Being Judged and Judging others

It is said that first impressions are important. That you can tell if you like someone in just a few seconds. However is that really judgemental? And can we get away from being judgemental?

I know I try not to judge people and yet the instinct seems to happen before I even know. I then reflect and hopefully reconsider. I know through education, travel and reading I have learnt so much which has helped me break down some of the stereotypes and beliefs I might have held. Yet is it enough?

There is so much that can be judged and assumed about someone; appearance, speech, their decisions, phrases, beliefs, accents, intelligence, sexuality, cultures and so much more. We all have unconscious bias which leave us judging unknowingly. How are we meant to deal with a belief we do not even know we have?

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However, I think we should strive to be as conscious as we can of the judgements we make. It is not easy to look into ourselves and really challenge these faults and yet in the world we currently live in, I think it is imperative.

So many people are feeding the world with hate. The media, groups, politicians and events around the world spark beliefs and judgement that can seriously hurt people. We need to counter this with more positive beliefs.

As a teacher I try to teach this to students and as a nice person I try to live this way. Yet I also think the work is never done. We need constant reminders to review and self-reflect on our beliefs. Why when we meet someone did we get that bad feeling? Is it justified?

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Our society judges people; keeping law and order means we need to. However it is not just criminals that are judged, everyone is and by everyone else. But this can lead to stigma, which can lead to prejudice and that then lead to discrimination.

I know I often feel judged by the people around me. My low self-esteem means I find it hard to belief that not everyone around me is judging me and thinking poorly of me. From my clothes, hair and general appearance to my beliefs, status and what I say. As a child I was bullied and it has made me to aware of how these judgements can be used to hurt someone.

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If we want an equal and fair society then we have to examine our cultural beliefs and how that resonates to the next generation. Are we teaching equality when headlines single out a culture, a religion, a country, a financial status and tell us if it is right or wrong.

We need to look at this world we live in and decide what world we want it to be in years to come. None of us are perfect, none of us will always get it right. I know I am definitely working on this all the time, in my life in this mental world.

 

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It is just a headache? Right?

It started on Sunday, I felt the pain closing in around my brain. The muscles in my neck got tight and my forehead started to throb. A headache started to form. I rested and tried to let it take its course, hoping it did not develop.

Monday it was a migraine. My vision was blurred, my head and neck hurt and daylight was painful. I felt sick and dizzy. So I called in sick to work and got out my migraine survival kit.

This kit has developed over the years but now includes; decent wax ear plugs, a wheat-bag eye-mask, and painkillers. It is simple, basic but essential. I drank some tea and biscuits to help the painkillers go down and I went back to bed.

It is often said that ‘sleeping is the best medicine’ and mostly I agree. Yet sometimes the migraine hurts so much, that sleep is just not an option. Or after some sleep I can no longer sleep as I am just not tired anymore and instead lay in the dark. Sometimes for days.

It is so hard to describe what a migraine is like to someone who has never had them. I have known my the pain to be so bad I could not put my head on the pillow as it caused me pain. I have contemplated whether chopping my own head off with an axe would actually be less painful (I think that is also the historian in me).

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Pain can make you think dark and weird thoughts, especially when laying in a dark and quiet place can actually get quite boring. Sometimes I can tolerate an audiobook or podcast on the lowest of sound settings but usually not until the pain starts to wane or the painkillers have started to work.

I have seen neurologists many times, they have described me as a complicated case. I have tried many medications and alternative treatments. I have tried herbal remedies like feverfew leaf alongside medication prescribed. Some work for a while and reduce the number of migraines I have. None work completely or for long.

Recently I was describing the migraines and headaches to the neurologist and he pointed out how my headaches are migraines, they are just missing a couple of the symptoms I describe as migraines; blurred vision and constant dizziness. So all these headaches I have been having our migraines! Explains a lots. He then asked “How many days of migraines do you get a month?”I replied “Including what I thought was a headache?”. “Yes everything” I thought about it and replied “20 days”.

Some of these the pain lasts hours in the evening or morning. Other times it lasts all day. Sometimes it stops me and I have to retreat to my room but sometimes I can continue with my day after some doses of painkillers.

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This week it started Sunday and finished today (Friday), although I am in some pain still. Today I feel like my shackles have been removed and I have been taken out of the dark cell my brain has been locked within. I had Monday and Tuesday off work, as the blurred vision means I can not do anything but then went back to work. Retreating to my bed and painkillers as soon as I could. I lost my appetite, it was replaced with bouts of nausea.

The hardest thing to explain to someone is the detrimental effect the pain has on me as a whole person. Yes the pain is in my brain but it affects my mood, my thoughts, my ability to concentrate and my patience. I love sunshine, I am a Sun worshiper, until I am in this state and then I curse its brightness. This week I felt I was being tortured in a cell by my own mind and I did not know when it would end.

This might seem extreme to some but constant pain is demoralising and impairs cognitive ability. I can’t remember names of students, everyday words and history facts I would usually recall easily. I lose some of my hand eye co-ordination and become clumsy. My limbs feel prickly and tingle or they fall asleep.

Studies have shown that being a migraine or chronic headache sufferer significantly raises your risk of suicide and depression. In one US Study the risk rose from 1% to 10% from non sufferer to sufferers of migraines (US Study) and in another it tripled the likelihood (Migraine Again). Although this is believed to be due to the more general symptom of pain rather than due to the specific pain of migraine or headache suffers.

For me my depression rages during a migraine. I think the lack of control, the not knowing when it will end and the feeling like there is nothing I can do is just hard to handle. The relief when it does is like euphoria. It is like being given freedom again.

I hate to feel like someone who is always complaining or thinking ‘woe is me’. However I think awareness of this debilitating illness and the wider affect it can have is important. I have had migraines for as long as I can remember and so I do not think they are going anywhere. Maybe my brain is just wired in the wrong way. I am being referred to a Neurology Department in London to consider Botox for Migraines but I will contemplate that in June when I get to my appointment.

In the mean time I take each day as it comes and hope for brighter clearer headed days ahead in this mental world.

A Dog’s life

I wonder what it would be like to be a dog for a day. I look at my Toby and think about how simple his life is. His needs are simple; food, walks, water, cuddles and sleep. I like to see him take pleasure in the little things, like a sock he has stolen from my radiator. He looks so peaceful when he sleeps.

Of course I would not want to have to pee outside but then he doesn’t even have to clear it up. No shoes might be an issue, especially in the cold. Yet a constant fur coat seems quite nice.

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When I take him for walks he loves to run, just to run. A pleasure I will never understand and yet love to watch. He enjoys to chase tennis balls and toys that I throw for him. Most of all he loves to cuddle up and he gives out so much love.

A human life is so complicated and we are distracted by so much. Things we need in our world; money, jobs, bills, entertainment, media, and so much more. What if we could make life a little more simple and take joy in the little things.

I try to take joy in Toby’s cuddles, laugh at his silly ways and enjoy our walks somewhere green. I smile as his dreams, his little paws moving in his sleep. I laugh as he begs for a biscuit or my pizza crusts and run off to eat it like great treasure.

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Life is complicated and we have to work and pay the bills. However we also need to find joy. Not in things but in what really matters to each of us. For me it is Toby, my friends, my nieces, my nephew, nature, travel and in teaching.

Learning what is really important to me has been hard and I have to remind myself. It is so easy to get carried away in the madness of this mental world.

The Story of One Inspirational Woman I knew

In honour of International Women’s Day I wanted to reflect on one of the most inspirational women I have known. I know lots of fantastic women ,who battle illness and adversity in a man’s world. When I teach history I try to include all the women in history to show our important place in society. But one has always stood out to me.

From my childhood one lady was a constant inspiration to me, my Nan. She was an amazing woman and I loved to hear the stories of her life. Born in the 1920s she was the fourth of eight children. She was training to be a concert pianist until she met my Granddad and her teacher made her pick between boys and the piano. Full of teenage hormones as she was, she picked my Granddad. She always played the piano though, even in the underground stations during the Blitz. I still think of her when I hear Beethoven 5th Symphony or anything classical really. I loved to hear her play.

She remembers seeing Mahatma Ghandi when he visited London in 1931. She seemed to truly believe in equality and love. She talked about living near the Kray brothers and cycling down their street to go visit my Granddad when they were courting. She seems to have lived through so much history.

She went on to join the Women’s Army in WWII and supported a Canadian Airbase in the south of England. She stayed truthful to her engagement to my Granddad, even when Canadian soldiers proposed. She felt she needed to actually help at a time of when her country was at war.

Her family home in Lambeth was also bombed during the Blitz in London. Leaving just the porch and outside toilet, the only parts her father had built. She spoke about loosing every family photograph and her grand piano. It really helped show how material things were just that, memories and keepsakes were much more important to her.

After the war she married my Granddad and had three children of her own, although also suffering many miscarriages in the ten years between my aunts and my father’s birth. Whilst bringing up her own children she also fostered babies and toddlers. She seemed to have so much love to give. She was kind and thoughtful. She listened and cared. She was my sanctuary away from my own mother.

Although to my knowledge, she never did anything to change what my mother was doing, she helped me survive. She taught me to try to accept mum as she was. That anger only festered in myself and hurt me. That you could box up emotions and hide them away to get by. She also gave me hope that I would grow up and be able to move out and away from her one day.

When she died I was 16 to her 82 years old. I felt like my world had collapsed. I knew she had to let go, she was in so much pain from the pancreatic cancer she had to endure. Yet I felt so alone. My support, my love, my surrogate mother was gone. My heart broke and although I put on a brave face I fell into depression.

To have lived through so much change in the twentieth century. Maybe she is why I love history so much. She taught me so many lessons in life. Most importantly she taught me to be a kind and thoughtful person. I think of her everyday in this mental world.

Dream Me Worries

Last night I woke up about 4am. I had dreamt of school, specifically my GCSE students failing to understand one of our harder papers. It is all about historical interpretation. In the dream I was trying and trying to get them to understand. Trying to find new ways to explain it and help them understand.

When I woke up I then could not get back to sleep. I was worrying about if the students did understand and how I could help them. Each time I tried to clear my mind and focus on my breathing I was left with thoughts of exam skills and not being good enough at my job.

I tell myself this is not true. I am a good teacher and I care about my students. I will find a way to help them understand. However in the morning not at 4am. Yet the thoughts still came and kept me awake.

Eventually exhaustion let me sleep. However I am left with this tried and sad feeling that I am not enough. I feel the need to explore new ways and solve this problem, even though it was a dream. My students have not expressed a lack of understanding and although their exam questions are not perfect they are improving as we head toward the summer exams.

Why is dream state me so hard on me? Is it my subconscious that is truly worried? Welcome to dream me in this mental world.

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.

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.

My current adventure

I feel I might be turning a corner. It could be the fact I have been on half term or maybe it is real. Either way I somehow feel that my depression maybe lifting. I worry this is just one good day and I need consistently good days to truly believe.

However, I also think I have been working to look after me and relieve some stresses in my life. I have reduced my stresses at work by dropping my middle leadership pastoral position. I have set a clear financial budget to help relieve the stress and anxiety money gives me, especially with the pay cut.

I have been walking, enjoying nature and meditating regularly. Trying to appreciate the beautiful world around me and inside me. I have been ‘tidying with joy’ and declaring my gratitude each day.

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I have been accepting of my emotions. I have been trying not to judge them, acknowledging them and letting them go. Writing on here to let the voices of worry, stress and processing out of my head. Blogging has helped me sleep better, alongside a mug of camomile tea each night.

This might all seem so mundane, people keep asking when and where is my next adventure. I usually have my next holiday booked but not at the moment. I love travelling and still want to go to so many places. I love exploring new countries, seeing new beautiful places and meeting new cultures.

However, at the moment my adventure is finding out more about me and exploring my mind. On the outside it might look simple and maybe even boring, but to me it is an exciting time. Sailing into the depths of my mind. Navigating this ocean of emotions and sadness 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.