Tag Archives: self esteem

“You Got the Part!”

When I was just married, I was known to spend hours in a galactic tailspin in the supermarket. I felt as if I had been launched into an unknown universe, punctuated with beckoning aisles, lurking black holes waiting to suck me into the vortex of indecision.

I hated all the choice.

I second guessed every item I picked up. I browsed for far too long, lingering on inconsequential decisions which I imbued with intense hues of vibrant importance.

Fusilli or rigatoni?

Barlotti or garbanzo?

1% or 2?

I studied packages and boxes and cans looking for answers- as if I was scouring dusty volumes of ancient poetry searching for wisdom. Instead I was confronted with confusion and long lists of ingredients – a litany of preseravites that would never know how to protect me. I wanted to be a confident shopper. I wanted to be focused and intentional. With a meal planner. And a talent for cooking. And a special intuition which would guide me to the just ripe fruit and the organic cashews spiced with chili and mint.

But I usually left Sainsburys an hour and half later, burdened with two or three bags of ready cooked meals, a few apples, a punishing headache and a depression that weighed down upon me like a heavy dark cloak.

I remember glancing around the parking lot at other women, balancing babies and full shopping trolleys. Getting on with it. Coping. And I thought to myself. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I be normal??

I had been asking myself that question since I was a kindergartener with big glasses, skirting the fringes of groups. It was one I continued to ask myself as a teenager – an English girl in an American high school fidgeting to fit in. It would be a question I would ask myself as a new mother struggling to breast feed a baby who had other interests in mind. But when I was 25 and recently married, I was simply trying to decipher how to be a wife. I knew how to write poetry and lose myself in a book and develop black and white prints in a handmade dark room. I knew how I wanted to love and how I wanted to be loved.

I knew how to be a dreamer. A walker. A hand holder. A sister. A daughter.

But how to be wife stumped me. I wasn’t looking exactly to fit into a traditional mold, but I was looking to begin providing something I felt should come with the territory. Nourishment. Clarity. If I couldn’t manage in the supermarket how was I going to navigate this new grown-up role? The role I had auditioned for and then readily accepted the part?

The truth is – life allows us to play hundreds of different roles, but often we don’t meet our own unrealistic expectations informed by a myriad of influences, so we end up asking ourselves where did we go wrong? We end up feeling like we have been miscast in our own stories….

We hang onto the word ‘normal’ like it is a lifeline, when in actuality it can be a noose with the power to suck the breath out of us. Let’s re-imagine normal with a million different definitions. Every flavor on the shelf. Every taste imaginable.

18 years have passed since those first supermarket space travels. Do I still compare myself to my fantasy of others? I do. But I realize now – it is just a fantasy, and one that only comes to life when I give it oxygen. Those same women in that parking lot all those years ago might well have had their own fantasies about me – carefree, with a light load and long blonde hair.

Little did they know.

We’re all playing parts and wondering if the rest of the cast have a better handle on their lines.

I’d like to believe it’s never too late to re-write the script….

Write about he roles you play or the ones you would like to play or the ones you have grappled with. Do you struggle with comparing yourself to others? Use the word ‘normal’ as a springboard and jump…

Share your findings in the comments!

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Wait Here

I’ve been sitting here for a while now pondering the blank screen. It’s not a comfortable feeling – waiting. But it’s also not an unfamiliar one. I feel like I spend a lot of life waiting. Waiting for the oven to pre heat. Waiting for the traffic to move. Waiting to hear back from someone about something. Waiting for the result. Waiting for my toenail polish to dry. Waiting for  my vitiligo to spread. Waiting for that sinking feeling. Waiting for my ‘aha’ moment. Waiting to  visit the places that I’ve left behind. Waiting to take my own advice.

When I was teenager I used to wait for the phone to ring. Actually, looking back, I understand that I was waiting to become a grown-up, a woman, a lover, a writer. I was waiting for life.

It’s tedious isn’t it, this waiting for life to happen?

And it’s hard to avoid. How do we reconcile our expectations of what we imagined might happen with the reality of what is happening? How do we push ourselves out of the waiting room and into the world?

Fifteen years ago I had a book published. it was a children’s picture book which took me no more than a few hours to write. The story arrived inside of me like a sudden gift. It landed elegantly whole, not in splinters or fragments like stories sometimes do. It was the tale of a puppy called Charlie, who was searching for an owner. He was so determined to find the ‘perfect’ owner that he put an ad in the newspaper with a checklist of his criteria (he was a very enterprising puppy).

And then he waited.

And waited.

And waited.

While he was waiting, he discovered a true friend and companion who lived next door. While he was waiting he began to live.

The book, to my surprise, performed very well when it found its way out of my head and into the bookstores. It was reprinted. It was translated. It was nominated for awards. It was selected by the ‘selectors’ as something special.  I thought getting the book published meant that MY waiting was over. I assumed it meant that the career I had been searching for had begun.

I was wrong. And right.

It had begun but the waiting never ended. And a ‘career’ is not one neatly wrapped story, tied with a purple and green polka dotted bow. For some of us, a career is an unwieldily package. Sharp cornered. Taped tightly. Tough to get into to. Sometimes it is even too heavy to pick up and shake, preventing us from flirting with the fantasy of what it might contain.

I never had another book published. Not for lack of trying. I tried. Not a hundred times, but I tried. I waited in vain for that box to find me again. The one with with satin ribbon and the soft cotton bedding, cradling the diamond. But now I’m taking an ironic page from my own book. I’m channeling Charlie and paying some attention to what is vs.what if.

I’m becoming rather fond of  the ungainly weather worn parcel with the tattered bottom. I’ve learnt the value in hacking away at various corners revealing curious glimpses into what just might be inside. I’m actively practicing patience, which requires a lot more productive energy than sitting around and tapping the table top.

And fifteen years on, publishing is no longer dependent on endless waiting. So I’m here, writing, because the only thing my words depend on – are me.

Write for ten minutes about the word ‘waiting’. What are you waiting for? Is there an area of your life where you can stop waiting and take back some power instead?

OR

Write a fictional piece with the theme of ‘waiting’. This could be the beginning of something longer. A character sketch. An outline. An opening paragraph. Anything! Don’t wait… Just write!

 

 

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Face to Facebook

Ever since I was young, I was drawn towards a few very close friendships…choosing intimacy and emotional connection over flittering throngs of social butterflies. But still those butterflies’ shimmering wings attracted my attention.

Recently on Facebook a girl from my graduating high school class created a ‘closed’ group for the class of 1987. In high school I always felt like I was on the outside of something seductive. Looking versus living. When I requested to be added to this group, I found myself flooded with outdated emotions. Some of the women had posted old photos. Raucous, toga clad  fifteen year old girls, draped over one another effortlessly, linked by confident smiles and the effervescent air of popularity. I am sure were I to come face to face with these women now, we could converse easily about our jobs and families, maybe even our pets.

But coming face to Facebook with them distracted me.

I felt unsettled. Awkward. Envious. All the unpalatable feelings that had smeared much of my adolescence with a bitter icing.

Past emotional states have ways of re-establishing rule when you least expect them to. They can materialize like invisible obstacles daring you not to trip. Taunting you not to fall.

Photograph by Chris Blakeley

But fall I did. I was thinking about these high school girls and the isolation I used to feel when I was walking Lilly (my dog) this week. I was deep in thought, composing the opening sentence to my next hopefully riveting post. I saw a man up ahead, walking slowly, chatting on his phone. I decide to pick up my pace and sprint by him so he wouldn’t slow me down. I felt like pushing forward. Forging ahead. I wanted to run those high school days right out of my mind. As I was just about to pass him, I tripped on that damned invisible obstacle. I flew. Dramatically. Unexpectedly. Magnificently. I landed in a heap at the feet of this poor unsuspecting dog walker. I smashed my knee. I lay nose down in all my vulnerability. Defeated. Ridiculous. I felt fifteen again.

He was very gracious. He waited while I collected my thoughts and my diginity. He tried not to express his own shock as I counted the animated birds gathering in a halo above my head. He told me his name and shook my hand and eventually I hobbled home. I’m waiting for him to add me as a friend on Facebook.

So I didn’t have to write my post this week because my post wrote me. And that’s what happens sometimes. We lose control of something we think we have all the power over. We get hijacked by old experiences. Stale emotional states try to convince us that they are still in date. And it’s hard to STOP them.

The trick, I have decided, is learning how to avoid swallowing feelings that have long since expired. How to stay standing tall. Or if, like me, you can’t help but fall, how to pick yourself up and courageously limp away.

Take ten minutes and write about high school or secondary school. Compare your perspective then and now. Do you have some feelings that are past their expiration date which need to be cleared from your cupboard?! Share in the comments!

PS. It has come to my attention that some of you who are subscribed via email are replying directly to the emails you receive. Unfortunately that is a NO REPLY email address and I do not receive those responses. If you want to respond, please leave a comment by visiting the site directly, or you can reach me at [email protected]  Thank you!

 

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Spontaneous Acts of Dancing

When was the last time that you did something spontaneous? I mean REALLY spontaneous. Not the variety that involves choosing a different shampoo from the one you’ve been loyal to for the last year. I mean the – oh my god I can’t believe I just did that but it felt SO good type of spontaneous. I mean the cartwheeling, backflipping, jumping jacking, pirouetting, scissor kicking kind?

I wonder what your answer is.

Here’s mine.

“I don’t remember…”

But it gets worse. In reality my ‘memory loss’ is covering up my shame. Shame for having lived much of my life ‘flatly’. Shame for having actively avoided spontaneity in lieu of staying safe, keeping control, walking only on very solid ground instead of ever grabbing the bar of a trapeze.

I have angled myself into daring shapes over the last decade trying to manoeuvre change. I’ve jostled my way to the front row at concerts. I’ve jumped into dark chilly lakes. I learnt to ski (badly) in my thirties. I started writing this blog and baring some of my soul.

But old habits die hard not fast, and shame, as I’ve written about before, is pervasive and contaminating. It sticks like tar. It stinks. Even if you work overtime attempting to scrub it off, it can remain powerful, preventing change by a casting a spell of acute self consciousness.

It’s tough to lose a label and push yourself to become more dimensional. 

I was without doubt a ‘sensible’ child. I was introverted and hushed. Like the icing on the cake of the stereotype, I wore thick lensed glasses and liked to bury my nose in a book. These were all essential aspects of me, but as I grew, I craved expansion. ‘Sensible’ is not an easy image to abandon. People begin to define you by your ‘image’ and then you somehow begin to live out their expectations.

As a teenager there was another ‘me’ living somewhere on an alternate earth. She was less uptight. She talked with her hands, laughed with her head in the air and danced with boys.  She was comfortably confident. But she was also a bit mean. She taunted me when I bought funky pink stilettos from Camden Market. She told me, “You’re not the kind of girl who wears those kind of shoes.” And people around me confirmed that with the mocking arch in their eyebrows. And I felt embarrassed. So I put the shoes away. But every time I opened my cupboard there they were. Pointing their toes at me. Accusing me of caving in. Branding me as inhibited.

Last week my best friend K.E.L. called me to tell me she was going to a fundraiser at her children’s school. The theme was the 80s.

“What are you wearing?!” I asked her.
“I’m not dressing up. I don’t have anything to wear,” she replied. Flatly.

Five hours later her husband sent me a picture from his phone. It was K.E.L. – her hair in an awesome side ponytail, rocking a black blazer with shoulder pads any NFL player would covet. She was on the stage with the band, hands waving in the in the air, shaking it like a polaroid picture.

“She did it!” I thought. She somersaulted through the flatness. She grabbed the trapeze bar. She wore the pink stilettos.

So I’m thanking K.E.L. for the inspiring reminder. We all need a nudge every once in a while.

I bet those shoes still fit me.

It’s my turn next.

You coming?

Write about spontaneity. When were you last spontaneous? What does spontaneous look like to you? It comes in an array of colours – not just pink! Do you want more or less of it in your life? Practice spontaneity and share in the comments!

 

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Shifting the Balance

I have a skin condition called Vitilgo.  Vitiligo is an autoimmune disorder that causes pigment to disappear.  My body is scattered with randomly shaped patches and spots that have lost all colour.  I’ve named them my islands of white.  Thousands of people are living with the condition in varying degrees.  Although it is purely cosmetic with no other sinister symptoms, Vitiligo can be deeply debilitating. Self esteem can disappear along with the pigment, leaving many people who have the condition feeling odd, unusual, self conscious – sadly uncomfortable in their ever shifting skin.


Like countless others, people with Vitiligo have to confront on a daily basis an aspect of themselves that they might wish to be different.  Plenty of us wrangle with our perceived flaws, spending precious time daydreaming, “If only I didn’t have_____ ” Fill in the blank. It is especially challenging in a media driven society that is intent on disseminating such a limited and superficial vision of beauty.

We are all of course multi dimensional.  But defaulting to defining ourselves by one narrow element is a trap that can easily snare even the most self aware.

Think on aspect of yourself that you are dissatisfied with or that you try to wish away.  It can be a physical feature, a medical condition or a personality trait.  Write in detail about that aspect  of yourself.  Spend time reflecting on how it has affected your life.  Are you self conscious?  Does it stop you from moving forward? Are you worried about other people’s judgment?  

Now think of an aspect of yourself that you feel good about.  A strength.  A quality or feature you have been complimented on and feel proud of.  How has it benefited you? Give this part equal time and attention.  Be specific. 

If we put all our weight constantly onto only one leg, we will most probably begin to feel a nagging ache in our hip.  We will be off balance.  Not unlike giving constant attention to negative aspects of ourselves, while disregarding our strengths and skills.  Something, somewhere inside of us will suffer.

Shift the balance. Centre yourself.


Write for at least five minutes on both topics, remaining aware of which topic wants more of your attention.Go…

After you’ve written, if you’re interested to hear me talking to Nathalie from
VITILIGO FRIENDS about living with the condition and using writing as a tool, you can listen HERE

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