I love Autumn. I love the colours. I love the weak November sunshine. I love the glow of lights coming shining from the interior of a cosy pub. I love the puffed dragon’s breath of exhaled air on a cold, crisp, but sunny morning. As the leaves fall from the trees, it feels like a period of transition, a time when we ourselves are invited shed restrictive patterns and start afresh. The hedonistic fractiousness of the summer seems to fade, replaced by something slower, comforting and calmer. The moreish, punchy sangria that is Summer matures and simplifies to the Autumn/Winter’s rich, full-bodied glass of red wine.
I feel better than I did in Summer. Without wanting to speak/type too soon, in some ways I too, feel that I’m becoming calmer, more balanced. Like the trees, I’m shedding the excess. Shaking off dead leaves. Still growing, but a little more firmly rooted. I’m ever so slightly less frantic, less panicked. I’m fully embracing Autumn’s heralding of a more restful, restorative period.
This Autumn I’ve been trying to think less and do more, whilst at the same time not punishing myself by keeping furiously active. I’ve been trying to obsess over myself less. I’m getting stronger and softer physically. I still worry and feel anxious, as does everyone, but certainly not to the extent I was a few months ago. The weight on my chest has lightened. I can usually escape the whirlpool of worry and anxiety I would’ve been sucked into, drowning, in summer. I am able to breathe a little easier.
This season seems irrefutably reflective (what else is a glass of large red wine for other than to sip, warmed from the inside, musing on life and love and why Shaggy’s ‘It Wasn’t Me’ is playing on an loop inside my head? Just me? Oh well). In any case, I can’t help noticing that I’ve got a hell of a lot to be grateful for. I’ve got an incredible family unit. I’ve got some fantastic friends that my improved attitude has allowed me to have some lovely days (and nights!) out with. I’m being kinder to myself, more flexible, less rigid (most notably with food – I allow myself things I wouldn’t have even dared look at a few months ago – but I like to think I’m now more open to the opportunities life has to offer in general). I’m trying to trust the universe to see me right. I graduate (this week, in fact), with a good degree. I’ve been lucky enough to win some prizes for my work. I’ve made my parents proud. I’ve been welcomed into a new job that I enjoy. I’m trying not to let it’s temporary nature and the uncertainty of my future scare me. I work with some fantastic children and some very kind souls. Every day presents something new and usually gifts me with a genuine laugh and plenty of smiles. Life with an incredibly loving but cheeky puppy has been an utterly new experience, but is slowly settling down! He is pleased to see me everyday, and the love I get from him on a daily basis is a gift worth taking note of. I’m making time for meditation and yoga. I cut my hair off, shedding the old hair like the trees shed the leaves. I feel lighter. I’m trying to be kinder, more relaxed. I’m lucky. I’m making an effort to notice that, and keeping my complaining and irrationality to a minimum.
As Autumn comes to a close and Winter gently yet firmly sidles ever closer, like the crunch of wellies in dusty white snow, I feel cautiously…happy. I’m feeling infinitely more excited about life. I’m lucky. I want to just keep falling more and more in love with life. Life has seasons. For what feels like a long time I’ve felt bare and dark, naked and vulnerable. Fragile. Dull. Dead. At odds with the Autumn/Winter landscape, the stark trees, I’m actually daring to believe I can flourish. I feel (hope!) that I’m getting my spark back (or gaining one!). I’m capable of feeling a fizz of excitement inside me again. I’m growing. I might have previously looked down at the Autumnal leaves, trampled underfoot, and seen a dismal dark sludge. My mind is now clear enough to see the orange, the gold, the vibrant red. The beauty in the shiny brown of a precious conker. As the seasons change, we all have the chance to be born again, to restore. I’m grateful that I’m more grounded than I was. I wish for my roots to spread, to smile and genuinely mean it, for love in all forms. I want to keep looking up at the clear, cold blue sky, admiring the minimal branches of the unadorned trees, hearing birdsong, and feeling my heart to sing response. I am thankful for the happiness I feel and my only firm goal currently is to attract and incite more joy in myself and others.
I am the world’s worst decision maker. Or at least, I’m up there. In the top twenty, for sure. I basically need a flow chart to decide what socks to wear in the morning. I find having multiple options vaguely terrifying. If I were to psychoanalyse myself, I’d say it’s likely rooted in a deep fear of failure, of making the ‘wrong’ choice. The inability to make swift decisions can strike whether the choice is minor or major, life changing or inconsequential. Case and point: I once cried, age six, in The Disney Store, unable to choose between a Tigger watch with a green strap or one sporting Oddball from 102 Dalmatians with a blue strap. It just felt so incredibly vital that I made the right decision. Fifteen years later, this indecisiveness has, unfortunately, remained a resolutely unshifting facet of my character. Incidentally, I chose Oddball. Probably appropriate.
So yes, it’s fair to say that I find decisions difficult. But lately, I’ve been confronted with a hell of a lot of them. I’ve just finished my degree in English Literature, a broad degree that offers no firm direction. Everything is incredibly uncertain, career-wise. I’m unsure what to pursue, and having to decide what the hell I’m actually going to do with my life is, to say the least, pretty f*cking overwhelming.
A more pleasant decision and immediate decision to be made, as opposed to the foggy realm of my future career path, was going to choose a puppy this weekend. I nonetheless found it ridiculously difficult. I looked down at three beautiful puppies. They all had faces constructed by the angels. Big brown eyes blinked endearingly. Wet noses nuzzles, tiny sandy tongues licked affectionately. I loved them. I loved them all. I wanted them all. I needed them all. It took an age. I ummed and ahhhed, cradling each one, wanting whichever was pup I currently had in my arms. It seemed impossible. How could I possibly pick between them?! But pick I did. I chose a red pup – the one I’d held first. I cradled him like a tiny furry child and as he blinked up at me, I followed my gut instinct and said that this was the doggy for me. Signed, sealed, (and not quite yet) delivered, he’ll become part of the family officially in three weeks. I adore him already. I look at his picture and melt, reduced to a ridiculous, soppy mess – or rather, an even more ridiculous, soppier mess than usual.
In the end, I made a choice. I’m incredibly happy with the one I made. I’m happy with my judgement. Sure, in the case of the four adorable puppies, there’s wasn’t exactly a ‘wrong’ choice. There was no bad outcome, nothing major at stake. I was either going to get an incredibly cute puppy or an incredibly cute puppy. But what I feel I can take from puppygate is this: I was able to make, what felt at the time, like an incredibly hard decision. I was able to make a choice and not regret it. Often we just have to decide, and get on with it. More often than not, we’ll make the right one. Perhaps there aren’t even any ‘good’ or ‘bad’ decisions. Just decisions. Life will constantly present us with choices that have to be made. The trick seems to be not to panic when they do. I’m going to try and view having multiple options in a more positive light, follow my gut and just get on with it. Another positive note: all future life choices will now be made whilst petting a dog. It might also make me more decisive: ‘Right Pup – One Bark for Yes, Two for No – what do you think?’ The new puppy will be lucky enough to hear me rambling on incessantly, and will in all likelihood become the silent, furry, adorable equivalent of a life coach. God help him. He’ll get lots of cuddles, though.
Last Sunday, I wasn’t having a particularly great afternoon. The morning had started off pretty well, in all fairness. The weather was beautiful, a blissful, balmy 28 degrees, more tropical than typical UK weather. I’d gone to yoga for a particularly sweaty session and very much enjoyed it. The afternoon took a turn for the worst, however, when I learnt I’d been rejected for a job I’d been pretty confident I’d at least be elegible to be interviewed for. As usual when I feel inadequate, my thoughts inexplicably and uselessly turned to regulating my food intake and exercise levels. I felt uncomfortable – it was Father’s Day and we’d had a buffet lunch. I suddenly felt weak, out of control and greedy. I felt that I’d over indulged and old, restrictive thoughts started to swim menacingly, shark-like around the peripheries of my mental space. Altough I’d been lounging in the garden with my family, basking in the (rare) sunshine, I’m ashamed to say that I gave in to compensatory behaviours and sneaked off to excericse. My mother followed me and rumbled me in my attempts. I was embarrassed and annoyed with myself – as much as I feel I really have managed to forge a much healthier relationship with food on the whole, some aspects of my mentality surrounding my consumption and my body remain strange. Her calling me out on the ridiculousness of surreptitiously isolating myself in order to ‘burn off’ lunch when I should be enjoying relaxing family time made me realise how selfish I was being. It also made me realise how far I still have to go to feel ‘normal’ again in regards to my thoughts and behaviours. I let my insecurities get the better of me, yet again.
So I was feeling pretty subdued, on the whole. Tired. Tired of battling with myself day in, day out. Tired of job hunting. Tired of being afraid.
Things certainly got a hell of a lot brighter when my cousin casually informed me via text that she’d given birth, three weeks early, to her second child. A baby boy. She invited us to go and visit them in the maternity ward of the local hospital. We jumped in the car, eager and excited to do just that.
I saw him and thought immediately: he’s perfect. He has a dent in his ear at the moment (forceps – ouch). Perfect. He has a slight scratch. Still perfect. He’s healthy. Beautiful. I watched his chest rise and fall, watched his hands curl into into little fists. I traced the oval shape of his tiny fingernails. Perfect. So alive.Babies are the opposite of tired. They are so awake, so raw. They are painfully, stunningly, beautifully fresh. New. I sometimes wonder if that’s why they wail so piercingly. Why wouldn’t they? Everything is a first – every sight, every sound, a sensory overload. Baby L was patient as he was passed around like a beloved, tiny, precious parcel from one adoring, cooing relative to another. I held him in my arms and as he blinked those blue eyes open, peering into mine, the afternoon’s feeling of being irreversibly tired just melted away. He was placid and strikingly peaceful while we held him. He was so content, and holding him, a bundle of purity pernsonified and encased in a teeny babygrow, I felt content too. I looked at my cousin, who’d been so brave in what was, by all accounts, a pretty horrendous birthing experience. I watched her smile down at her first son, and got a reality check on what’s actually important in life. Love. Family.
Sunday was a day of gains, on the whole. I may have lost a job prospect. Lost some peace of mind, some perceived ‘progress.’ So what? Life is not linear. It has ups and down, and the day’s gains outweighed the losses. I gained a new member of my family. I looked down at him and saw the world through raw, fresh eyes. I gained perspective. I looked at him and felt love: I gained extra room in my heart, as corny as that sounds. A new person to love.
Last weekend we welcomed 7lbs of joy into our family and into the world. I hope baby L soaks up life. I hope he looks around at the simpering faces cooing down at him (I imagine we look simultaneously idiotic and fairly menacing), and that he is able to sense how much he is loved. I’ve only met him once, in the three days he has so far experienced. He has already made my life better. He has already made me appreciate life more. He has already made me less tired.
Life is precious. New life is the even more so. Here’s to living like the oversized babies that we all are – curious, soaking up new senses, surroundings, and experiences. Here’s to loving without limits. Here’s to family. Here’s to realising what the important things really are, and taking comfort in the fact that every day is a second chance; an opportunity to be born again.
Minds are messy. I sometimes find myself trapped in a tangled web of worries regarding how others perceive me. I’m often anxious that there’s a disconnect between who I am and who others believe I am. I rarely take an action without worrying what others will think of my decision. This results in me stalling and dithering, a ball of frustrated anxiety, trying and failing to find a solution that pleases everyone, and achieving only mass-dissatisfaction.
A technique that I’ve found mildly successful in silencing these worries is simply asking myself: does it actually matter? Does it matter what people think of me? Have I behaved in a way that I, personally, think is acceptable? If so, good. If not, I need to reconsider my actions and go from there. I must be my own judge and not let others’ perceptions of me haunt my every action and influence all of my decisions. Crucially, when we worry what others think of us, we project our own insecurities onto those surrounding us. We assume that everyone has noticed what we conceive as our ‘weak points’. We construct others’ perceptions of us. This is pointless and a waste of mental energy. It is all guesswork. Please yourself, do what you think is right. Make yourself proud and I believe the rest will follow.
We think that people think about us a lot more than they actually do. I actually find this thought incredibly comforting. I often feel incredibly conflicted – on a sensible, intellectual level, I know that no-one actually gives a damn if, say, I eat a muffin. But sometimes the mind is neither sensible nor logical. ‘They’ll think you’re greedy if you eat that,’ a nasty little voice occasionally whispers into my ear. ‘Disgusting, greedy pig. Lazy. You’ve barely done anything today. Of course they’re allowed to eat it. But not you, you don’t deserve it.’ And on it goes. This cruel, irrational, bullying self-punishment for a crime I haven’t committed. Unless, that is, I make a conscious and overt effort to battle against these thoughts, disregarding them as illogical. Would you ever think less of someone you love for eating a muffin? Um, no, me neither. I make an effort to pause, and halt this internal diatribe against myself. Eat the damn muffin, smile and be happy. None of this matters. Most of the time these days, I am able to do just that.
I worry. Who am I? Why don’t I have a clear perception of my own identity? How is everyone else so sure, soconfident of their place in the world and how they fit in to it? When I am able to think rationally, I wonder, is everyone quite as sure as I think they are? If they aren’t, we are alike and our struggles are similar. If they are, then their confidence has likely been gained through experience. If they are as unflappable and self-assured as I perceive them to be, then good. Life is not a competition. If we are not in competition with those around us, it makes sense that we cannot then ‘fall behind.’ The ‘but-they’re-doing-so-much-better-than-me-because-I-saw-that-one-post-on-facebook’ mentality is so draining and poisonous. I am trying to restrain myself from comparing my journey to the journey of those around me. Sometimes the answer to reducing our stress-levels is as simple as ‘don’t think too much.’ Many of us inflict unnecessary suffering upon ourselves by analyzing situations needlessly, hypothesizing on a future that we can never fully be sure of until it arrives. I am trying to stop sweating it about the small stuff.
This one is embarrassing to admit because it’s so shallow, but I think it’s something many of us worry about: on bad self-image days, I worry that others think I’m unattractive. I can see a bad photo of myself and still be thinking about it long after the camera has been put away. I’m ashamed to say that there have been times that I’ve been having fun, enjoying myself and not caring how I look and someone has taken a candid photo of me. I’ve afterwards looked at this picture, been horrified, and it’s spoiled the otherwise fantastic time I’d been having. This is obviously pretty sad, self-obsessed, and not to mention pointless. I could spend an eternity analyzing my own reflection for flaws. At times we suffer with negative self-image, I think it’s helpful to remind ourselves that we are our own worst critics. No-one else is critiquing our profile side on, obsessing over whether our bellies look noticeably bloated or not. If you spoke to a friend in the same way that you think/speak about yourself, would you have many friends left? Thought not. I know that these ideas are easy to say and much, much harder to put into practice. I know most of us would probably feel pretty ridiculous standing in front of the mirror telling ourselves non-ironically; ‘I love you. You’re gorgeous, you’re wonderful’ (not that you shouldn’t tell yourself these things – you are undoubtedly both!) Most of the general populous, however, aren’t going to be parading around Gilderoy Lockhart style, waxing lyrical about the wonder of ‘me, magical me’ anytime soon. I’m not suggesting that we all can or should take self-confidence and self-love to those dizzying heights. But just making an effort to silence the negative thoughts surrounding our appearance that subtly chip away at our self-esteem over time can make a significantly positive impact upon how we feel about ourselves.
Iworry. ‘Why am I such a coward?’ I think, desperately. ‘Why do I find it so hard to take risks? Will I always be so afraid?’ Yes, that’s right, I worry about worrying. Incredible. If they did a degree in worrying, I would graduate with First Class Honors. How do I quieten these thoughts? I’ll be honest – sometimes, I can’t. Writing helps. So does yoga, usually. A good book. Consciously releasing any tension I am holding in my body. Smiling. Fresh air. Looking up at the sky. Remembering that I am a spec in a vast and incomprehensibly wide universe. Reminding myself that I love and am loved in return. 9 out of 10 times (an unofficial stat, but still), the things we are worrying about are usually not that significant, even if they feel vital at the time. If I f**ck up occasionally, I am learning that that’s okay. The world around me will not collapse. It sounds counter-intuitive but, actually, sometimes thinking about why we’re worrying and getting to the root of the fear we feel can actually be useful. For example, when I stop and think about it, I am able to understand that two reasons I find it hard to take risks are that;
a) I have a perfectionist streak, am terrified of failure, and as such find it hard to take leaps into the unknown. I am afraid that things will go wrong and I will be unable to deal with it. I will not be able to be ‘perfect.’
b) I am afraid of making a mistake and looking silly.
After I’ve identified the root of this fear, I am able to deal with it head-on. Do I really want to miss out on opportunities and life experiences because I will be chasing the impossible construction that is ‘perfection’? As for point B), again – is it worth missing out on all the things that life has to offer due to a fear of looking ‘silly’? Every mistake is an experience.
I read an article recently about the importance of developing a personal manta. This can sound slightly hippy-dippy, but having a go-to phrase just to silence the incessant mental chatter of worries can actually be really calming. It doesn’t have to be fixed. Mine varies daily. One that often works quite well is just reminding myself ‘there are good things happening all around me.’ I also like; ‘this is not as scary as it seems.’ Sometimes I need to reconnect with the present, ground myself and touch back down to Earth after floating away on a grey storm-cloud of anxiety. When I hear my voice raised a couple of octaves (and believe me, my voice is already pretty high-pitched) and tightened with anxious energy, I exhale, pause, and remind myself ‘I am doing my best.‘ These five words continue to motivate me to try my hardest, to fight becoming sucked in to a vacuum of suffocating stress, and help me to give myself a much needed reality check.
The crux of this post is, I suppose, that if you’re someone that feels your mind is constantly whirring, writhing with what-if’s and worries at any given moment, you cannot simply indulge or give-in to this negative mental chatter. I hope that some of the techniques I’ve explored in this post prove in some way useful – I feel I can only really loosely call it ‘advice.’ These are just some methods that I use when I’m bogged down in a marsh-land of insecurity and worry. They work for me, usually, and I really hope that they work for you. I truly hope that you can find the serenity you’re searching for, and that, for the most part, you can regain control of your thoughts and tell your mind to STFU.
I was thrilled when my cousin gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. I was less overjoyed when I discovered that all of my name suggestions had been overridden, (and believe me, they were excellent – who wouldn’t name their child Prosecco?) but there you are. They went for the more conventional, but admittedly more classically beautiful, ‘Ava Sophie’. A year on from Ava’s arrival, a lot has changed. I am now unironically invested in the global adventures of an unflinchingly enthusiastic unicorn and a group of four plucky spherical beings dubbed the ‘Go Jetters’. I know the difference between a ‘Snuggle Muzzy’ and a ‘Dribble Cloth’ – spoiler – they’re both Muslin Squares. It’s been an education. Below I’ve listed something that I’ve learnt for every month that baby Ava has graced the world with her Go-Jetting attitude and her inspirational, magnificently unapologetic ‘if-you-don’t-like-it-chuck-it-on-the-floor’ mentality.
1) Babies change. Fast. I’m not kidding, you blink and they have an extra tuft of hair and a tooth coming through. Baby has gone from essentially just sleeping, crying, eating and pooing to giggling, smiling, chattering to herself in a language us mere mortals cannot yet interpret, crawling and toddling. And, you know, continuing to cry, eat and poo on a regular basis.
2) You need approximately ten eyes to monitor them successfully. Obviously this depends vastly on the baby, (it sounds obvious, but this was something I hadn’t really grasped – each baby has their own personality, much like their fully grown counterparts), but the one I know, you put her down and at once she’s speeding off like a small, determined, baby-shaped Ferrari. So what if she doesn’t quite have full control of her limbs yet? Minor problem, babe. Babies are intrepid explorers and any room will be their jungle. Baby Ava spots something, she wants to investigate, and she will scale any obstacle in her way to do so. Which brings me to my next point nicely.
3) Babies are clever. This also makes them super entertaining to watch. My family will happily set Baby crawling about on the floor and watch her like our own personal Television set. Certainly more gripping viewing than post-2010 ‘Hollyoaks.’
6) There’s a lot of weird sh*t you can take your baby to. I’m not kidding, this baby has a better social life than me. Some of it sounds awesome. Some of it sounds vaguely sinister. In order to avoid provoking offence, I’ll let you make up your own mind about which of the following falls into which category. Here are some of the events and phenomena I’ve been introduced to through observing the adventures of Baby Ava. These include: ‘Baby Raves,’ ‘Cake Smashes,’ ‘Sensory Stories,’ ‘Baby Yoga,’ ‘Baby Gym,’ and ‘Underwater Baby Photography.’ A packed diary seems to be the norm in the Under-1 social set.
5) The spectrum of emotions which babies can provoke are vast. The joy when you hear them giggle (incidentally, babies laughter is in my opinion the purest sound in the universe) is unequaled. When I manage to make baby smile rather than cry, I am filled with a warm glow of accomplishment. Babies love me, I think smugly. I’m practically Mary Poppins. I should probably pursue a career in childcare. That is, until the bottom lip starts to wobble and the wails start up, creeping in volume from plaintive whines to high-decibel, ear-drum shattering squawks. Other possible side effects of exposure to a child under 12 months for longer than a one hour period include: exhaustion, feelings of inadequacy, feelings of exhilaration, feelings of confusion and multiple other vacillating emotions. Possible queries you may have might include but not be limited to: ‘Where is the baby, exactly?’ ‘Was it me she was smiling at or the Rusk cookie I’m holding?’ ‘Does it smell funny in here?’
6) No matter how cool you think you are, you will transmute into a performing monkey in order to entertain a baby. You will lose all self-respect. You will not care. They will also entertain you in return. Snapchat is a blessing to immature aunts everywhere. Put the dog filter on your beloved offspring, parents. It’s funny and cute in equal measures, promise.
7) I learnt of the existence of the ‘voice.’ The ‘voice’ is cooey and I never thought that it or the approximation of any sound reminiscent of it would ever escape my lips non-sarcastically. ‘Who’s a gorgeous girl?’ I ask, grinning stupidly. ‘Who’s a gorgeous girl? Ava is!’ ‘Who’s sounding a little bit mentally deficient right now? Auntie Lorna is! That’s right!‘ And on it goes.
6) Every musical toy is annoying. Every single one. There are no exceptions. Baby Ava has a penguin creature I find especially infuriating. Conversely, 80% of the television output intended for toddlers and small children is oddly fascinating and I imagine would be vastly entertaining to watch drunk. I will save my observations upon the similarities between babies and drunks for a later date.
7) Babies have more carry-on luggage than Mariah Carey embarking upon a world tour. They go through clothes, fast. Mainly because they grow fast, also because they’re liable to attract any stain possible. I’ll leave it to your imagination what kind of stains a baby under 12-months may be likely to accumulate.
8) Every mother’s baby supplies bag is a bit like Mary Poppins’ carpet bag. Except instead of lamps and coat-racks, they have 24 different bibs and stuff like sensory lasers. Or something. Probably nappies and formula, too. I don’t know, I’m just the childless observer over-here. A simple trip to the park is like packing for an Arctic expedition. And God forbid you forget something, because it will invariably turn out to be vital and you will have maneuver that deceptively hefty Mother Care pram back up the hill and head for home ASAP.
9) Number nine brings me to a more serious point and something that I never quite grasped the implications of before – there’s a hell of a lot of pressure on mums to be permanently perfect and unflappable. You must either be the archetypal, Fairy-Liquid-Advert-of-the-1950s stay-at-home mother or successfully enroll your offspring into an extortionate nursery that rears its own chickens and serves organic pureed artichoke and caviar. There seems to be an assumption among some of the ranks of MumsNet.com that should you deviate from either of these options, you are a Terrible Mother™. This is, obviously, insane. I was baffled. I thought that babies just needed milk, attention and, I don’t know, a bit of room to crawl about. It appears to be more complex than that. I am infinitely impressed by mothers. If you’re reading this and you have a child and are struggling under the inhuman pressure placed upon you to be ‘perfect’, just know that, unqualified as I am, I feel that you’re really great and you’re doing brilliantly. Keep muddling on. I get the impression that half of parenthood is trial and error. You’re doing the best you can, and that’s good enough.
10) There is no love in the world like a mother’s love. I kind of knew this already – my own mother still generously loves her overgrown and still vaguely incompetent baby (me) even though I am no longer cute and bald. (Yes, bald. I wore a lot of hats. I worked them, though). She loves me when I’m funny and happy and I’ve done something well and I’m a little bit proud. She still resolutely loves me when I am really annoying and anxious and overly-sensitive and grumpy and have done something a bit thick. So yeah, I was already aware that a mother’s love is something infinitely special. But the sheer magnitude of the maternal capability to love her child without limits or conditions was something that watching my cousin cradle a new-born baby Ava really reinforced to me. I watched her smile down upon a part of herself made flesh and knew that she was born to be a mother. I watch in awe as she seems instinctively to know what her wants, and is able to comfort her when nothing and no-one else can. She will protect that child like a lioness protects its cub. She will be overprotective and magnificent, like 90% of parents out there. Ava is one lucky baby. So am I.
11) Babies will fill a gap in your family you never knew existed. Even though the logistic difficulties of staging a seating plan for Christmas Dinner may suggest otherwise, the rewards of the presence of an extra tiny human outweigh the difficulties. You will kind of forget what your family looked like before the bundle of joy filled that baby-shaped hole. They make what already felt complete somehow more perfect.
12) You will love them unconditionally. To you, they are perfect. In fact, I am a purist, and would go as far as to say that I believe that all babies are perfect. Even the ones that are kind of ugly. My goddaughter is the cutest baby ever to have graced the Earth with her presence which is why, I assume, her favourite hobbies include looking in the mirror and getting her (usually sticky) fingers all over my Iphone and attempting to take selfies. Incidentally, if you’d like to hear a more complex theory as to why babies enjoy looking in the mirror, google Lacan’s ‘Mirror Stage.’ Not if you’ve got kids though. If you do, you’re probably too busy reading ‘That’s Not My Fluffy Cat,’ or something similar. I’d argue that by the fifth reading, that’s an equally grueling experience, if less intellectually stimulating.
So, all in all, I feel like I’ve already learnt a hell of a lot from watching Baby Ava’s first foray into this crazy little thing called life. I feel like I’m doing passably okay in my Auntie duties so far. I bought a fluffy rabbit teddy. I instigated the purchase of a Fleetwood Mac Lullaby CD, which I feel was really my most significant contribution to date. I truly mean it when I say that watching her grow has already been incredibly rewarding – not only that, but watching my cousin transmute from mate to mum (and a fantastic one at that), has been both unnerving and a gift in equal measures. I love to watch my own mum and dad play with her, seeing the joy in everyone that comes into contact with a baby that is purity personified. It seems that tiny humans bring out the best in most of us, and I can only say that I’m sure as Ava passes the landmark of her first year, I’m certain that the next twelve months will be as equally filled to the seams with love, joy, ups, downs, surprises, and change for all of us. ‘The Wheels On The Bus’ will probably be playing in the background.
“I did not decide which were the weeds and which were the flowers, my child.” These words were not, surprisingly, uttered by Tolkien’s Gandalf and ripped straight from the pages of ‘Fellowship Of The Ring.’ They were, in fact, proclaimed mystically by mother over an otherwise fairly normal phone conversation. I paused, impressed by the profound theological impact of this statement. “Wow,” I said, “that was wise.” “Hmm,” she replied, unruffled. “Well, I’m sick of your dad digging all my nice flowers up.”
I have to say, I align with my dad on this one – I have on more than one occasion dug up some of mum’s bulbs in the garden under the mistaken impression that they were weeds. I found that whilst helping out in what I privately like to dub my ‘Paddington Style’, i.e ‘doing a magnificent job of well-meaningly f**king everything up’, it was actually really difficult to differentiate between a weed ripe for plucking and a sprout in need of cultivation. As much as I adore photographing, smelling and being generally appreciative of the existence of flowers (and some weeds, in fact) as a concept, Alan Titchmarsh will not be calling me up for gardening tips any time soon.
I actually find that the flower analogy is incredibly useful in thinking about our own beauty. An orchid doesn’t look much like a lily, and yet both are beautiful. People have different preferences, much as they are likely to in terms of physical appearance. Where someone else sees a weed to be eradicated, you may see a flower. You may prefer poppies to sunflowers. That doesn’t negate the fact that someone else might wish to fill every available surface in their home with the jolly yellow flower. (Disclaimer – the sunflower method is not necessarily a recommended style of interior design – the way my year 8 art teacher told it, it didn’t seem to cheer Van Gogh up much, unfortunately). A bluebell, I recently discovered, is technically a weed. I would actually argue that it’s my favourite wildflower. It’s all a matter of perception.
Model and actress Cara Delevingne mused on the subjective nature of beauty on a thought-provoking recent Instagram post. Her previously long, sleek, Barbie-esque blonde locks shaved off completely for her latest role, she looks powerful and starkly beautiful. This new, raw aesthetic is a complete departure from her previously carefully cultivated appearance.
“Its exhausting to be told what beauty should look like,” writes Delevingne. “I am tired of society defining beauty for us. Strip away the clothes, Wipe Off the make up, cut off the hair. Remove all the material possessions. Who are we? How are we defining beauty? What do we see as beautiful?”
Indeed. How are we defining beauty? Why should we be given rigid, and often paradoxical, standards to conform to in terms of how we should look? Why should we let society decide for us what is a weed and what is a flower?
Ultimately, as trite and cliché as the saying is, beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. The tulip doesn’t wish it were small and dainty like the daisy, and the rose doesn’t berate itself for the existence of its thorns. They just bloom where they are planted. We shouldn’t waste our time comparing ourselves to others, or view someone else’s body/smile/general appearance as ‘goals’. As hard as it is, we should aim to appreciate another’s beauty without questioning our own, without wishing that we were beautiful in the same way. As Miranda Kerr states; “All flowers are beautiful in their own way, and that’s like women too. I want to encourage women to embrace their own uniqueness.”
Like the flower, we all need sunlight, water, and space to spread our roots in order to flourish. Live a life that nourishes you, and you will undoubtedly bloom.
SlimFast. Weight Watchers. Tea-toxes. We are bombarded each day with adverts informing us of the multiple sins our bodies are committing, and what exactly we should be doing to rectify these ‘problem areas.’ I am not saying that there is anything inherently wrong with diets, or with any of the methods I have listed above (the exception to this, in my opinion, is the ‘detox tea’ – as well marketed as these are, they are essentially laxatives in tea form, and are incredibly easy to abuse). If calorie counting, monitoring ‘syns’, or tracking macros enables you to feel happy and healthy, and helps you stay at a body weight right for you, then that is commendable. It just hasn’t worked out for me.
I fell into the trap of obsessively calorie counting. I gained weight at university, as many of us do. I drank far too much and comfort ate out of boredom and loneliness. A very understandable, human thing to do. I was still the same clothing size as when I arrived, but was certainly much fluffier and wider than I had been. There was fat where there had been no fat before. I took to pinching it whenever I showered or looked in the mirror, disgusted, feeling like a stranger in my own body. I was revolted and uncomfortable that there suddenly seemed to be ‘more’ of me. I’d always been insecure, with my body image and how I felt about myself varying from day to day. However,
things were becoming increasingly worse. The more I stared in the mirror, the larger I felt. I analysed my reflection, panicked, my heart thudding. Irrational thoughts would creep insidiously into my brain, spreading and taking root like poison ivy. What if I just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger? I imagined myself blowing up to gargantuan proportions, ballooning in Harry Potter Aunt Marge style. I felt that Something Drastic must be done. And quickly. I would gain back control of my rebelling body.
So I turned to the unfailingly reliable source of information (ha!) Google, and started scrutinising Instagram ‘fitspiration’ accounts for tips. Most advised a strict diet of no more that 1,200 calories (what I now know to be the recommended intake for a six to eight year old child). I gleaned that I must exercise intensely as much as possible in order to achieve maximum fat loss. I must record everything I consumed on a calorie-counting app, so as to keep myself ‘accountable.’
I went about it with a vengeance. I lost my tiny little mind. I had dreams about vanilla cheesecake. The low-calorie aisle in the supermarket was my kingdom. Everything I ate was now low calorie, low fat, low flavour. This new ‘healthy’ lifestyle resulted in making me the most mentally and physically unhealthy I have ever been. I became fearful and stressed around food, and was undoubtedly a nightmare to live with. I can only give a sincere apology to my parents. It must be unnerving to watch your child, once not adverse to following an entire takeaway pizza with generous scoops of Ben & Jerry’s, almost cry when necessity dictated I must eat white bread instead of brown. Today, I still hear the tension in my own voice when I am faced with a food choice I am uncomfortable with. I anger and frustrate myself. I hate that I seem unable to just enjoy delicious food without worrying about the impact it will have upon my body. It’s irritating, and representative of everything I do not want to be as a person. I sincerely hope that the day will come soon when I can truly feel free in my food choices.
So, following this new punitive regime, the weight fell off. Sure, I was miserable, exhausting myself with hours of exercise and for a particularly dark weekend subsisting on unseasoned salad and reduced Sodium Covent Garden soup, but I was getting skinnier! I was also really f**cking miserable. I isolated myself on the off-chance that this sick regime might be noticed and challenged. I had panic attacks alone in my room. Even to the very few friends I eventually confided in, I found it difficult to be honest about how much I was struggling. I continued getting smaller. I was losing the love handles I’d loathed, the ample chest I’d been embarrassed by. I was hooked. My previously large chest was flatter, so looking down at my body, I only saw more fat that I felt needed to be erased. I couldn’t see how thin I was getting. I whittled myself down to a clothing size that wouldn’t have fit me at thirteen years old. I certainly didn’t feel any more attractive than I had previously. On days that I had a clear perception of what I truly looked like, I just got a sick sense of achievement from noting that the fragility I was feeling on the inside was finally being reflected in the mirror. I felt lost, and so my food intake became something I could control at a time I felt increasingly powerless.
Fat is not a four letter word. As much as our culture demonises being overweight under the self-righteous and dubious campaign of concern that ‘it’s just so unhealthy!’, the underweight body is just as unable to function optimally. My current lack of body fat ensures that I am permanently freezing, when others are shrugging of their jackets. I am embarrassed to shake hands with strangers because my hands are always icy. The health risks of being at a weight too low for your body’s comfortable ‘range’ are numerous and vastly frightening. Skinny is not always glamorous.
As a society, we need to work to stop the labelling of food as ‘good,’ or ‘bad’, and to stop proclaiming that we are so ‘naughty’ for eating that biscuit and that we must ‘work off’ that slice of birthday cake. I am trying to re-learn that food is just that – food. Calories are not insidious shadow demons. They are units of energy, designed to keep us alive. I deserve to eat whether I do a ten mile run or sit in bed all day, and you do too.
Lately, I have improved vastly, and am eating so many foods I would have deeemed ‘forbidden’ this time last year. I am attempting to regain to a healthy body weight. I will find it uncomfortable. I have become used to the protruding bones, the angled shoulders, the stick-like thighs, the lack of padding when I sit down. But I must, and I will. I am slowly learning to silence warped thoughts that whisper lies into my ear: that I must be small to be worthy of love, that I must control every aspect of my food and exercise regime or else I am a failure. They are not true. I would not hold anyone else to such an evil, f**cked up standard, so why do I punish myself with such unforgiving thoughts?
I want to be healthy, in its true, balanced sense. I want to get my period back, be more fun, more spontaneous, and live life to its fullest. I want to stop uncomfortable toe cramps from constantly numb feet. I want to stop feeling the chill that comes from the inside. I write this post not out of any desire for pity, but rather as a form of therapy. I must drill it into my psyche that I am more than a number on a scale or clothing tag. I deserve to be defined by more than my gravitational pull towards the Earth. As the end of my university degree will hopefully herald a new era of descreased stress levels, the easier I imagine it will be to gain, and to build a life and mentality that does not revolve around worries about the way I look. My new motto: Healthy = Happy. Happy is the new skinny.
In conclusion: I’d rather have a life over a thigh gap, and happiness over dizziness and fatigue and irritability and heartburn and lack of menstruation and all the other delightful things that come part and parcel of being at an unhealthily low body weight. If you’re reading this and struggling: please know that people don’t love you on the condition that you’re skinny, or that you can do ‘x’ number of minutes on a treadmill. They love you for you. For your laugh, for your kindness, for the light in your eyes that may have been duller, lately. Your life is for living now, not when you’re down a clothing size. Food is not something you earn, it’s a requirement to function. Love yourself now, as you are, and do what makes you happy. You deserve to. For the first time in a long while, I feel that I may be able to start following my own advice and live a life that reflects my beliefs. Life is precious, and we must make the most of it.
“Poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” Dead Poet’s Society (1989)
Sometimes the world can seem dark. Sometimes there’s a reason that everything is suddenly looking more grey-scale Kansas than glorious, technicolor Oz. But sometimes, perhaps even more frighteningly, there isn’t. Nothing is wrong. And yet nothing feels right. This fear is often vague, and sparked by everything and nothing at the same time. Sometimes I’m so consumed by irrational fears and worries that it feels as though there’s a ten-ton weight sitting on my chest. I feel like I’m suffocating, drowning in a spiral of ‘what-ifs’. It’s hard not to blame ourselves and feel somehow deficient when these sort of emotions plague us, particularly when on the exterior, we are under no actual threat. When I feel this weight settling on my chest on dark days, one thing I’ve found to be helpful is making a mental checklist of some of the things that I am most grateful for. This is a brief list of things that, to me, make the world a beautiful place, and make me happy to be alive.
Some moments that I have found especially beautiful.
Angels among us.
My family. Every single one of them. Especially my incredible parents. I am grateful every day for their health and their happiness.
Birdsong. Flowers. Blossom on the trees in Spring. The feel of sunshine on my back. The smell of freshly cut grass in the summer. The first taste of salt in the clean air at the seaside. Rich colours of fallen leaves and warm fires in Autumn. The freshness of the air and the dusting of snow on cars in the Winter. Hearing my own footfall in the peace of the forest.
My friends. Listening to someone talk about something they’re passionate about and noticing the light grow in their eyes. Being the one to put that light there. Having someone else incite that glow of excitement in me. Finding common ground and shared interests in unexpected places. The feel of a happy blush spreading across my cheeks when someone pays me an unexpected compliment.
Art. Music. Books that stop time because they weave you into a spell of magic and are capable of transporting you to a whole other world. Being introduced to art, music and books that others love, even if it’s not my thing.
Laughter. Any laughter, all laughter, as long as it’s sincere and kind. Tinkling, delicate giggles. Belly gusting roars. Ugly laughs, shouty laughs. Babies laughter. Suppressed snorts of laughter in inappropriate situations. Hearing my parents laugh at something from another room.
Feeling beautiful. Smiling and truly meaning it. Making someone else feel beautiful. Making someone else smile.
Travelling to a new place and seeing something that takes my breath away. Finding beauty in the wonders of the world. Finding beauty in the fields near my home. The fact that my father can see a house I find irredeemably ugly and he can make me look for what makes it unique. Listening to my mother tell me what kind of bird is in the garden.
The fact that my body and brain are capable of noticing and enjoying these things. I can see. I can smell. I can hear. I can walk. These are all blessings that largely grow unnoticed everyday. Every so often, I make a conscious effort to acknowledge them.
Angels among us.
Smiling and meaning it.
Sunlight through the trees.
So yes, sometimes the world can look dark. Bad things happen. Sometimes we are afraid. But the world is also filled with light. This post probably sounds trite and cliched. I don’t care, much. I think it’s so important to remember how blessed we are. I know that I am often guilty of being blindsided, of being dismissive of the tiny facets of life that prove to be what makes it worth living. I am trying to reduce the amount of times I complain that ‘I have nothing going for me.’ Life can sometimes feel like one chore and effort and disappointment after another. Yet, as I type this, babies around the globe are being born. Flowers are blooming. Someone is laughing and meaning it, people are falling in love. One person is looking at another and realising that they’re a little less alone than they thought they were. As hard as it can be to see sometimes, every day is a blessing and a miracle. There is good in every moment. So, hard as it is, I’m going to try not to get so hung up on issues that seem terrifying at the time, but in the long run will fade into insignificance. I am learning that I am not going to be happy every second of everyday. To expect to be so is unreasonable and unattainable and will only lead to further feelings of dissatisfaction. You and I will be happy and we will be sad. Sometimes we will feel nothing, sometimes we will feel as though we have so many emotions that our body can’t possibly contain them all. All of this is okay.
I am going to try so hard to quash my irrational sense of dread when it rears its ugly head, to leave my comfort zone, and to push myself to live a life I’m proud of. I want to live a life not ruled by fear, but rather one filled with gratitude, love and the knowledge that dawn arrives even after the darkest of nights.