a deer outside the window with 2 heads or a distorted malformed face.
As I write this I am now wondering if I were dead and I can feel an actual physical pressure in my stomach as that realisation hits. My dream had me trapped in some sort of limbo, an alternate world that I could not escape. On a plane where time did not exist and neither did my material surroundings.
I balanced in a dystopian tragedy, closing in on me, protected only by the thinly veiled walls of the theatre room.
And whilst I felt like nothing was happening, I wasn’t afraid but somewhere, some part of me was terrified and screaming. I can only relate that to the calmness displayed by the medical staff in my actual reality. Whilst I was experiencing a post partum haemorrhage, they were extremely quick moving but calm at the same time. The fear atomised and filled the air we were breathing but the team were immune. Part of me wonders if that contributes to my confusion and inability to let go. Like a deceit was taking place. The rational part of me says thank goodness they were so incredible and knew exactly what to do.
That theatre room is a box. A small box of concrete in a world where nothing and no one else exists. I can see that box from the outside as though I am looking down on it from the side, hovering in that heavy unbreathable air. I am trapped in that box, on that cold table. Surrounded by the smiling faces of strangers that don’t actually exist.
I don’t think I have actually left that room in my dream. I’m still there but I’m awake. There is a part of my consciousness trapped in that room that can’t get out. (And she probably still really bloody needs the toilet). She is alone and surrounded by haze. Her only reality the metal bed, the metal basin, a handful of midwives and those dirty windows that span the entire length of the left side of the room. Looking out into the expanse of weeds and concrete.
I would like to start by thanking Hannah Price – Faulkner for letting me use her words and for being an inspiration to all of us with OCD.
Note: This post contains information on intrusive thoughts that many people with OCD experience, some may find it triggering.
For a while now I have been wanting to write something to really explain what it feels like to have OCD. To explain it is NOT a cute quirk or about being neat and tidy. It’s not about being annoyed by an odd floor tile. Too many people, including those that say they are advocates for mental health, belittle OCD. Writing things like ‘I have Obsessive Christmas Disorder’ or ‘I’m so OCD’.
Language like this is so incredibly damaging. It affects the care we receive (I have had 3 different health care professionals belittle me or laugh because they don’t know what it is.) It means that when we finally find the courage to say ‘I have OCD’ someone else responds ‘oh me too!’ (When they dont) or ‘can you come clean my house’ (a nurse said this to me once).
Here comes Hannah Price – Faulkner. A courageous incredible human that has recently discovered that what she has been experiencing is OCD and that she should be proud to speak up about it. I met Hannah in an OCD support group where she wrote the most beautiful post to explain what she has been experiencing and that this is OCD and she is Hannah.
Her words speak for themselves so I will shut up now and let you read them, but as you read them imagine what it is like to have to deal with this every day and why it is not OK to belittle OCD so that people like Hannah can get the support they deserve.
Hannah you are amazing.
I am Hannah
“Having a real “slap in the face” time in the last 48 hours and I feel it’s ok to share them.
I have balled my eyes out, watching a program called “Pure” I never realised my traits were OCD , I thought I was sick in the head and I have never told anyone in fear of being labelled by those who don’t understand. But now I’m thinking – so what? Judge me, label me a freak/physco label anything you want if it makes you feel better about yourself. I am not a danger. It’s my OCD, it’s NOT ME. I’m Hannah.
I have always thought OCD was cleaning. I see many people posting “oh I’ve gone OCD on my house today” or posted a photos of something in a straight line “oh that’s pure OCD” we do it innocently.
OCD is intrusive thoughts, thoughts I have never told my parents/friends/family. I need to come out and I will allow judgement because I have suffered for too long.
My head is a loop, a record going round and round. A man walking down a street and my intrusive thoughts, have now imagined me pushing him in the road to get hit by a car. That’s OCD, that’s not me. I’m Hannah.
Sometimes I’m talking to another adult, and I’ve imagined sexual things in my head and it loops no matter how many times I try to shake it off because it’s dirty and wrong. I love my husband and he loves me. I don’t actually want to do those things. Ever. They’re just thoughts. That’s OCD. Not me. I’m Hannah.
My children play on a swing and I watch them break their neck. My babies are dead. That’s OCD, not me. I’m Hannah.
I have fought with this trait the most, thinking in my head I must be a murderer, a rapist, mentally fucked in the head. But because I know they’re wrong. They’re so so wrong. It’s OCD NOT ME. I have hid this in fear of being locked away in a prison or my children taken away. That I can’t hold a job because of these thoughts.
This ONE trait and it hurts. My heart is heavy most days, but the last 48 hours, there are other like me. I joined a group. They are teachers, nurses, shop keepers, Drs, Therapists. Intrusive thoughts aren’t spoken about in fear of judgment. This illness does not define us a person. At all. That’s the illness not us.
I am Hannah, the person who constantly decorates. Who cleans and decorated other homes. Walks to a friend who is upset at 2am in the morning because they need someone. I’m a hug and an ear always ready to listen. I’m a good baker, an opera singer, a mum, a wife, a terrible runner and absolutely awful at diets.
This has taken 11 years to tell this publicly, 11 long years from a traumatic event from age 16. I have suffered in silence But I am a survivor.
I never know whether to put a warning at the start of some of these posts when they explore certain topics that may upset people. If you’re not in the right place to read about lack of control, lost relationships or the unknown then maybe this one isn’t for you. Or maybe it will help you to see that you’re not alone in your thinking and that there are others who understand.
I’ve had so many people come and go from my life, the strongest of relationships fade, to the point that I kind of feel that any relationship I have might not exist in 2, 5, 10 years. That’s not because I don’t want them to, but if the universe has taught me anything it’s that very few things are forever.
It can be a scary place to be. It’s quite worrying to think that my entire support network could be completely different or gone over the years. It’s quite an empty feeling to have. Knowing that your only guaranteed constant in your life is yourself. When something bad or upsetting happens I always think ‘I’m so glad I have X to help me through’ or ‘all that matters is that I have Y by my side’. But the scariest thought comes when my brain tells me ‘what makes you think they’re yours to keep’.
Thank goodness for puppies 💕
I want to write something comforting about how as individuals we need to be OK with the unknown and trust in time. I want to write that the relationships that mean the most to us will always be there. But today OCD isn’t allowing me to. It’s telling me that no matter what I do, at some point it’s going to be just me on my own and that any relationship I ever make, no matter how deep it feels to me, really might not be that deep or meaningful to others. OCD makes me feel unstable with no solid platform or level of control.
I have incredible friendships with close friends that would give me the world and I could never explain to them what they mean to me. It’s just pretty shit that OCD has this way of convincing me that eventually I’ll be alone and left again by different people over the years. I remind myself of all the people who also come into my life in recent years and the new relationships that I create but that just leaves me wondering who will ever really know who I am? If all my relationship end up being transient and ever changing.
Fear of being alone isn’t just an OCD thing or necessarily a mental health thing. But OCD does make it more real for me. It doesn’t become an ‘if’ it becomes a ‘when’. And even if I know in my heart of hearts that my closest relationships are here to stay my brain does weird stuff that tells me to not be so ridiculous, of course I’ll eventually be alone. I feel pretty selfish saying that.
It takes me back to the day I brought my wedding dress. The second I put my card in the machine my brain said ‘what are you doing? Why are you doing all of this? You’ll be dead before then anyway. You’re not going to be alive in a year. Why are you bothering with any of this?’
It actually felt ridiculous to buy a dress I would never wear. The thought and feeling was so real to me that I almost told the sales person that I was being ridiculous because I was going to die soon. And in my mind that felt like a completely reasonable thing to say. I found it really hard to enter my pin in to that machine at the same time as being absolutely sure that I wouldn’t be here to wear my dress anyway. Not because I didn’t want to be here, but because I just genuinely believed I didn’t have a choice and that nothing lasts forever including me.
If you’re friends with someone that has OCD or poor mental health, know that they probably deeply care about you even if they are annoyingly always concerned that it’s all going to end soon.
If you’re friends with me then thank you. Thank you for dealing with my randomness, my sometimes anxious behaviour and my often fickleness. Sometimes there is method in the ‘madness’ or in this case, a reason.
If you’re in my life and you’re here to stay then thank you for being my rock, because as with any day living with poor mental health, I need you now more than ever and I appreciate you for everything you do for me. I’m so lucky to have an amazing husband and so many amazing friends that mean the world.
No matter how close or far from me you may be, I know you’re there and that to me is huge.
So many of us are affected or know people that are affected by suicide. Sometimes we hear people refer to suicide as ‘selfish’ or people complain about ‘inconvenience’ when it means their trains don’t run. Just remember that someone was ill enough to end their own life and that’s a pretty awful place to be in. It is not selfish and it is not an inconvenience. Nobody wants to be ill and nobody ever wants to feel that it’s their only way out.
Usually people share posts and ask others to do the same. ‘share or post this so that others know you’re there’. They encourage you to reach out and ask how others are doing. But we often forget to ask ourselves how we are too. So today, on World Suicide Prevention Day, reach out to others and encourage others to do the same. But don’t forget to reach out to yourself also because it’s not selfish to make sure that you’re OK too 💚
So looking through my drafts it says I wrote this on the 2nd January 2017, almost 2 years ago.
It’s always good to look back sometimes to see how far we’ve come. I can honestly say I feel differently now in a good way. Don’t get me wrong, I still do have days where I feel this way, but certainly not on a daily basis like I did back then. I’ve also been helped by the most incredible woman who has taught me that feedback is a gift and that you don’t always have to accept it. Now I see feedback as an opportunity rather than fear it – more on that another time.
I thought it was worth a post anyway, to show that even when you feel like this you can still turn it around so that you don’t have to. Sometimes you just have to learn to find the rainbow in the rain.
Sometimes I feel totally worthless, like I bring no benefit whatsoever to this earth or to what I do. Sometimes receiving ‘constructive’ feedback, to me I just hear ‘you’re so stupid’ ‘how thick can you be’ ‘I may as well have done it myself’ ‘what’s the point in you being here’ ‘you’re like a child’ ‘do you have no initiative’ ‘do I really have to explain this to you again’.What’s the solution? I honestly don’t know. Can people perhaps sugar coat their feedback more? Possibly. But would that really make a huge difference? When all is said and done I will still be receiving feedback on something I need to improve upon.
I seem to lack the ability to defend myself sometimes, even if I’m right, not wanting to appear ‘defensive’. So I take the blame myself, perhaps I didn’t position that right, maybe I should have explained better, no honestly it’s completely my fault, I probably am just totally useless. Further reinforcing my belief that they think I’m useless.
I often wonder what happens once that door is closed behind me. Do those I work or interact with roll their eyes like ‘she’s just not getting it’ ‘spoon feeding her again’ ‘argh she’s so exhausting’ ‘she’s so lazy’.
Day by day I get this impression that I’m just not good enough and I never will be. I’ll always be the one riding on the coat tails of other’s successes. And anything I do create myself will just be pointless, completely off the mark and wrong.
So why am I here? Why do you want me here? I’m continuously a burden that you have to help and that is totally and completely annoying. To top it off I bring no benefit whatsoever because anything I ever do will never be good enough.
So in the end I stop trying. I stop trying to be great. I stop trying to be my best me. And I stop trying to have a purpose. Because when I do try it’s never quite right and it’s just another example of a time where I’m wrong. So I accept that I am useless, that I am stupid, that I’m totally unqualified and that I’m totally worthless. It’s easier to produce nothing than to produce something that is totally pointless.
And then I feel isolated. Wondering what the person next to me or in front of me is thinking about me. I can’t concentrate so I stare at a blank screen reading the same line 10 times until I realise people must think I’m mad or most likely lazy ‘she’s not doing anything’ ‘waste of oxygen’ ‘here I am working my ass off and she’s just sitting there again.’
It’s funny, I’ve only felt this way for the past year. I was always so confident in myself and my work. Always ready to take on the next adventure or fight the next battle. But something changed in me in my last 2 roles. My only regular feedback was the negative kind and anything positive just, didn’t need to be said. You can only face so much negativity before you start thinking ‘what’s the point’.
It’s a vicious circle. A circle that I’m not sure I will ever escape. I’m not good enough = anything I do will be pointless = don’t do anything through fear of doing it wrong = she’s lazy = what’s the point of her she’s just a burden = I’m not good enough. And so on.
The only way I will ever get out of this circle for good is to accept that what people think of me is not who I am. Sure I can try really hard and produce something really worthwhile but it’s only a matter of time before I will fall down again. So the only way to truly escape is to accept myself as I am and to not be driven by what others think of me and place my worth on the value of what others think.
Ok so I haven’t written in a while so this is long overdue. Sometimes it can be hard to find the right topic and other times I think of the perfect thing to say but just don’t get round to actually typing. So here I am actually typing.
With Christmas around the corner, people arguing about when the tree should actually go up and the fact that there are Christmas cards in the shop in October. I’ll be honest, as long as it makes people happy it doesn’t bother me that one person puts up a tree in October or another person December. What actually makes me sad at Christmas is happiness. All those that can’t relate right now are thinking ‘OK that’s a bit weird’. Hear me out.
It’s not the happiness of others that makes me sad, it’s my own happiness. It’s a really difficult one to explain really and I’ve spent years trying to understand it. Is it my OCD and being terrified of loosing what I have, maybe I feel I don’t deserve it when so many others struggle, maybe it’s unmet expectations of being able to be with all family members all the time, is it the break in routine and a fear that Christmas traditions won’t be kept? Or maybe it’s all of them put together.
For me, and many others I know with mental health difficulties it can be one thing or memory that brings on that emotion. I remember being about 17 maybe one evening late in December. My mum called me to say we’re going Hamleys today and to look at the Christmas lights in London (something we do together every year) this year it hadn’t been planned and my parents had decided at that moment that today was the day. They asked if I wanted them to pick me up from my boyfriend’s (now husband) house. I thought about it but answered too quickly perhaps.
I said No.
That year I missed the trip to Hamleys.
Even typing that makes me cry. Who says no to spending time with family at Christmas? Who says no to keeping a family tradition? In truth lots of people do and it doesn’t mean they don’t care about family it just means they have to skip this one event this year. Unfortunately many people like myself with OCD or other mental health difficulties will hate themselves forever. I’ve never gotten over that and I don’t think I ever will. From then on my feelings around Christmas time changed. To me it became a time of year where I let people down and don’t do enough to bring happiness. To me I broke my mum’s heart and to her she probably doesn’t even remember it and probably didn’t even mind. My mind tells me that it taught me I was capable of choosing doing something else over being with my family.
As a person who’s OCD tells them they are going to loose everything all the time and everyone is going to die, knowing that you just rejected your last trip to Hamleys with your family is like living in hell. I instantly knew I had made a mistake and spent most of the evening crying.
Top that off with the fact that emotionally I believe every Christmas is the last. And not my last. I wouldn’t be nearly as concerned if it were my last. It’s the belief that it could be my husband’s last, my mum’s last, my sisters last, etc. And because OCD tells you something WILL happen, not that it might, it means I’m already grieving for a loved one every Christmas. And how selfish is that? So many people actually ARE grieving for a loved one and here I am with mine unable to fully appreciate it – that makes me feel pretty selfish to top it all off. Sadly I can’t control my OCD or irrational thoughts because, well they’re irrational!
As I walk down the street I see people sleeping out in the cold and I wonder what I have to celebrate. How can I celebrate whilst there are people sleeping alone outside on Christmas day? Guilt. Again everything is about why I should feel bad and why I’m selfish for being happy.
It’s a difficult one to tackle because let’s be honest, feeling responsible for those less fortunate than us is not irrational and is actually very helpful in society because we should be caring for others. Unfortunately for me, coupled with everything else above, I spend an awful lot of time hating myself for any kind of happiness. When in reality I should be appreciating it.
It seems in life in general the happier I am or the better things become, the more terrified and ill I become inside, because now I have more to loose. The more in love I am the harder it will be when I fall, the better my relationship are with friends and family the more crushed I will be when that person’s gone. So what do you do? Hug less? Try to see things more rationally and less emotionally? All easier said than done and neither of them very healthy.
So I ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ I build every relationship, try to maintain every tradition and convince others to understand why it’s so important to put the time in, to make the effort, attend the family traditions because one day they will all be gone and all we’ll have left are our memories. Pretty awful outlook to have on Christmas I know. So this year, if you’re like me, try to be a bit more forgiving of yourself. Do the things you’ve always done, and spend time with the people you need to. But remember your life, love and relationships are not defined by that one moment, that one evening or even present. They’re defined by the small things, the Monday morning ‘how are you’ text and the Friday afternoon coffee, the ‘ill he right there’ when you’re needed. That’s what people remember and that’s what matters.
Buy breakfast for the person sleeping outside and give to those that need it most. Just remember that you do deserve some happiness. I’ll be honest I’m still working on taking my own advice but I’m sure I’ll get there.
For those friends and family that don’t experience Christmas the same way and that don’t suffer with mental health. Know that when I get upset that you don’t want to keep the tradition this year, or your too busy to come to Hamleys or to have Christmas dinner. When I get upset and probably come across as pushy and mean it’s because it means something more to me.
It means more to me than I could ever explain and more than you could ever understand.
We talk about strength so often, ‘she’s so strong’ ‘he has such strength’ but what does it actually mean? And does it mean the same to you as it does your neighbour?
A quick Google search will show you multiple definitions we have for the word.
I would say my husband is incredibly strong, he can bench 120kg and barely break a sweat but I would say that his mental strength far surpasses anything he can do physically. It would have to for him to survive me everyday!
In our family, and amongst friends, I have always been seen as strong, robust or a bouncy ball as they used to say ‘always bouncing back’. At some point in life, after so many bounces, you begin to loose your elasticity and your once bubbly and energetic bounce becomes more of a hauling yourself off the floor whilst trying to not cause further damage or sustain long term injury.
I really do feel like that bouncy ball, a year or 2 ago you could have kicked me down and pushed me round, you would have found that I still come back smiling. Today I’m a much more fragile kind of ball perhaps more glass than bounce. A pretty strong type of glass mind, just much more open/transparent and a little less bouncy.
So I fall harder and I recover slower. Does that make me ‘weak’ or any less strong? It all depends on your interpretation of strength. Before my mental health got really bad, bouncing back was part of my nature and not something I found so difficult. Now days I find myself taking the negative things in life much more to heart and they affect me more deeply. My mental health can be both my best friend and my bully. And there is no harder bully to battle than your own mind.
If somebody makes it into work when they really don’t want to but I only just make it to my living room, does that make them mentally stronger than I am? What most people fail to realise is that to some, making the smallest steps can be the biggest achievement. For me, getting on a bus or going to a social event is one the bravest things I can do and is a time where I show incredible strength. Because strength is relative.
Lifting 120kg on the moon might not be all that impressive so it really depends upon which planet you’re starting from. To me the rest of the world experiences set backs, and life in general, relative to the gravity on the moon. I on the other hand can experience them relative to the gravity at the centre of the earth. It’s still the same amount of weight, technically, but our ability to hold the weight and the pressure it places upon us are very different depending on where we stand.
Just because you might handle a situation different to someone else or because you can’t work 24 hours 7 days a week doesn’t mean that the person who can is stronger than you.
The times when we are at our strongest are when we are most scared but continue anyway. When we ‘feel the fear but do it anyway’.
We are all uniquely and independently strong. There is no such thing as that awful phrase ‘man up’ which disgusts me to my core. What does it even mean? The words ‘you hit like a girl’. Where does that even come from? They’re ‘weak’ or they ‘just can’t handle it’ you have no idea what that person is having to ‘handle’, not a clue.
The next time you feel the need to compare your ‘weakness’ to someone else’s strength, ask yourself, are we dealing with this problem under the same gravity?
Yesterday I did something that made me terrified. I thought I was going to faint the whole way there. I even had a friend kindly come along to provide support. Part of me was kicking myself for not being ‘strong enough’ to not cry, to be head strong, to face the fear alone. But do you know what? I did it. I was strong not because I wasn’t scared when others might not be, not because I was ‘head strong’ or ‘determined’ but because I was absolutely and completely terrified and yet, I still did it.
“I was powerful not because I was’t scared but because I went on so strongly, despite the fear.”
Never mistake your silence for weakness, your kindness for acceptance. Never believe you are not enough because today your head and mental health was just too much to fight. Today you are alive because you win your fight every day. And for that you are the strongest person I know.
My husband throughout his life has always prepared for failure. If he doesn’t get his hopes up then he won’t be so disappointed if he doesn’t get it. We couldn’t be more different on this front. When I prepare, I prepare for success. I literally pour my heart and soul in. If I’m unsuccessful yes it can be devastating but after lots of practice you learn to move on quickly to the next venture. I have failed in job applications, exams, friendships, love and life in general. But I have succeeded more times than I have lost.
In the words of Thomas Edison there really is no such thing as failure, only learning how not to do something. If you ‘fail’ 100 times you have really just learnt 100 ways not to do something.
My husband may have less disappointment in his life, but that can mean his victories aren’t quite as emotional. They are tarnished by anti disappointment methods. He reduces the suspense whereas I build mine up so that when I do finally succeed it’s a huge accomplishment.
So what is the right approach? There is no magical formula to protect ourself from disappointment or learning how not to do something. But I truly do believe that without knowing sadness you cannot experience true happiness. You have to accept the peaks and troughs. Protecting yourself all the time is denying yourself the right to actually live.
So I set my expectations high. My expectations of myself and of others. Yes this means I have further to fall but, when my hopes and dreams do come through, they’re pretty darn amazing.
Not everyone can live up to your hopes or expectations. So you do have to learn to let things go and to forgive, as I mentioned above, to a new venture. It can mean that I’m judged for expecting the best from people but that doesn’t make me a bad person or mean that I should be demoralised until my expectations are lowered.
One of my favourite quotes of all time comes from the film ‘Did you hear about the Morgan’s’. When trying to overcome divorce, our resident sex in the city gal, Sarah Jessica Parker, says that perhaps she needs to scale back her expectations, to not expect anything from him and for him to not expect from her to; make the marriage work. Just as she is about to accept a fate of low expectations and therefore a life without those highs and joys, a wise man (Sam Elliot one of my faves!) tells her:
‘you should expect everything from each other!’.
This quote really resonates with me. I am so passionate about making the people I love feel special and happy that I literally expect the world from myself to them. Of course I’m not perfect and I can royally screw up sometimes and also I can’t keep everyone ecstatically happy all of the time because there is only one of me. I also have arguments like other people and disagreements which detract from happiness from time to time. But the point is, my intention is there. Where I can and where I have the opportunity to make the people I love feel amazing I do.
In giving the world, do I expect it in return? Yes I do. Know that I don’t give the world to receive it, but as I am always preparing for the best and for success, I naturally expect and see the good in people. Unfortunately not everyone shares my passion. And as I mentioned about falling a long way before… If your expectations are high then your pain from the loss is even higher.
There are some things that you can’t just quickly move on from. My husband tells me that I should just stop expecting such high results and stop giving them so that I can’t get hurt. Just accept that’s the way it is and move on. You don’t have to give the world to them and they don’t to you. The problem is, I will never stop trying to give the world because it makes me happy to see others happy. It makes me happy to make someone smile, to create a happy tear, to give motivation, to empower, to push people to achieve, to push people to be the best they can be.
Not everyone wants the world from you. Some people would just rather a continent or a small island and they don’t want to give you the world. Sadly for me it’s all or nothing. I wish I could just give a piece of myself, to just be around from time to time and smile where necessary. But that’s not who I am and that’s who I will never be. Because the in between genuinely makes me miserable and depressed. Either you’re with me in my life through our individual ups and downs or you’re not. I was also not created just for the downs when you decide you want me, or for you to ride on the back of my ups. This is a mutual swapping of the earth here.
Working in a learning environment I often use and teach a number of different psychology models. It’s always interesting to see how they work in practice and indeed if they work at all. I have seen people really succeed with them, change their careers and their lives. I’ve also seen them fall flat on their face with poor application and even with good application.
One of my favourites, that applies to us all, is transactional analysis. The notion that we all have the ability to respond in the parent, adult, child ego states. I don’t pretend to be an expert on this, but anyone who picks up a book on it can begin to develop a good understanding.
I was often told by my CBT therapist that I drove a lot of my life and emotions on the ‘you’re OK, I’m OK’ basis. (The child) my ability to be OK in myself rested solely on whether everyone else was OK with me. If they were not OK or were unhappy with something it would fill me with self doubt and total devaluation. Always wanting to make sure that people were and are happy with me.
‘Do not engage’ was something she would say often. You do not have to take someone else’s emotions on. Particularly when they are unnecessary and unhelpful.
If you buy someone a gift and they do not accept it then that gift still belongs to you. If someone directs their anger at you or hurtful behaviours then you do not have to take that on, it will remain with them.
So I’ve been learning how to respond as the ‘adult’, staying factual, not being personal and focusing on the issue at hand. It can be difficult and even harder when someone is being the ‘parent’ and you respond in the way that feels natural as the ‘child’. And sometimes you will slip.
A major hurdle is being able to remain the ‘adult’ when you are continually being pushed to be the ‘child’. I have experienced a lot of ‘parents’ in my life. Telling me which behaviours and beliefs of mine are wrong or right. Leaving me on the defensive and unable to actually assess whether what they say is right. It’s quite liberating when you step back into that ‘adult’ space. Realising that just because someone says X does not mean they are right.
If someone refuses to be an ‘adult’ with you to resolve conflict you may eventually be led to leave the situation as it is. With no real resolution. You can continue on as the ‘adult’ with the notion of ‘do not engage’ in your mind. But doesn’t that mean that the issue is never truly resolved? And if you have an emotional connection with that person then it’s torn and never really healed. Sure it would have affect in a work environment. ‘It’s not personal, it’s business’. Does it really work in personal relationships though? We are humans with emotional memories and it’s not possible to swipe that memory clean by simply not talking about it.
Taking the ‘I’m OK’ approach and the ‘do not engage’ approach may not actually solve anything. Instead you may be forced to continue your life as ‘normal’ knowing things won’t actually be the same. Your expectations of those relationships have dropped and so has your emotional attachment with them.
You can admit your own faults to find an amicable solution but if others are unwilling to move on their position and recognise their faults and hurtful behaviours, then we’re just playing the ‘parent’ blame game. And the ‘child’ ‘poor me’ card.
Just because that other person or people are now ‘OK’ to move on that doesn’t mean that you’re ‘OK’. You may be forced to pretend you are ‘OK’ and act as the ‘adult’. But in truth you will never be OK with that relationship again and things will never feel the same again. Because, as I said, we’re humans. And some hurtful things can’t be unsaid or forgotten.
Sometimes it’s OK to give the world and sometimes it’s OK to expect it.