Learning to be compassionate to myself

I am learning to let myself do what I want to do. It seems so strange as I have often thought this was what I was doing. I am an independent woman and am not answerable to anyone…or am I? Well, I wasn’t. I was making myself answerable to family, friends, society, charities, students, bosses, colleagues and anyone else I came into contact with.

Was an action acceptable or expected? Was it for others? Did it help someone else? I felt guilt for doing what I wanted to do. Taking time for me was a luxury I could not afford or justify. I was answerable to everyone elses needs first and all my energy went on this.

Now I can actually say I take time for me to do what I need. My pace of life seems slower and maybe even boring to some. However, I remind myself it isn’t, it is the peace and relaxation that I have needed for a long time. I feel little to no guilt for taking this time for me too. The guilt has not disappeared but it is diminishing.

Don’t get me wrong, if a friend or family member needs me I am there in a flash. I am great in an emergency. However, it is on my terms and only with people who appreciate me rather than expect it. People who I know would be there if I needed them too.

This weekend I binged watched tv, read a book, ran a few errands and chilled out. I did very little but it was great. It was what I needed. I was tired from work and needed to process some things. So, I let myself do what I needed and wanted to do.

I am looking after myself and my home more. I have the energy to tidy and clean without feeling it is just too much. I can take a bath without it feeling like I am wasting time by enjoying it.

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I can do all this without feeling lazy or selfish. My fear of being lazy or selfish has plagued me for years. Anytime I stopped for longer than a few hours that niggling feeling I was becoming lazy would slip into my mind. If I wasn’t doing something for someone else I was selfish. These thoughts are no longer there. Self-care is not being lazy or selfish. It is being compassionate to myself.

This is a huge leap forward for me. To some these things might seem trivial but accepting these new thoughts, habits and beliefs are hard work. I have lived 33 years a different way but this older dog is learning new tricks.

This does not mean I have cracked it and am cured of all my negative thoughts, but it is a step, maybe even a leap. So this blog is to remind myself of what I can do and to bring myself back to this place. I want to make positive thoughts, self-care and compassion my habits in my life in this mental world.

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Mourning mistakes

When I make a mistake it feels like an avalanche. A criticism makes me feel like my heart is made of lead and dropped into my stomach. I become short of breath and I want to stay in bed away from anyone.

I know we all make mistakes, it is part of being human. I am happy to admit it and repair any mistakes. I will always do what is needed like apologise and make amends. I have no issue with all of that. Yet my brain and body seem to have an after shock it has to go through.

Maybe it is the perfectionist in me. Being my own hardest critic I need to punish myself. I need to feel bad and horrid. I don’t know how to let it go and forgive myself.

The mistake goes around and around my head. Guilt and worry chasing it in circles. I catastrophise outcomes and imagine all the worst possibilities. I just can’t stop my mind, it fills cloudy and full.

I distract myself with tv, reading, meditation, errands and anything that I do not have to think about. Things that will fill my head trying to push out the negative thoughts.

I am useless, worthless and always a failure. I can hear my mother’s voice. I am a horrible person and don’t deserve to be happy. I have let everyone down.

How do you move on from it? I need to be able to accept the mistake has happened and carry on? Rather than mourn my failure and let it eat me up inside for weeks.

Even when the mistake was minor or even out of my control. I just can not help but feel all these feelings of dread in my life in this mental world.

Teetering on the edge

Sometimes I feel that I want to disappear for a while. It might be better described as wanting to hide under my duvet from the entire world. Without having to call in sick or explain my absence from life to anyone.

I think today it comes from exhaustion. It is my first week back to work after half term and I always find that first week back so tiring. I have been going to bed early and resting each evening but it just doesn’t seem to ever be enough. I am like a bath without a plug unable to fill up with water.

I think of all the things I should be doing each evening; marking papers, texting friends, walking my dog, admin for the podcast, keeping up with the news and so much more. Even writing that list feels exhausting and I remind myself it can all wait.

I am learning so take care of myself. Not to be selfish, something I get so anxious about, but to give myself what I need. To be patient with my mind and body. However it is so much easier to say or type that to actually do. I still feel guilt, shame and more guilt.

I should probably mention I also came off my fibromyalgia medication. I am currently having a better time with it and so wanted to try being off the medication. I have been slowly lowering it and last week was the last dose to stop, however that means I am also in mild withdrawal. This is probably not helping my fatigue.

I also feel on a precipice. On my tip toes on the edge of a cliff. One way is anxiety and depression and the other is peace of mind. I want to stay safe on the ground but the wind is keeping me on a teeter. Maybe my want to hide is a coping strategy to stop me falling over the cliffs edge.

I am trying to be calm. I have been meditating each day but I cannot seem to find the peace I have before, even last week. I feel like there is a laser light show in my mind, one I cannot control. Thoughts are so fast I cannot catch them so I have no idea their content. I crave an ordered filing system and receptionist to help me.

A big sigh, a long nap, a holiday from life and a large mug of tea. Is it too much to ask for?

Tomorrow is a crazy day at work too. At my school we have one day a half term set aside for the whole school to learn personal, social, emotional, and well-being topics. As prescribed by the national curriculum. This means as teachers we are given lessons and students to teach on different topics all day. In the past I have taught anything from managing money, sex education, to bereavement and so many more topics. I won’t know the students I will have until tomorrow and did not know the topics until today. My control freak brain was already struggling, maybe this is why it feels so on edge this evening in this mental world.

An unsent letter to my brother

Dear brother,

You will never get to read this letter but I feel I need to air some thoughts and feelings I have. Maybe I have no right to even say this as I know I am not a parent or someone’s partner. However, I was a child, I am a teacher, an active aunt and I have been a nanny. Plus I know you and your family from the outside and close proximity. Please also know this come from a sisterly place of love and concern.

I watch you as a dad and I am worried. Your parenting reminds me of how our parents took on the task. To put it bluntly; strict, controlling and unkind. You seem to need full control and anything less than absolutely unquestioning obedience will do. You make rules for arbitrary reasons, contradictory and hypocritical. Following them would be unachievable for adults let alone children, with still developing morals, character, emotions and brains.

You have three amazing children and a wonderful wife. You say you are so lucky and you are. Your eldest, a ten-year old daughter, is an amazingly inquisitive, intelligent, kind and loving young lady. However, you seem blind to this. You see a rude, disobedient, defiant young girl. Someone who should not question your commands and should just follow your rules, orders and opinions.

It seems like you are scared that if you admit a mistake you will lose control, but as a teacher you know this is not the case. Teaching children, that adults are fallible and get things wrong is an important lesson. Being willing to admit our mistake and apologise, is a lesson in itself. The damage you do in the yelling and berating is so much more long-lasting negatively.

The more worrying part is, I know you are on your best behaviour when I am there, visiting in your home. Behind the closed-door as I walk away, you will be the real You. A You I hear about but have not seen. A You that even more scary, it sounds to me very like our mother.

Undiagnosed but showing lots of narcissistic traits, she demanded to be top dog in our childhood home. Her needs, thoughts, whims and desires came first, above everything and anyone else. Her impossible expectations had to be met to prove respect and love to her. If not rage, tears, emotional blackmail, silent treatment, sulking, storing off and the expectation of an apology. Yet she believed she was always right and that she was a kind loving mother. You seem to be like this to your wife and children.

I have seen you humiliate your daughter with stories from her past, the child she was. I have seen you angry and sulky when someone disagrees or questions your absolute authority. I have seen you take your frustrations out on the children, when they have no control over the situation as they are babies and toddlers. I have seen jealousy for the attention they get from your wife, their mother.

Where does all this lead? For me it has led to therapy, depression, anxiety, migraines and possibly even my Fibromyalgia. I do not want this for your wife and children. My sister-in-law, nieces and nephew. I will show them love, kindness, understanding and hope to see them through your tyranny. I will drop little pieces of advice when I can, hoping you will take some of it on board. I will continue to help and support them. I will carry on being that person in their corner, a someone I rarely had, hopefully that will make a difference.

I do not think you or your parenting are all bad. I know you can be kind, thoughtful and loving man. I know you intend to do your best. You have been a great brother to me, at times. I just think you have gone to the parenting manual of ‘parent the way you know’. However, our parenting example, provided by our parents, was not a good one. You acknowledge this, you know how I have felt and what I went through. You know what you experienced too. Yet you seem blinkered to your own behaviours as a dad.

I could never tell you all this, you would never forgive me. It would be a betrayal to you. You would never see it could save you if you acknowledged it, maybe then you could even changed it. You would make out I was choosing them over you. Yet to me blood is not thicker than water. To me love is everything in a child’s world and children come first. You might even stop me from seeing them, it is your family.

So my hope for the future is that you see yourself in the mirror for who you are before it is too late; before you lose your loving wife and children, before you hurt someone more than emotionally, before you do emotional damage and while you can be forgiven if you change.

 

Just keep breathing

Breathing is something we just do. Our brains communicate with our lungs and it just happens. It is so essential we do not have to think about it. Yet when our brains are stressed they can lose some control of how to regulate our breathing.

As a teacher my most important advice to my students preparing for exams is to breathe. When the invigilator says “Start” before you open that exam paper take two deep breaths. Steady those nerves, give your brain oxygen and calm the mind. A stressed brain is not going to remember as much as a calm one.

Thinking about how you are breathing is important, it allows us to take back control of our breathing from our brains. We can decide how our breathing will go.

I have found this increasingly key as I suffer from anxiety and depression. Overwhelming emotions can be accepted and moved on from with a few deep breaths. I feel during meditation the world seems to slow down around me, alongside my deepening breathing. I can find a calm within the storm of my emotions and stresses.

I am not saying breathing solves everything, far from it. But from someone who is a control freak, it can bring me a sense of control over something when the rest of the world seems uncontrollable. When my own emotions seem out of control taking back my breathing seems to help.

Breathing can be done anywhere, I often take a couple of deep breaths when teaching a challenging class, or when I am driving, or when my puppy will just not lay down and sleep. You do not need an app or advice on how to do it, you already know. I do use Calm to help guide my meditation but for a quick ‘gain some control breath’, it is all me.

I admit I do not do the ‘in through your nose and out through your mouth’. I just cannot seem to ever get it right and I do not like to breathe through my mouth, too noisy. However, I do not think it diminishes my own breathing practice.

Scientifically a deep breath can boost the oxygen we are being supplied and therefore has a physical heathy benefit. Yet, psychologically I think the impact is even greater.

So just breathe, give your brain time to process life in this mental world.

Feeling frustration

I am a patient person. Being a teacher and in the past a nanny, I have had to be. Having the mother I do I also had to learn patience from a young age. ‘A virtue’ my mother often said. Of course, it was only a skill for supporting others not myself.

Lately I find my patience is wearing thin. I feel the frustration boiling away under the surface. Things that I used to let go now make me feel like someone has turned up my stove to simmer.

Tiny bubbles running through my veins. Feeling like a something is crawling through the layers of my skin. My breathing grows faster and heart beats loudly. I try to push it down, like a reflex I breathe deep and try to leave the situation.

I was not allowed to be frustrated, it leads to anger and that was always forbidden. I was taught that anger leads to violence and hurting people’s feelings. Well, this is what I am trying to combat.

I got angry as a teenager. I tried to change my situation and my narcissistic mother. It never really worked and instead I was accused of bullying her. I was and am blamed for starting every family argument. My mother would cry and become hysterical. She would remind me of the bullies in her childhood, her angry mother and violent father. She would find a way to made me feel guilty. I was shamed for having my feelings and for wanting to stop the emotional abuse she was causing to me and my siblings.

I was trying to get her to change. We were all unhappy with the situation, her matriarchy of control. I was not the only one. Yet when we called our family meeting and issues were raised I was on my own. My mum said we were ganging up on her to split our united front. She told my dad that of course he would support me, as I always was a daddy’s girl. Something used against us for years. Often she stormed out, expecting my father to follow her.

Now I am in my thirties and I struggle to feel frustration let alone angry. Slowly I am allowing myself to feel it but it is hard. My body seems to have an automatic reaction to push it down. For me frustration or annoyance feels more like heartburn. I know I need to let my emotion in but it is tough to feel them and deal with them. I need to learn to allow them, accept them and then move them along in this mental world.

 

Optimism and me

I like to think of myself as an optimist, hopeful and as Monty Python said ‘always look on the bright side of life’. I like to see the best of people and I do not like to give up on anyone.

However, when you have depression this is harder to do. Part of me wants to remain upbeat and hopeful of a better day ahead. But another part of me is telling me it is all doom and gloom.

I am a realist and I know that the world can be awful. I have seen, experienced or read about some of life’s darkest moments. I am a history teacher so death, war and disease are in every one of my lessons. I have felt some very dark emotions and experienced abuse. However, I also know many people have life so much worse, it is all relative to our own experiences.

So how can I be optimistic when the realist in me sees the world for what it is? Well, through all my pain and sadness I also see kindness, love and joy. I find it hard to not see them in the world. In children, in nature and in human stories. To be those are the emotions to look for and dwell upon. Seek out the moments and remember them.

When I am sad or lonely I try to go for a walk and see nature. Nature is neutral in its emotional state but it’s beauty can evoke such joy in a human heart. I watch my puppy play and bound with the happiness of freedom. The trees remind me that year in and out they will remain, growing silently with other footprints around their roots. Somehow their longevity is uplifting and inspiring.

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Near where I live is one of the oldest trees in Britain. It is a Yew tree called the Ankerwycke Yew and it is believed to be around 2,000 years old. This amazes me, this tree has stood here from sapling to towering tree for longer than the years past since Jesus. Through eras, wars, heartache, peace, storms, religious changes, inventions, and so much more. It has no idea what is happening but it continues to grow and give shelter.

This tree has not done anything special and yet it is significant. It is possibly under which Magna Carta was sealed by King John. Possibly under which King Henry VIII proposed to Anne Boleyn, triggering the English Reformation. It is where I walk my dog. Without eyes it has seen so much, bearing witness to history whilst being history itself.

When I was in Cambodia many trees have grown around the ruins of temples. It is like nature wants to take back the land, it is almost disrespectful of the ruins. However it is also amazingly beautiful and somehow it feels so right that it should take them back.

Maybe it is the wonder of nature and the world that keeps me optimistic. Whatever it is I will hang on to my optimism. If a tree can thrive for over 2,000 years I can make it to tomorrow in this mental world.

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A Woodland Walk

I walk through the woodland, an excited puppy running around my feet. Headphones placed in my ears, a voice tells me to slowly breathe in and out. Each muddy step feels like a journey in a novel, a wander through an enchanted forest. I feel my heart beats growing faster, so I focus on the breeze as it swirls through the leaves above me and across my face.

The raindrops feel refreshing as they fall around me. I watch as they flow down the leaves to the woodland floor. Each droplet has a journey, a destiny as it tells a story washing fears away. I look at the many greens and browns that surround me. Degrading autumn leaves fallen are beneath my feet, the puppies paws disappear into the squelching mulch.

The ground goes up and down as I follow the path into the depths of woodland. My mind turns inside and I feel the pain within. In this woodland I am alone in its peace and the loneliness closes in. I can feel each scar and wound left on my heart. Damaged over and over by the loves and losses of my life.

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Thirty-three years of heartache; wounds, scratches, bruises and stabs. Betrayals, insults and losses have taken their toll. My heart feels battered like it has had a long career as a boxer. Round and round of fists until hearing the bell ding. Family, friend and lovers leaving their marks. Stabs, although no longer a seeping wound they have left deep scars.

Sometimes I feel these scars will never heal completely. Memories cannot be erased and self confidence is hard to regain. The wall of protection around my heart is concreted in place, yet lately I see the cracks appearing. I feel my heart calling from it’s locked box, yearning to be free. Screaming out for another love to nurture it like it has never really known.

I enjoy my solitude. I like to take my dog walks bathing in nature. It is like I crave my space and time with me. However, I also wish for someone to share this life with me. Supporting each other. To share a cup of tea. Friends are amazing but a love is something transcendent. A love not to cure-all, but to provide additional forces in the fight for our lives in this mental world.

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Money makes the world go round

Everyone has an experience with money and I don’t think anyone I know anyone who likes it. However, money is a fact of life we all have to deal with, from counting pennies as a kid to paying bills as an adult.

But money scares me a little. The power it has on our lives. Money does not bring us happiness but it can sure help to make us feel comfortable. Money is not more important than our health, but we have to pay for medical care. Even on the NHS paying prescriptions and things you cannot get on the NHS, like I pay for my private therapist and a chiropractor.

Without money life can be bleak. However I also think that happiness gained from money plateaus after we have the essentials we all need; home, water, food, warmth and a few comforts.

I think my fear comes from my childhood, as probably most of our relationships with money were formed. My parents were not good with handling money and they also had very little. They did not seem to budget and ended up with loans they could not pay. I remember sitting in the car as they went into offices or banks to discuss loans. I do not know their full situation as this is just from my childhood memories and I am sure they did the best they could.

However, I also remember the arguments, lots of arguments about money. I am not sure my parents really argued about anything else. I have no idea who was right or wrong, probably both and yet neither. I just remember the family never having enough money and the arguments.

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I also have no judgement on my parents as I find it so hard to stay in budget with my own money. You would think seeing my parents would make me meticulous about looking after my money. But no, I think it might be because as soon as I earnt my own money, it was always gone on things my teenage self felt I needed. I could never keep up with my friends but I tried and having my own Saturday job helped me to have my own money for the cinema or a new top. I could finally buy clothes that were not from a charity shop or car boot sale. I felt so grown up.

Now as an adult (apparently) I try to be more careful. My bills come out at the beginning of the month. I try to budget and I love a good spreadsheet. However recently I took a pay cut to help my stress and mental health. It was the right choice but it does mean I might need to keep a closer eye on the budget and take out some of my luxuries.

The pay cut has stressed me out and has me anxious about living and not getting into anymore debts. Yet I cannot change it and have to move forward. I remind myself I am on a good wage as an experienced teacher, although living alone does make things costly.

Anxiously I have balanced my spreadsheet and now comes the challenge – to stick with the budget I have set. Somehow I feel I have already failed, before I have eben started. I cannot seem to believe in my own ability to do this. How do some people find this so easy? I admire people who put money into their savings account no matter what, I am jealous even.

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For me money makes me feel like I have failed even before I have begun. Like I will be told off or find myself in trouble. My mum was always worried about bailiffs and she had promised they would never come to her door as they had her parents. I think I feel that fear and I do not know how to let it go. I feel ashamed I cannot just be better at this. I have an A Level in Maths, it was my best subject in school. I can do the maths ,yet I do not have control.

I also know I am an emotional buyer and my amazon account is littered with purchases on a whim. I hope they will make me feel better and it is always something I feel I need. But the parcel only bring guilt and anxiety in the end. Don’t get me wrong I have never even had a letter threatening the bailiffs. My fear might be irrational and inherited but it is real in my life in this mental world.

Life is exhausting, each and every day

Life is exhausting! Getting up each day and living is very tiring. Having depression and fibromyalgia makes my body ache and feel so very heavy. Weighted down by feelings of numbness and sadness.

Sleeping through my seven alarms, I scramble out of bed. I take my pills and brush my teeth. Brushing my hair seems like a marathon of effort, mile after mile of strokes until it is up and out-of-the-way. Dragging any clothes I can find, onto my limbs. Choosing what is comfortable, closest and clean.

I feed the bunnies and the puppy, as the kettle boils to make tea. A travel mug and breakfast bar in hand, I head out to the car. The door slams and I feel my world get small, Volkswagen Polo sized. With the radio on I navigate the traffic, focused on everyone’s moves as the world swirls around me.

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I park at school and get through the day. I travel back in time as I teach, jumping from Norman England, to Nazi Germany, to Tudor Britain and to many more. Grounded with my feet in what I know, the past. The day ticks on and my mind pushes everything else away. In some moments I even feel echoes of my passion for teaching. That feeling which seems to escape me most of the time, it feels like a reminder of a long-lost friend.

The students leave and I feel as empty as my classroom. My mind fills with clutter, memories of laughter float around. I am back in the car and fighting rush hour traffic wanting to be at home. Encapsulated in my car I listen to soothing music as I breathe my way home, in…out…right…left…home.

Greeted by an excited puppy, I can’t help but smile. He races upstairs, with energy I wish I could steal. Behind him, I drag my feet up each mountainous step. Stripping off my hard protective shell of the day I can climb into my safe pyjamas. The kettle goes on to feed the tiredness that is growing.

The sofa envelopes me as the tv noise fills the space in my head. The sounds push any negative thoughts aside, for now. My puppy curls up on my lap, giving me all the warmth and love he can. I wish for the simplicity of his life, the peaceful day of  sleep with food and drinks provided.

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I look at the kitchen as if it might spontaneously produce a dinner. Preparing my meal for one feels like making a banquet for a King. I need the energy to breathe but I know I need to eat. A sandwich, toast, ready meals or maybe I will just order in. Someone else can make the effort while I use up my reserves just making it up the stairs.

I climb into bed as early as possible, beneath the duvet I feel warm and safe. Camomile tea and an interesting novel to calm my mind. Meditation, mindfulness or just music to sleep by. I hope tonight sleep will be easy to find. I hope it will replenish the fatigue and exhaustion of my life in this mental world.