17 May 2020
For most of my life I’ve felt a bit lacking when I compare myself to other people. I know I shouldn’t do it, but it’s easy to pick fault, especially with ourselves. I’ve always done it, but nowadays, I am at least aware of it. I notice myself judging myself and I try to let it go.
It’s easy to make assumptions, and to believe other people are more confident than we are, but we’re all the same underneath, under our armour and our hard exteriors, under the shields we put up to protect ourselves. I don’t think even the toughest people are that tough underneath, although sometimes they need to project the image that they are.
Recently I did an assessment for some online training and it made me realise what a perfectionist I am. We had to grade the qualities with the value we held them in and my list was surprisingly long. Much longer than I thought it would be. Seeing it on paper like that made me realise what a lot of pressure I put on myself.
It got me thinking about my insecurities and I decided to try to change them around…
- I might be anxious a lot of the time, but it shows I care far more than I should about a lot of things.
- I might not be the thinnest, but my husband loves me, and my body is strong now. It also gave us our four wonderful children, and is capable of running long distances.
- I might not know everything, but I’m pretty clever and can be very dedicated to learning something when it suits me.
- I’m hyperaware which can be annoying, but it also means I notice the little things going on around me. I’d probably make a good detective!
- I feel like I’m not doing enough or I’ve let people down, but that’s because I always want to do the best I can, all the time.
- I worry about what people think of me, but that’s because I want to be recognised for getting things right.
There are so many ways we can choose to look at ourselves negatively, but if we flip them, we can see that they generally come from a good place. There isn’t a nasty bone in my body, but that doesn’t mean I don’t make mistakes. I guess what matters is the way we deal with our mistakes and slip ups. A few years ago I started following a blogger who really said things as they were. She was unashamedly herself and it was refreshing to see someone who wasn’t perfect just being herself without making excuses. It reminded me that no one is perfect. No one really can be, but it’s hard to apply it to yourself. But, I’m working on it.
Things happen, even when we don’t want them to, but what we can do is to make the best we can from our circumstances. So that means not just being kind to others, but treating ourselves with kindness and compassion too.
As a country the UK has quite an ingrained love affair with alcohol. It’s joked about often, used to reward achievements or hard days, for successes and for failures. Most evenings out will involve it, as will a lot of afternoons in the sun.
When it can be enjoyed without excess, or when it can be used without a reliance building up, it is an enjoyable way to spend time. For a lot of people, that is no longer the case and I for one, am extremely grateful for my sobriety. Especially considering how hard it was to get here!
The problem is, that alcohol affects everyone differently. Those of us with an addiction were not born with a warning to be careful in case we build up too much tolerance and drink too much, too often. It’s ever present in our culture, in fact, it seems more normal to drink than not to, which is weird considering it is ultimately a poison. But then, things change, a lot of people smoked when I was younger. Advertising for cigarettes was common place and yet, now that has changed. Maybe one day, it will for alcohol too.
For now though, we can be aware. For those of us that don’t drink, that means not slipping back into old habits, not romanticising the idea of a drink, even though it’s easy to, but remembering how hard we have worked for our sobriety. For those of us who do drink, it’s about remembering our limits and not getting carried away.
There are so many ways in which drinking can affect us -
- It can affect or numb our feelings. Often one of the main reasons for having a drink is to help us cope with a stressful situation. This could be a long term stress, where we drink regularly to cope, or more short term, perhaps after a particularly hard day. A downside of this is that the feeling can be addictive. We can search out that feeling of relief but that often comes with an increased price and that means more to drink. We also need to remember that while drinking provides a quick fix, there are other longer term solutions out there that don’t have the same side effects.
- Depression and anxiety. Alcohol is a depressant. While it may calm and numb, it also can make us feel anxious or depressed. It is thought in the UK that there is a strong link between those with anxiety and those with an alcohol dependency. Serotonin is a chemical relating to our mood which is affected by regular intake of alcohol and this imbalance can cause us to drink more as things get a bit squiffy. While some people drink to feel that they are boosting their confidence and aiding their anxiety, actually it affects our brain chemistry and our neurotransmitters. This means it’s not only our mental health that is affected, but we may be less balanced and more likely to make rash decisions.
- Relationships. We’ve all said things we don’t mean in the heat of the moment, but when we drink, it lowers our inhibitions resulting in confrontations, arguments and in extreme circumstances violence. It’s not just at home that these problems can occur, or even while we’re drinking. It’s likely that the effects of alcohol will affect our day to day lives, our reliability, our reactions and our health. It can end up making us a bit of a liability in the relationship stakes.
I read an article from Sky News recently which I found extremely worrying. It seems that perhaps without our normal routines in place, a lot of people are drinking more, or relapsing. Of course this affects the individual, but given the close proximity we have to each other in lockdown, it is also affecting families more than ever before. Children are trapped at home, without even the reprieve of school to go to for some space and safety. It’s good that there are charities in place to support those who need it, but I do worry about the damage that has been done already, and the relationships that might be damaged beyond repair.
I’m not saying everyone should stop drinking and commit to a life of sobriety, although it you want to, you should! The clarity of mind, is something I never thought I’d experience. What we can do is to look at our alcohol use and the way we live our lives, to see whether one is perhaps affecting the other, and make an informed choice. I like to remember that #soberisnotboring!
Thanks for reading.
21 May. 2020 • Category: Addiction | SocialMedia | Mental Health | Covid19 | Recovery | Anxiety | Cornwall
The last Friday before lockdown I took the kids to the beach. It wasn’t warm, but it was nice to blow away the cobwebs. Katie is an art student at college and she needed some photographs for a piece of work so I thought it would be nice to take Barn and Stanley too. It was cold, but beautiful. We all had coats and wellies and Stanley had his waterproofs on too. It was very different to the weather today. I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be the last time we saw the beach for months!
Today I decided to take the kids to the beach. It’s a beautiful, warm day, not too hot and there’s a pleasant breeze. As I write this I am laying on my blanket watching the kids build a huge fort designed to withstand the tide when it comes in. It’s lovely to have the freedom and we have the beach largely to ourselves, except for the surfers and a few dog walkers. It is very peaceful.
I was worried about coming here to be honest. Although the beach isn’t far from home I worried because I’m so out of the habit of doing things like this. I’m out of the habit of leaving the house to be honest! I worried that I shouldn’t really be here even though we live locally and are keeping far away from anyone else. I just don’t want to look like I’m doing the wrong thing. But, it’s been weeks since the kids have been out of the house and had any freedom like this and it’s lovely to watch them playing.
Stanley is paddling in a rockpool, driving his truck and knocking down sandcastles. We’ve looked in a cave to see if there are any bears, but found nothing but footprints.
It’s been lovely, I think he will sleep well tonight. As I probably will too!
Stay safe everyone!
I don’t normally watch adverts, mainly because I rarely watch TV at a time when what I want to watch is actually on, and so end up fast forwarding through the breaks. The other day though I must have been watching something which was actually on and an advert caught my eye. It was an animated one for Dove based on building self-esteem through cartoons.
I’ve been known to struggle with social media. At different points in my life I’ve worried about keeping up with other people, about posting a modified version of myself rather than the truth, you know, all the best bits and ignoring the others. I’ve felt like my friends list was proof that people like me, even though some people on it barely knew me, and I’ve felt jealous of others, or like I was being compared to them. Most of that was when I was really struggling both with my anxiety and with my drinking, and in the past, but I’m still aware that it was there. It makes me slightly wary of it still. Over time I deleted the majority of the people on my friends list, my criteria being that if I wouldn’t stop to talk to someone in the street they shouldn’t be on my Facebook. For a time, I even deleted all my accounts, but I like seeing what those are close to me are up to, and before long I reactivated them.
Seeing the adverts by Dove really struck a chord with me. From experience I can see the good and the bad side of social media. It isn’t something that is going to go away, and it is not necessarily so ‘bad’ as it can seem, although like anything it can be used in a bad way. We need to teach our kids to use it carefully rather than to be afraid of it. It’s an integral part of out lives. I feel for my kids, because when I was young, I was able to go home from school and have a rest from classroom politics. Our children today are often in constant contact, whether they want to be or not, and even when they want to take a step back, they are then afraid that they will miss out, that something will happen and they’ll be excluded because they weren’t part of the conversation. On the other hand, if it wasn’t for social media at the moment, many of our children would be isolated from their friends and classmates.
My daughter is a prime example of this, when she was younger and in the last year of secondary school she had a falling out with her ‘friends’. She felt isolated and got at, like she was being targeted in group chats, and yet was reluctant to leave them because at least while she was in them she knew what was being said. It’s hard to balance participation with the fear of missing out. I don’t think stopping kids from using social media is the answer though, it’s not going to go away. It’s a useful form of connection, especially when people are unable to meet up, whether that is because of lockdown or because of distance. It also enables you to connect when you are anxious or unable to leave your home. You can connect with like-minded people regardless of geography, time zone, or your physical state.
What we need to teach our children is responsibility and resilience.
Dove say that, “Social media plays an increasingly influential role in shaping our definition of beauty[.]” The statistics are worrying;
• Many girls use an average of 4 different social networks, with 1 in 2 being on ‘all the time’.
• It takes 12 minutes for an average girl in the UK to prepare to take one selfie.
• Between the age of 13-18 years it is suggested that the number of girls who think social networks make them feel worse about themselves doubles. This is from 30% at 13 to 60% at 18 years old.
• The need for likes increases, with girls of 18-23 wanting three times more likes than those aged 13-17.
I really like the message that is part of the campaign, that beauty is in all of us, and we shouldn’t look or behave the same. I think that this is something that should be reinforced for our young people, whether they are girls or boys. They should know it doesn’t matter that we are not all the same, that each of us is strong and vulnerable in different ways and just because it is not obvious from the outside that someone is insecure, does not mean they aren’t. We should be ensuring that we are respectful and kind to everyone, and let everyone be themselves as long as it doesn’t do any harm. Although, this is often easier said than done. The more that we teach our youngsters to accept everyone for their strengths and their differences, the more understanding I hope we will all be.
Words do hurt. Instead of telling our kids to brush it off, maybe we should be teaching them to express themselves confidently and be proud of who they are, inside and out. We should be listening to their concerns and validating them, whether we think they are valid or not, because like it or not, it does matter to our youngsters, even if we can’t see what they think is an imperfection. By supporting them and showing them how to love themselves and by modelling that in our own behaviour towards ourselves, we will empower them to do the same.
There are all kinds of initiatives nowadays to get people to talk about their thoughts and feelings but I still find mental health harder to talk about than addiction which is weird, because if my mental health had been good, or to use a stupid word, ‘normal’ then I very probably wouldn’t have had an addiction at all. But there’s no point in thinking like that, because it won’t change things.
I doubt myself a lot. I wonder if I’m good enough, if the things I do are good enough, if the effort I put in is enough. I worry that I write too much, or share too much, and yet, writing is such a good way for me to process things. I worry that I’m not running enough and losing the fitness that I worked hard to build, but then I don’t want to go out much at the moment. If something goes wrong, I worry that it’s my fault. I worry that… well I think you get the picture, I worry about most things. To be honest, being in my head without medication is pretty much a nightmare. It’s hard work with medication, but it’s so much more manageable. According to Mind, approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK experience mental health problems each year, with 1 in 6 experiencing anxiety and depression each week in England alone. That’s a lot of people!
A few years ago I came across Ruby Wax, not as the comedian she was already well known for, but as a mental health advocate. She is fabulous and having really struggled with her own mental health now writes really honestly about her own experiences. I’ve read a lot of her books, but had missed an older one, called ‘How Do You Want Me?’ and read it recently. This quote from it really struck a chord with me, “When you have a mental disorder, in other words are sick in the head, the big double whammy is that you can’t tell you’re ill, because when the very brain that makes these assessments is infected, it can’t give a correct reading. No one’s second-in-command - no one. If you had a spare brain it would tell you you’ve gone nuts, but you don’t[.]” I think it’s true for a lot of us, that we doubt if there is anything wrong, especially when we still function, even if we’re not quite ‘right’. It’s easier to doubt ourselves and to carry on pushing through than to stop and ask for help. I know that even after years of being not quite right, and times of being far worse than that, that I still doubt whether others will believe me, that I’m not making a mountain out of a mole hill.
The problem with mental health is that it’s inside. No one else can see it, so it’s hard to understand. If it were a problem with a part of the body you could see, then it might be deemed more valid, but often because it is internal we are told to ‘pull ourselves together’ or ‘cheer up’. That does nothing at all for the way we feel. Instead it makes it worse. It chips away at the confidence we have, and makes us doubt the feelings we have. If anything, when I was told things like that, it made me feel worse about myself because it made me feel that my feelings were wrong. However much you try to stay positive, you can’t always change the way you feel.
I really feel strongly that we need to talk about mental health, but also from experience I know how hard it is to do that. I think the stigma needs to be reduced and removed, but I’m not sure how we go about doing that. It’s a difficult thing to change, but we do need to realise that when 1 in 4 people suffer from a mental health problem, it is a significant amount of people, not something that can be easily swept away under the carpet. We aren’t all wrong for feeling the way we do, maybe we’re wired differently, maybe it’s that the world has evolved to a point that it’s actually too mentally demanding for many of us. We aren’t designed to live in constant connection with everyone and everything. We know not only what is happening in our home, town and area, but also the rest of the country and usually the world. We weren’t meant to cope with the demands of this constant knowledge, there is no down time to recover, and so it is taxing, and eventually, often something has to give.
There’s no magic answer to any of this, but to try to be kind to yourself and to others. No one knows, and how can they, what anyone else is experiencing, and how the same things we all go through affect others. We are all capable of change, but for some of us it might take longer than for others.
Take care of yourself, thank you for reading.
Is anyone else exhausted by their kids by now? Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids more than anything in the world. They are funny, clever, happy and generally a joy to be around, but at the moment, crikey, they are also wearing me out!
I think it comes from having four of them, that anytime one of them is occupied, the others aren’t necessarily also busy. I find, one after the other they come to talk to me, and then when one thinks they are giving me space, another one has collared me. Normally I get a few moments in the day to myself, but at the moment, any that I do get are few and far between.
I wouldn’t change it, but some days, like today, it’s just a little harder. I woke up with a really sore neck and a headache, and I decided I didn’t want to go for the run I promised Katie. I also didn’t want to go for the bike ride I’d promised Barn. Stanley was really grumpy, and seemed over-tired so I’m not sure that he is feeling that well. I only saw Joe for a few minutes before he went to work, so he isn’t to blame today. I thought maybe I could take the other three for a walk, now that we are allowed to go a little further. I imagine the beaches will be too busy to be enjoyable, but I thought a little cliff walk might be nice. No sooner had I began to plan that than I decided it might be a bit much too. I’ll find any excuse not to go out at the moment.
I read an article yesterday about how we are all exhausted by lockdown. The concept I read about is called the “Allostatic Load’ and basically means that we are aware and weighed down by ongoing stress, at the moment for many of us it is the stress caused by the pandemic as well as by the isolation we have been experiencing. We worry, possibly subconsciously, and can’t actually do anything to relieve the cause of our worry and stress, because it is in the hands of the government and the scientists. It makes sense to me actually, because I seem to be more tired than usual at the moment. All my good plans have gone a little bit out the window, and I don’t seem to be achieving as much as I would like with my time or as much as I had planned when I first thought about what I would do during lockdown.
I’m lucky that the kids care about me though, I’m used to them being busy and having a lot to do, and while I’m at work we don’t spend so much time together. I think they like to baby sit me a little bit too, which is why they chat to me so much. I think they worry about me, and come and talk to me to make sure that I am okay, even though sometimes a little bit of peace and quite would be really helpful. It makes me feel ungrateful when I am shorter of patience, because I know they only care, but it is hard work! I have to remind myself that they are growing up quickly, and that I’ll miss them when they’re gone. I already have an experience of that with Joe, as he is only at home when he has nowhere better to be. So I’ll make the most of it, and remind myself how lucky I am to have them, even when they are chattering away!