It’s important to be alone sometimes.

The amazing Alain Du Botton argues that it is not possible for any of us to be truly sane. All of us are burdened in some way by psychological harms. The most caring and well meaning of parents will still bequeath us with some kind of baggage, if only through the impact of managing their own and the world will add to that as we survive the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Horrors and heartbreaks will come to the most blessed of lives. No one is safe. No one is sane. The best we can aim for, he says, is to be ‘sanely insane’. By this, he means, that we should be self aware enough to help others, with humour and charm, to navigate the mine field of our fractured selves without losing a limb in the process.

In order to achieve this, we need help, lots of help. I agree with him. I honestly believe that philosophy, psychology, politics and ethics should be on the curriculum at every school. Just as important as geography, history and math. To understand and to cherish the complex beast that is a human being. While we appear to be open to new ideas about mental and as well as physical wellness, we are uncomfortable to really sit with these notions particularly when it comes to the darker and more challenging sides of our personalities and emotional misadventures.

In order to achieve this, along side of help, I think we need to have the space and the liberty to be alone. Some people might need more than others, some might struggle with it at all, but solitude is a right that we should all claim every once in a while. The less we get, often, the less we know what to do with it and when you don’t know how to be alone, when you are defined so much by others that you don’t even know who you are when you’re alone, you are drifting further from the kind of self-knowledge that will allow you to be ‘sanely insane’.

I used to find it easy to be alone. Often preferred it in fact. The press of others and their emotions and expectations. The friction caused by differing desires and needs could be a little overwhelming to me at times. Alone was where I found peace. After years of a stressful job, I elected to start working as a ghost writer and I would spend hours and hours alone. My husband often worried about it. But I was happy. I was at peace. If I wasn’t working, I would read, bake bread and go out walking for hours with a camera. I had no specific need to be around other people. You can’t do it all the time, obviously, we are social animals and isolation can drive you just as crazy as other humans, but being alone can be deeply restorative and is often the key to getting to grips with whatever it is that ails you.

After my children were born, I was seldom alone and, when I was, the tasks I was required to perform overwhelmed every minute. We went through some rough months and years where one drama followed another, our fathers died, my mother alcoholism worsened along with her falls until we moved her in, multiple house moves, covid. I lost the capacity to know how to be by myself. A kind of mania set in. I was so desperate to make the most of being alone, yet so used to being constantly busy and constantly stimulated, I didn’t know how to use and to appreciate that precious time. I had learned to be defined solely by my usefulness to others. I needed constant stimulation, constant validation. I was less calm than I ever recall being before, riven by anxiety. Constantly in need of something. I had no peace.

It has taken months of being alone while my children are at school. Months of forcing myself to stop, watch a movie, eat some f***ing carbohydrates, dare to gain a little weight, to remember what it feels like to be me. I know who I am when I’m alone now. I can’t tell you how many emotions and traumas have come up and out over the last few months. All of which I have talked through with a therapist. The work isn’t done yet either. I need to have some long conversations with my shadow self and I am yet to allow myself to fully grieve for my father. All that will take time. Time alone.

I can tell you how many passions have reawakened. A love of literature and psychology, a desire for learning and emotional and spiritual growth. Have you read any Rainer Maria Rilke? You really should. And Somerset Maughn. I have Carl Jung and Anais Nin on my night stand stand and Kahil Gibran on my wish list. Oh the books I am buying! And the capacity to focus on my passions rather than approaching life with a splatter gun of enthusiasm and no capacity to think or breathe deeply. I, finally, have peace. And it shows, the people I work with now say I bring calm with me.

If being alone frightens you, you need to face that fear. If you don’t know who you are when you’re alone, you need to find out. If being alone fills you with a manic need to fill that time, you need to slow down and prioritise yourself. I’m not saying it will be easy, but it will be worth it. Like all good things. To heal and know yourself, you need help, help and to be alone.

On the Right to be Complicated or Why we should all read ‘Up at the Villa’ by Somerset Maughn.

I had an idea for a blog: ‘Big Titty Traumas’. It was going to be flirtatious and a little bit feminist. But feminist in a good way. I like to believe that my brand of feminism is one that men can relate to. If I can make feminism funny and sexy and get just one man to feel less threatened and more on board then I feel I’ve done the world a service. I’d been planning this blog for a while.

The trouble was that before I got to write it, I had an awkward conversation. Same subject but approached outside of my control and when I tried to respond I couldn’t find the funny. All I managed to do was dredge up a bunch of unresolved upset. It turns out that hidden beneath the large breasted flirt still lurks the little romantic who felt very bruised by the world of sex and men when she was young.

You see, I became a teen in the 90s. The era of Baywatch, when large breasted women were either frumpy or sex objects with nothing in between. When it was near impossible to so much as a buy a bra in my size and those that I could buy basically fell into two categories: the granny and the Slut. One more or less covered me up to my neck making most fashion more or less impossible and the other was clearly designed for women with implants as it offered no meaningful support whatsoever and the girls would be making a bid for freedom before I so much as left the room. I’d aim for pretty and get wench, quirky and get slutty. My body betrayed me at every step of the way. Sure, the boys liked my boobs, but not in the way I wanted. I’d developed my notion of love and sex through reading Shakespeare and the romantic poets. I was looking for a Benedict to my Beatrice, a Jamie to my Nina, not a parade of men and boys who wanted nothing more to get their hands on my norks. I was good enough for a fumble, but I wasn’t girlfriend material. Lusted after, not loved. By nineteen I was thoroughly done with romance. I remained stubbornly a virgin until I was twenty three and decided to pursue relationships based on more practical criteria like trust, safety and being a good team. Not the dream of my youth but far preferable to other the option I had explored at the time, that of cutting off my breasts, shaving my head and taking to a life of seclusion.

Until that awkward conversation, I hadn’t realised how much of my identity, at least on line, is a projection. A coat of armour that I learned to wear when I was young. It protects the soft underbelly of a girl who likes camping and reading poetry and philosophy but was generally assumed to be a bimbo whose breasts got bigger through repeated pumping. That’s not to say that I don’t like sexy lingerie and my words about reaching my sexual peak are an honest reflection of where I was at the time, but that’s not all that I am. I am both the woman and the romantic young girl and, equally, I am neither. I am the point at which the two interject: a messy, complicated work in progress.

Which is how we come to Somerset Maughn. The blurb on the cover says that to deny love is to deny life itself. A trite and dishonest portrayal of a story that is quite harrowing in some ways. Our heroine is not in love with either of her suitors as the book comes to a close. She chooses the one that Sees her (the choice of a capital letter is quite conscious). The one who has seen her at her worst, making terrible choices with tragic consequences, and sees the naivety and romanticism that drove them. He helps her clean up her mess, putting himself at terrible risk, and loves her all the more for it. He Sees her, all of her, the beauty and the horror and loves it all. And she Sees him, not for the mistakes he’s made, and he’s made plenty of his own, but for the insightful, courageous and sensitive man that lies beneath.

Modern living, powered by social media, is a constant exercise in image creation. We project the image that we want the world to see. Finely honing every nuance, filtering photos, choosing the best image, the ones that show us as we want the world to see us. The social ape constantly craving acceptance and appreciation. We want to be loved. But ultimately, that love, the love that is based on the image we project will always fall short. It will always prove hollow and any praise that we receive will always miss the mark because we are not the images that we project. We are more and less and everything in between. The more likes we chase the emptier we will ultimately feel.

We are all a messy conglomeration of impressions and images. The people we are deep down, the parts we hide, the parts we’re afraid to share and the parts we project. What we really long for, when we long for acceptance, is not the acceptance of the many for the finely crafted image that we have chosen to show. It is not the applause we receive for the carefully articulated performance of the person we think the world wants us to be. What we long for is love and acceptance for the person that we really are. It’s not enough simply to be seen. We want to be Seen. Deep down in all our complex beauty.

It’s okay to be flawed, It’s okay to be complicated. It’s okay to make a mess of things. Someone is going to love you, all of you, anyway. So maybe it’s time to turn off your social media and look at the people around you, the ones who have seen you at your worst and loved you anyway and, if you feel that they aren’t there, then reach out into the real world. Pursue the things that you love and be the you, you really are, because they are out there. I know they are.

Don’t forget to take your Agnus Castus.

Or do, you know, if you’re a guy or if you’re a girl who’s not bothered by bouts of depression and sudden rage during the build up to your monthly visitation. If you are…TAKE YOUR GOD DAMNED AGNUS CASTUS. For the love of humanity. You owe it to yourself and everyone around you.

I used to slip through my monthly cycle as if it was nothing. Four painless days and no mood swings. Did I mention no pain. (I don’t have cellulite either, do you hate me yet?). Then I had children. Two children. And I started getting old. Now I spend a couple of days feeling like someone is trying to knife me in the lower back and lower belly simultaneously and I turn into a ball of near homicidal rage and/or depression during the week before. I might be exaggerating but the change in me is so pronounced that the children and I have a name for it, I am visited by the horrible hormone monster who is angry, sweaty and shouts a lot. I hate that mother******.

The worst part about it all is that I have found the hormone monster’s kryptonite. It is a wonder pill called Agnus Castus. If I take my Agnus Castus I feel like I’m 22 again, laughing and rollerskating my way through my monthly like someone in a body form advert. I jest. I haven’t tried rollerskating since I was 16. Just not my bag baby. Far too bookish and nerdy for anything fun like that. When I was 22 my favourite place was with my nose in a book. I digress, the point I was trying to make is that I forget to take the thing. I forget to take it and then I turn into something from the Exorcist, my head turning 180 degrees and suddenly spewing high decibels at the poor children who I had been completely happy with mere seconds before.

I am fully aware that these are the kind of things that women are not supposed to talk about but I’m too honest by far and finding humour in my problems can probably be credited with keeping me sane for the last…forever. Gallows humour my friends. It is the hidden saviour of mankind.

What scares me the most about my sudden hideous PMT (or PMS if you’re American) is that it might signal the build up to the change. The change. It’s been talked about far more than it used to be but somehow that is only making me even more terrified. Like looking at real post partum bodies when you’re pregnant. I’m looking into the future and it’s a future I would fondly like to avoid. Nope, I’ll do without the anger and the hot flushes thank you. Dropping collagen levels? No, no, you can keep that too. Gaining weight around the middle. Are you kidding? Good as I am thanks. Where’s a vampire or a possessed painting when you need one? I acknowledge my skills as a parent may be compromised by my becoming a blood sucking member of the undead or a soulless, immoral, party girl but can a compromise not be reached?

I comfort myself in the knowledge that bizarrely long reproductive lifespans are apparent on both sides of my family and that I could well still be fully functional (not that anyone, including myself, would really want me to be) by the time I’m pushing 60. Having said that, rather like aging, putting it off is not the same as preventing it. At some point that oestrogen crash is coming and I’m going to have to navigate it. Possibly while parenting teenagers.

Can’t go over it, can’t go under it, must go through it. Shouty, sweaty, shouty, sweaty. But, apparently, when the come down is over and the body is no longer craving the drug that it has come to know and love, there is a kind of peace. The knowledge that, this is me now, no longer compelled by biology. Free from the hormonal compulsion to reproduce. Finally able to live in my body rather than being ruled by it. Maybe. Maybe there is a silver lining to the looming cloud.

For now, I will set an alarm on my phone, take my Agnus cactus and keep hoping that getting very much older is a destination a long way from here and that I am only as old as I look.

The many Apocalypses we live through.

Apocalypse (noun) : An event which results in great destruction and world changing consequences.

If you didn’t learn that we are, if you are reading this, living through an apocalypse right at this very moment, what have you been doing with yourself?? The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in great damage and has been a world changing event, how many of those changes will ultimately prove to be permanent remains to be seen. I’m dubious because I live in England, where the government has decided that, now most of us are vaccinated, it’s all good and our infection rates are soaring. Life is basically back to normal, apart from the odd bout of self isolation and the occasional company which has decided that office space is too expensive, except for the fact that as many people are dying of coronavirus now as back in March, when we were locked down.

Some apocalypses last forever though. The little apocalypses that change our own little worlds in dramatic ways. We live through many of these in our lives without thinking about true momentousness of it all. Maybe, if we thought about these events as our own little apocalypses, we would give ourselves a little more compassion. A heartbreak, a death, a marriage, a birth, a house move: all these things have world changing consequences for our own little selves.

Viewed in this light, I have lived through no fewer than eight apocalypses in the last six years and that’s without including coronavirus. Five of them in the space of less than twelve months in the year my son was born. Looked at from this perspective, maybe it’s okay that I find myself feeling tired and unmotivated. My children are both now in school and I have my life stretching out ahead of me, a midlife crisis to contend with and a desperate need to push myself into creation rather than stagnation but I all I really want to do is lie down and read a book. I want to wrap myself up in cotton wool. I want someone to look after me and tell me that everything is going to be okay. I’m so dog tired. But life doesn’t stop. It just keeps coming. The big dramas and the small dramas. The relentless monotony of housework (sorry, if you enjoy it, I totally envy you, I hate that sh*t). I feel like I’ve picked myself up a hundred times, and I will do it a hundred times more, but I am so dog tired.

Mental health disorders are on the increase at the moment and I’ve talked, before, about our duty to ourselves to find ways to be happy, even if it’s just in small pleasures, because life just hasn’t been kind to anyone lately. I sit here at my keyboard, wondering how many people out there are feeling the exact same thing. How many people out there just want to stop? It’s ironic that that’s what we thought that the first lockdown would be. A stop and reset. Looking back it seems so naive.

Not the most amusing of blogs this time and I will write on my report card, ‘must try harder’ and aim to come back next time with something witty. In the mean time, take care of yourself, the dusting can wait, it’s okay if the floor needs hoovering. Get in the bath with the kids if you can’t have one alone. Call a friend if alone is what it feels like you always are. Rest if you need to. And, if you need someone to tell you, everything IS going to be okay. I promise.

What makes you Happy?

Someone asked me this question the other day and I found myself largely incapable of answering.  As usual, I over-complicated the question.  My brainium instantaneously accessed ‘The Art of Happiness’ by the Dalai Lama, which I read years ago, and raised philosophical questions about how we confuse happiness and pleasure (if you’ve not read it, think Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Angel’s moment of pure happiness… wasn’t actually ejaculating).   But I think it’s an important question for now.  For all of us.  It’s been a tough time hasn’t it?  Isolating, restricting and a little scary.  Some of us will have lost loved ones and are going through the horrendous long grind of grief.   I don’t think I’ve spoken to a single person lately who has not been struggling with their marriage, their family or their mental health.  

So many people are unhappy right now.  Even if it’s only tiny steps at a time, we all need to work at being that little bit happier.  So, does it matter whether we are talking pleasure, enjoyment or true happiness?  In normal times, I would say ‘yes’.  Pleasure is short term, happiness and contentment should be lasting.  If you’re constantly chasing pleasure, you’ll miss out on some of the bigger joys that come with hard work.  Big love, parenthood and major life achievements all take work and may involve sacrificing pleasure in order to reach a bigger goal.  Right now, however, when we’ve all been through a tougher time than any of us ever anticipated having to face, maybe it doesn’t matter how we achieve a sense of happiness and wellbeing, as long as we do, somehow. 

The truth is that sometimes the bigger, more worthy, paths to happiness may be denied us.  Maybe our responsibilities are too great and we have to put our bigger dreams aside in order to do what’s right.   In those circumstances viewing small pleasures as a path to happiness is the only way to remain sane. 

So what makes you happy?  It’s okay if you don’t know, if you haven’t thought about it in years.  Go get a pen and paper, do some brainstorming.  Take a few days to dwell on it.  I did.  Do you want to know where I got to?  It’s a surprisingly long list and I intend to use it to improve my days. 

1) Spending quality time with my kids.  The kind of time that doesn’t involve me nagging them to sit nicely at the table or tidy the playroom.  You know?  That kind of time. 

2)  Good company and conversation. 

3)  Laughter.  I really don’t do this enough. 

4)  Being outside. 

5)  Good food.  Trying new foods.  Cooking when it’s not a chore. 

6)  Nice underwear (obviously 😉 ) 

7)  Feeling pretty. 

8)  Hot baths.   With a book or with a friend, either works. 

9)  Sunshine and summer rain. 

10)  Being by the water. 

11) Reading and feeling intellectually challenged. 

12)  Writing and feeling like I get the opportunity to express myself. 

13)  The first sip of a cold beer on a hot day.   

14)  The pop of a champagne cork. 

15)  Having the chance to dress up. 

16)  Beautiful places and beautiful things:  art, archeology, antiques, far flung places. 

17)  Travel.  I miss going on adventures. 

18)  Running, yoga, moving my body and learning what’s it’s capable of. 

19)  Trying new things.  If I’m not learning belly dance and how to play my guitar (at the least by Christmas) someone come and kick me and, while we’re at it,  I sooooo need to reorganize to try aerial yoga because that looks epic. 

20)  The theatre.  God, I miss the theatre.  Someone, please take me to the theatre. 

I could go on, because, actually, when you start thinking about the things that stimulate you and make you happy, it kind of starts to steamroller.  I think, particularly now, that we have a responsibility to ourselves to be just a little bit happier.  If we can, as much as we can, little by little, everyday. 

The Generational Cycle of body shame.

I went on my first diet when I was sixteen. I gained weight during puberty. My mother had tried to persuade me that it’s normal for women to have a rounded lower belly. But I wanted to lose weight and so we started calorie counting. I acutely remember taking cabbage in vinegar and tuna fish to school for lunch and weighing out my dinners. My mother had been openly called fat by her mother so in many ways I was lucky. But I had grown up surrounded by calorie counting and Bay Watch was popular back then so we all knew what we wanted to look like and we all knew we were never going to get there. I laboured a few pounds off, not many, but it was enough to make me feel like I’d achieved something. I never was particularly big, more curvaceous. I once established, in a rather awkward maneuver using the kitchen scales, that the majority of the pounds I wanted to lose were located in my boobs.

But that first diet wasn’t the only diet. There have been many, many more diets since then. There was the diet where I tried to drink mainly juice and the diet where I ate vats of vegetable and bean soup (very filling, nearly no calories), there was my time on the Madeleine Shaw eight week clean eating program (lost loads, then got pregnant again) and the times I spent on my fitness pal. I’ve probably spent more time on a diet than off one. My relationship with my body is probably not the best. Self acceptance is really hard for me, on almost every level. I try to fix problems, including myself.

Recently, I have lost a lot of weight. It’s not been overly challenging. In fact, I’d be quite happy to keep eating this way for the rest of my life. I measure 37″-27″-35″. I’m a UK size 6 (at least on the bottom half) which I think is quite small. I’m considering dropping a few more pounds, just because I think being below where you were hoping to reach means that if you gain a few pounds over Christmas or a holiday, you’ll go up to a place that you’re still happy with. I can say categorically, however, that weight loss does not automatically make you happy with your body. That happiness may be still be contingent on a whole host of outside factors.

Over the weekend I found that I had put on a few pounds, it’s a certain time of the month, it’s been hot, I’ve been enjoying too much wine in the sun….it’s water weight but somehow it’s still destroying. Then my daughter compared me to two women who I know are bigger than me. One she said was narrower, it turned out that she meant her face. The other was, apparently, exactly the same, it turned out she meant the boobs. It felt like I was being sucker punched while I was down. I got defensive and almost a little tearful, she got upset because she’d upset me. We ended up having a cuddle, while I wrestled with the chasm between my intellectual knowledge that my behaviour was irrational and feeding into creating another generation of body unhappiness and my desperate emotional need, still, to be thin.

So the question is, how do we break the cycle if we are still within the throws of body shame ourselves? How do we not pay that forward when we are, ourselves, still obsessing over the scales and when society is still full of photoshopped images of feminine perfection? When we know that shopping in the wrong shop and coming out with a size bigger than we expected, because clothing sizes are so not standard for women, can ruin our day? How could I turn a bad situation better?

I found myself thinking about an article I read which discussed how well intentioned white families often fail to adequately address issues of race when bringing up their children. The truth is that we often fail to address it at all, we’re not comfortable talking about it and we hope that by ignoring it, we will somehow bring up children who are ‘colour blind’, when all that does is create an environment in which we are ignorant to the very real struggles that people of colour face every day. We can’t be colour blind because that ignores the problem, instead we need to talk the sh*t out of it and address it everyday, working to make things better.

I started to wonder if what we need to do about body shaming, in the same way that I have done about feminism, is to create a dialogue. Admit that there is a problem and make it a problem we can talk about. My daughter loves dinosaurs, that’s not traditionally a girl area. We talk about that. We talk about how a lot of toys geared towards girls are often pink and sparkly and a bit condescending and dull. So Kitty knows that it’s cool to like what she likes whether those things are traditionally girlie or not, even if she did get offended that my mother laughed when I told her I had bought Kitty’s cool new school shoes in the boys section (they are super cool though, t rexes and flashing lights and everything). She knows that having babies is a choice, not a requirement, and that she can have a career instead or as well as as, it’s all up to her. We talk about these things, in little short bursts all the time. What if we did the same thing about weight? (Advise on the areas I need to address with Archie would be well received, I know all about the issues women face, it’s harder to know about the issues men face, at least in part because they don’t like talking about it.)

So I tried it out. I told her that it’s silly and unnecessary to get upset about what size you are but that society can often make you feel like thinner is better and that mummy had struggled with that ever since she was a teenager. Kitty asked a few questions and then got distracted by wrapping her brother’s birthday presents. We moved on. It’s the first conversation but, hopefully, it won’t be the last. Maybe by being frank about the issue, at an early stage, by the time the dreaded teenaged years rock round, Kitty will have made the message part of who she is and she’ll know to question the pressure when it starts to mount, or maybe she’ll see it all for what it is and none of it will mean anything to her, she’ll just sail through it.

Of course, we won’t know until we get there. All we can do is our best to be the best parents that we can, to be kind and supportive even in the face of own issues and inadequacies. All we can do is aim to make our children a bit more secure and bit more prepared than we were. We are imperfect people, in an imperfect world, but maybe that’s okay.

I put the Pro in Procrastination.

Good Morning. Here I am, sat at my computer writing a blog. I’ve written a lot of those lately. It’s been fun, some of you have written to tell me how much you’ve enjoyed them. Thank you! I’m so pleased. I aim to be funny and enlightening through the prism of my own experience. If I am succeeding, then I am overjoyed. I have found myself questioning whether some of this blog writing may, however, be a particularly sophisticated and pernicious form of procrastination. I am very good at procrastinating. I always used to think that was because I’m lazy but a very interesting article that I read, lately, tells me that’s a manifestation of my anxiety.

You see, sometimes, high functioning anxiety can look like someone who is achieving a great deal and working very hard, someone who is very organised and helpful. It looks like this because that person is so anxious about ****ing everything up that they are working their socks off to avoid that ever happening. I take that to another degree, I do nothing, because if I don’t start then I definitely can’t **** it up and if I start but don’t finish then I can pat myself on the back for trying without ever actually having to face the problems that might arise if I truly follow through. I have an amazing imagination, I can float on a fluffy cloud of fantasy all day long, imagining my dream life, while utterly failing to keep my head in the game of what I should actually be doing with my time.

Did you know I once self-published a novelette? I mentioned it a few blogs ago as something I’m not altogether proud of anymore. I wrote it while I was at university (started it anyway, it took a while), I’m a very different person now. It looks immature to my grown up eyes, it’s poorly formatted because I really didn’t know what I was doing and I think it sold about twelve copies worldwide. Mostly to people I know. The reason I bring it up is that the week before I published it, I was that anxious that I genuinely stayed in bed all day, every day, reading Miranda Hart’s autobiography, because the thought of the path I was hoping on taking scared me so profoundly that I was overcome by a kind of paralysis. Eventually, I threw it out into the world like a kind of literary grenade and ran for cover. It was more of a splutter than an explosion.

At the moment, I am trying to write another book. It’s an amalgamation of several short story ideas that I’ve combined into more of an epic. It’s near future fiction but, because I’m girl, it’s actually covering topics of loneliness, intimacy and consent. Just in a near future setting because it gave me more interesting ideas to play with and I am, at heart, still the nerd that I was when I was sixteen. The Official Test Reader of Aby’s Crappy Fiction thinks it’s actually started quite well and she’s really interested to read some more. Good to know it has a hook. Nothing worse than getting two pages into a novel and discovering that you’ve already lost interest. I have, a first for me (I usually throw myself at a page and see what comes out), plotted out sixteen chapters, I’m a little hazy about how it’s going to end with regard to the action. I know where the relationships are going, you know, because I’m a girl. The end is a long way away though and I could just plough on with the beginning because I know exactly where that’s going but am I doing it? Nope. I’m writing about all the reasons why I’m not doing it. Those are some pretty epic procrastination skills right there, if I could be paid for procrastinating, I’d be living in the Cayman Islands.

Ultimately, we all cope with our lives and our mental health issues, in the best way we know how. We get up or don’t. We soldier through or don’t. We throw ourselves in blindly, or we don’t. Some of us are compelled to chase our dreams and some of us will hide under the covers. I am trying to become someone who chases their dreams. It’s a daily battle of hope over insecurity. It’s not easy. If someone out there is hiding under the covers right now, I feel you. It’s okay. We don’t mind if you hide, it doesn’t make you bad or lazy or hopeless. It just makes you scared, it’s okay to be scared but, if you want to poke your head out, just for a moment, I will hold your hand. I promise. We can help each other. Every day is a fresh opportunity to do something different.

Anyway, another morning gone, another blog written, time to get Mum’s breakfast and morning wash sorted. I’ll go for a run, have a shower, grab some lunch and squeeze in maybe an hour for my book in the afternoon before the school run. Like I do every Thursday. It’s not much, but an hour is better than nothing. Each little bit more that I write is a little more of a triumph for hope. My Auntie always reminds me to travel hopefully. We should all aim to travel hopefully.

Why am I so het up about my age?

If there is one event in my life for which I fear I may be going to hell, it is the one that I am about to relate to you. It would have been about two years ago, I think. I was at a Mums and Tots group and I got talking to this other lady. She was smartly dressed and looked a fair chunk older than me, I thought maybe she was an aunt or a young granny. We chatted about this and that and at some point she asked me if I was planning on having anymore children. I told her that, while one can never say never, mine are not the best sleepers and I did have an age related cut off at the back of mind. She told me that she wished she’d had one of those because she was forty now and her youngest was only two. I know what I should I have said, I should have said ‘I’m the exact same, hence the cut off.’ But no, I didn’t. I kept my mouth shut, allowed her believe, as I had, that I was years younger than her and that I was silently judging her life choices.

My appearance of youth has often been something that I’ve taken for granted. I didn’t do anything specific to maintain it. I slapped on a bit of moisturizer when my skin felt dry but that was about the extent of it. I drank a bit too much, didn’t worry about sun block and often stayed up late. For all that, I could roll over in the morning, take a no make up selfie and be flawless. I started to think that aging was something that happened to other people.

Then, all of a sudden, one day it happened, I took a selfie and I wasn’t flawless. Okay, I probably hadn’t been flawless for a while, but this time I felt I looked old, older maybe, than I expected. I did not like it. What f***ery is this? Thinks I. What on earth is happening here? Are they open pores? Do I have lines? Oh my god. This is not okay.

Of course this collided with the shocking realisation that, for the first time, the guys that I fancy on the television are younger than me. I felt like that dude, I’m sure we’ve all met one, who still seems to date the same age of woman no matter how much older he gets, as if he’s picked his age group and time and tide ain’t gonna change that, nuhuh. I felt like a dirty old woman. I mean, it’s not like these are boys that I’m talking about here, I’m not actually old enough to be their mother or anything. My walls were covered in thirty somethings even when I was fifteen. But somehow it just felt wrong. Of course men perv over younger women all the time, it’s expected, but there’s something less appropriate when it’s the other way around.

Not one to take anything lying down, I jumped to action. Over the last several months I tried out a veritable cornucopia of anti-aging remedies. I have covered my face in acids, lotions and potions, I have massaged my face, cupped my face and exercised my face. I have taken supplements, bought expensive makeup and drunk enough water to drown in. Did it change anything? I have no clue. I am a bit happier with my selfie than once I was, but is that the filter rather than the facts? The truth is though, that I was unable to keep it up. My anti-aging routine has shrunk back down some good, old fashioned, oil of olay and some under eye concealer. Never was any good at that girlie nonsense. Just don’t have the patience for it.

What bothers me now is that I could get so wound up about something that ultimately comes to us all. I was never going to be flawless forever. And why, in the name of heaven, does it matter what age the men I’m attracted to are? Ultimately, if I do get to meet anyone on my list, whether I’m young enough, pretty enough or interesting enough to be worth their time, is their business, not mine. I don’t have to be worthy of a reciprocation to be allowed to appreciate their good looks. Men don’t have these concerns of course. They’re allowed to get old and perv over whoever they like without desperately trying to turn back the clock.

I understand the logic of all this of course. In a world that is still struggling to accommodate and comprehend the changing role of women within society, a large chunk of women’s worth is still connected with youth and fertility. As soon as these begin to drop off, her value as a person begins to fade too. If you’re no longer fertile, you’re no longer of use. It’s heartbreaking but also painfully anachronistic. Women are out there, over forty, achieving amazing things. If women are to be out in society, working, earning and creating, their value has to be greater than the sum of their reproductive years. Their attractiveness has to be about more than just whether or not they can pop out a baby or two (and women in their forties still can by the way, second largest group for unplanned pregnancies because they think they can afford to get a bit cavalier with contraception).

It seems that aging is the next great step in my feminist journey. I need to be okay about getting old and, more than that, I need to commit to living my best life regardless of my age and what anyone else might think of it. If I want to take up belly dancing or pole dancing or karate, that is my business. If I want to wear hot pants and be dolled up to the nines, that’s my business. If I want to go grey and wear tweed, that’s my business too. My age has nothing to do with it. Oh and I can fancy whomsoever I like.

On Growing up with Alcoholic Parents. Part 3: Me.

I wasn’t sure if should write this one. It felt like I’d covered a fair amount of it in the other blogs and besides, it’s just a lot of whining isn’t it? But I’ve been doing a lot of whining lately, so hey, why stop there? Let’s have a whining party and get it all off my chest. Then, maybe, the whining can cease and I can move forward to a brighter day. Also, there is the shocking realisation that has recently come to me, that I may not be quite as on top of things as I thought.

My husband recently told me that I have all the hallmarks of someone who has been emotionally abused. Nah, I thought. I’m fine. I’m nothing if not resilient. I’ve got shoulders like Atlas. But, the more I think about it, the more I have started to see his point. It’s not just my parents that have lead me here, but they didn’t help and sometimes these things are better out than in.

The thing with having alcoholic parents is, that you are forced to face up to a single, important reality. Alcohol will always win. However much they may love you, they will always love alcohol more. A feeling that is made worse when people, with the best of intentions, approach you about your parents drinking, expecting you to have some kind of influence and you have to tell them that you have none. My mother is only dry now because she doesn’t leave her room, I wait on her hand and foot. If she gets booze, it will only be because I gave it to her. For a long time, I allowed people to convince me that it was okay to let her drink, to bring her a gin if she wanted one but it never sat well with me. Now it’s done, I feel better. My feelings have to count for something.

The other thing with having alcoholic parents is that they don’t function like normal people when they are drunk. There are always more arguments. They are not always rational. They are not always kind. My father would berate me for my failings while drunk and, when I reminded him in the morning, he’d deny it, accuse me of making things up and of being unbalanced. He could be lovely, he could also be awful. My mother struggled to connect. We’re still not close now even though we share a house. I don’t know what a proper mother/daughter relationship is supposed to feel like but I’m fairly sure it’s not this.

The combination of the two of these things can have a powerful effect on your self esteem. I don’t come across that way, you’d probably think I have a bubbly personality. Maybe I do. I’m quick to smile, I love a laugh and I try to be kind and supportive. But you have no idea how hard it is for me to do something as simple as pick up the phone and ring someone. I get anxious before social events too. The crazy thing is that I love social events. I love talking to people but the overriding part of my brain will tell me that I suck at this, that I don’t listen enough, that I don’t ask enough questions, that I ask the wrong questions, that I talk over people, that I’m annoying and selfish and I talk too much.

I recently got into a dialogue with an author whose books I had read. He was so nice and supportive and understanding. Suddenly I found myself feeling pretty okay about me. That’s some good **** man. After a few days of hanging around his instagram like a druggy at the dealers, it hit me like a suckerpunch. Is this what people are supposed to feel like? All the time? Not just when authors talk to you? Holy Hell! What have I been missing? Of course you can’t just wake up one day and decide to be happy but I really am going to do my best. Sometimes though, the gulf between how you want to feel and how you do feel, can be so tremendous that it feels like an impossible mountain to climb.

The other problem, inevitably, with having alcoholic parents, is the alcohol itself. The children of alcoholic parents are significantly more likely to become alcoholics themselves. For some people, that may be down to the effects of trauma. But I suspect an awful lot of it is also down to the fact that excess has been normalised. I know there have been times in my life when I have drunk too much. I know that drinking too much was normalised for me at an early age. While I will relax and drink too much wine on occasion, I have to be so aware of when to draw the line. I have to remind myself not to let it become a habit. Because it can become a habit, all too easily. I have to tell myself, sometimes, to stop at one or not to touch a drop at all. I’m motivated by the desire to be a good Mum. I don’t want to do to my children what my parents did to me. I want to be better. But alcohol and I never will never be entirely easy bed fellows, I like it too much and I hate it too.

And that’s the whining done. Hopefully forever. Today is a new day and tomorrow is too. I aim to climb that mountain, personally and professionally. Watch this space.

Love is to be found in the Imperfections

A few years ago, I sat in a pub with a male friend while he explained to me his strategy when it came to securing the affections of a girl he was into. It was a long play, quite intricate. Nowhere in there was the poor woman given much of an opportunity to actually get know what he was really like though. I’ve often wondered if that was why his relationships didn’t tend to last.

A few weeks ago, I was mindlessly scrolling, like you do, when I came across a title that piqued my curiosity. Curiosity compels me far more often than is probably wise. It was ‘Feminine Architypes that men just can’t resist’. I didn’t watch all of it, I can say though that I completely embody at least two of them and rather regarded that as a character flaw. Whether this has in any way effected my luck with men I can’t tell you. I always thought it was the boobs. I’m pretty sure my husband would tell you it’s the boobs. Otherwise, I am, apparently, ‘unintimidatingly attractive’, whatever that means. Ever since then my Facebook feed has been awash with coaching services geared at helping women to secure a man. Text responses to make you cool and sexy, rather then needy and crazy obviously, although a bit crazy kind of fits with one of the archetypes so who knows? What a man will always say to a woman he loves but to no one else (I am actually desperately curious about that one but I’m not paying for the privilege) and how to get him to lean in. Flirting and eye contact (and probably being a bit too tactile) always worked for me (and I’ve kissed a lot of guys (should I have admitted to that?)) but maybe I’m over simplifying.

I couldn’t help but think that all this artifice, while it might help you get romance and passion, probably won’t help you find the love of your life. If you’re going to be with someone, long term, if you want that kind of connection. They really have to want you for who are, not for who you’d like to be. If you’re clumsy, absent minded and a bit neurotic, they kind of need to know that. It’s not something that you can hide forever, my friend.

We live in an age where we’re taught to respect our mental health and love ourselves in one breath and informed about all the ways in which we are failing in the next. We’re told that before we can love or be loved, we must first be whole, hale and hearty. I challenge that, we are all broken and we are all lovable. We are all learning and growing and no one is perfect. Truth be told I don’t think you can really love a perfect thing. You can adore it, you can worship it but love, real love, is found in the imperfections.

I must admit I’ve always been a bit suspicious of anyone who seems too perfect, anyone who seems to have everything altogether is hiding something. They’re keeping their cards close their chest. No one has it altogether. I remember when I met my husband. He drove two hours to be with me on the spur of the moment after just one date and he had this whole knight in shining armour thing going on. He stopped to help someone fix their car by the side of the road in the pouring rain. I remember hypothesising that he might be a serial killer. Several years on I can tell you that he is rather like the girl with a curl in the middle of her forehead. When he is good he is very, very good but when he is bad he is horrid. Living with him is not a cakewalk, but there are, to the best of my knowledge, no bodies buried in the garden.

I think we need to start being a bit more tolerant of our own and other people’s imperfections. I can’t count the amount of times that I’ve come across women questioning where all the good men have gone. They are everywhere darling, you can literally fall over them in the street, but they don’t come dressed up like prince charming. ‘Good’ and ‘Perfect’ are not the same thing. To be honest, if you have one that puts his laundry in the damned basket, cooks every now again and isn’t sleeping with anyone else, you’ve got two out of three better than I have. Count yourself lucky. And don’t worry too much about what to do and how to behave (beyond normal human codes of conduct, you know, be nice and polite and stuff), if they are the right one, they will like you anyway. If they don’t like you when you’re being a bit irritating, god help them after ten years of marriage. If you can’t love him when he’s having a weird, psycho road rage episode on the way to your grandfather’s funeral (this has happened to me), or you can’t love her when she’s violently throwing up into a towel because the bathroom was too far and the morning sickness was too urgent (I have done this), then do you really love them at all?

If you want real love, you have to be prepared to be open. You have to be prepared to show all of who you are because all of who you are is lovable. I promise you. I am absent minded, forgetful, infuriating, overwhelming, needy and neglectful (depending on my mood), emotional, disorganised and really rubbish at housework but I am lovable. We are all lovable. We just need to find the right person to love us because love is found in the imperfections.