Out of high school I was very passionate and driven. There was a whole life and career that I envisaged for myself and I was keen to get started on it. However, as become clear through my tumultuous, laborious and scattered twenties, none of the things I believed I wanted for my life actually brought me any joy or sense of accomplishment. I drifted from one career aspiration to the next, with fabulous opportunities to grow and cultivate myself in live theatre, commercial radio, film & television production, and the visual arts. And each time, the opportunity and experience fizzled out leaving nothing more than a brittle sense of disappointment and failure.
Looking back on all that now, I recognise that I actually had no idea what I wanted. I was a complete and utter stranger to myself. And it’s no surprise, because I treated myself like an absolute c*nt.
When understanding our relationships with others, it makes complete sense that most of us only reveal our real and authentic selves when we feel very, very safe. People cultivate this sense of safety in the way they treat us – with kindness, softness, understanding, and trust. We rarely bare our souls and reveal our intimate needs with someone else who heavily criticises us, demeans us, takes advantage of us and doesn’t ever listen. However, this is pretty routine behaviour when it comes to the relationship we have with ourselves.
When it comes to ourselves we don’t think twice to label ourselves “stupid” or “lazy”, “fat”, “old” or “a failure”. We push our bodies to the breaking point with work or parenting or partying, never heeding the growing demands to pause, reflect and rest. We avoid quiet time with ourselves, instead, drowning out periods of stillness with illuminated screens and endless Seinfeld re-runs. It’s no wonder we’re reluctant to reveal our innermost needs & desires. We treat ourselves like crap. But while you may have made this kind of inward relationship second nature, it doesn’t mean you can’t turn things around – after all, you have a lifetime so it’s never too late. I have been working on reinventing my relationship with myself over the past 4 or 5 years. I won’t say it’s been easy, after all, my inner self was understandably suspicious after all the initial maltreatment. But slowly, and reticently she’s begun to reveal herself. And here are some kindness practices that I used to help coax her out – hopefully they’ll help for you too…
- Stop with the negative self-talk.
It’s not motivating. It’s not chic. And it’s not necessary to make hilarious memes out of. Think of the things you say to yourself and ask yourself if you’d say those things to someone you actually like and would want to be on your side. Trade in cruelty and condemnation for curiosity and compassion. It’s fine to make mistakes, it’s fine to screw up – just be creative in the way you respond to yourself afterwards. See how you can try to soothe and learn, rather than criticise and condemn. Also, call a mate out for being unkind to themselves, help them see how they might reframe that into something fuelled by kindness and self-respect.
- Seek out stillness.
If you want to hear what your inner self wants and needs out of life, you need to make space to listen. That means taking time out to go inward. Practices like meditation, yoga, deep breathing and intentional listening are great to give your mind and body some space from the demands of the world and let your inner connection flourish.
- Walk away from toxic people & places.
If there are outer relationships or environments that make you feel really shitty, it’s time to move on from them. The longer you resist, the longer you tell your inner self that this is what you deserve. Try to surround yourself with people who have your back and lift you up, and immerse yourself in places that leave you feeling creative, connected, recharged and purposeful.
It can be a tough time reinventing your inward relationship but there really is no rush. Baby steps are better than no steps. And you can be guaranteed that once you foster a better relationship with yourself you will begin to see your external relationships improve, and your relationship blossom of external experiences and opportunities. Best of luck showing yourself some love this year, you bloody deserve it.
What my miscarriage taught me about second chances.
This month I had a miscarriage. It was the first time I had ever been pregnant and the pain of the loss was incredibly visceral and real. Over the space of three months I was swept away in the idea that in a few months more, my world would be radically different. My life would not be solely my own responsibility anymore. I would be blessed with an experience unlike any other and my life would cop an entire overhaul. I felt nervous, excited and began readying myself. And then, one moment, laying beneath the cool jelly of the sonographer’s wand, it was all over. There was no heartbeat. No growth. There would be no baby.
It’s an odd feeling. Losing something that you never had, but that you so vividly imagined was already yours. The grief hit hard at first and then came in waves. While being in the midst of the loss, it was hard to see beyond the immediate pangs of my own sadness. I knew, deep down that there could be some lesson in this experience, some solace that, in time, I could grow within (despite the physical absence of such realities). I let my emotions play out. I listened to sad songs, wrote in my journal, sobbed in meditation and shared my journey with close friends and loved ones. As the acute pangs of grief subsided, I realised that there was indeed a gift that I could take from this tragedy. That gift was a second chance at a life without a baby, with space to allow myself to grow into a greater wife, friend and future-mother. I started asking myself what this second chance afforded me, and what I could discover and indulge in before my partner and I took the leap into the family-fray once more.
There are plenty of lists online about “what to do before falling pregnant” but they’re all about quitting smoking or taking vitamins or budgeting for nappies. But what about real, genuine learnings and experiences that would be useful (or at least much more convenient) before facing the impossible task of raising children? I asked a few of my friends who have kids. I thought about the limitations I felt I faced in my few months of pregnancy. I honed in on the things that overwhelmed and scared me most about the prospect of mothering. And I came up with this list…
Take Control of Your Thoughts & Manage Your Emotions
This one is not reserved for the parents-to-be, but is the responsibility of all of us. If you’re not behind the driver’s seat when it comes to your thoughts and emotions, they will well-and-truly run the show. Not to mention that, being unaware of how to deal with them effectively means it will be impossible for you to help teach your kids how to do the same. Learning to spot thought patterns that are destructive, limiting and unhelpful and becoming adept at replacing them with more cognitively nutritious ways of thinking is an incredible life-skill. As is learning to identify and sit with uncomfortable emotions, and not becoming obsessed with getting rid of them or changing them. This is something I’ve been working on over the past few years with regular mindfulness meditation, journaling and thought disruption practices, and it has been truly life changing.
Do Stuff that is Reckless and Indulgent
There is a LOT of fun stuff that they tell you not to do when you’re pregnant – beyond the whole no-drinking, no-oysters and lay off the soft, unpasteurised cheeses thing (hell, they even tell you you shouldn’t go in a spa bath). When I found out I was pregnant, I found myself wondering when is the next time I could ride a rollercoaster, or go on a horse trail ride? What about bungee jumping or trapeze? I know that life and fun doesn’t stop when you have kids, but it sure does get harder to drop everything one weekend and do something silly, lazy or possibly dangerous. When you have other little people whose lives depend on you, you need to get responsible. Which means that, post-kids, letting off fireworks out in a field somewhere, on mushrooms, might not seem like the best idea. But it doesn’t make it any less fun. So why not indulge now, when you have the freedom?
Get Comfortable Being Out of Control
As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I did all I could to ensure I was being a stand-up gestational goddess. I made sure I was drinking the right teas, taking the right vitamins. I stayed away from people with flu, I moved my body mindfully and tried to limit stress and manage my anxiety. And guess what? I miscarried anyway. I think there is this real idea that mothering provides you with the opportunity of total control – you grow baby, you raise baby. You are calling all the shots. When in reality, I think that it couldn’t be further from the truth. Before and even while you give birth, there is so much that can happen that really has little to nothing to do with you. Then, when you are raising a child, I’m sure you discover that they are a whole entire little person with obscure needs and desires that you cannot always intuit or control completely. You can’t take the reins of life and lead it in your preferred direction one hundred percent of the time. Realising that sometimes whatever happens is going to happen, despite how much you micro-manage or over prepare for alternate outcomes, is beautiful permission to let go and roll with it.
Cherish Your Body
I have to admit that being pregnant was the first time in a very long time that I was able to look at my body in a mirror and not greet it with the superficial desire that it should be different. That my waist should be smaller. My thighs should be slimmer. That my shoulders were too broad and ugly and my teeth were the wrong size. After discovering I was pregnant, I kinda said “fuck that! I’m growing a person in here.” And figured that was enough. And of course, it was. But I also stopped and wondered to myself “Hey…I’ve always been growing a person in here. Not, physically another person, but me.” I wondered why it took me gestating a foetus to pause and marvel at the gifts of the human body and all the wonderful experiences and opportunities it affords me. How it houses me and protects me and does so much intricate and incredible stuff to keep me alive without me even thinking about it. If I ever have kids, I’d love for them to learn that too.
Learn Gratitude for the Phases of Your Life
In our society, it’s easy to think that we live life in a linear fashion. One thing follows another thing. We grow up, we get a job, we find a partner, we have kids, etc. and we die (hopefully at the end) and that’s it, the story’s over. However, the more I learn from the lives of those around me and from the very essence and fluidity of nature is that life runs in cycles. Sometimes we can find ourselves back to feeling the same sort of vulnerability and confusion like we did as children lost in a shopping mall. Or drunk on power and control like we did as the older sibling lauding over our familial minions. Transitioning into parenthood is not necessarily a step forward in life, but could be one of going back. Revisiting past challenges and rekindling past kinds of love in new and different ways. There is something to be commiserated in every phase of life, just as there is something to be celebrated. As I languidly woke alongside my husband this morning, on an overcast Sunday at 9:30am to the sound of birds chirping, and faced a day with little in the way of commitments or responsibilities – I figured it was something to be grateful for. As, with the future prospect of child-rearing, this phase may be one that will not be ours forever and one that we will not revisit for a good, long while.
Breathe into Your Future
Something that surprised me most about being pregnant was how real and vividly something became in my mind and heart before it existed tangibly in my life. It was as if the physical proof of the first ultrasound scan gave me licence to believe this was something meant for me in my life. It made me wonder why I am so reluctant to believe so richly and fully in other parts of my own future this way. Sure, there’s no “career prosperity” ultrasound scan that you can get, and hey, even if you could – it’s no hard proof that that’s what you can expect with one hundred percent certainty. But hope is a beautiful thing. And it did feel powerful to hold onto it as I did, despite this time, with it coming to nothing. I’d like to learn to bring more of this faith into my daily life. Give myself permission to look forward and fully own that vision of what I want my life to become – with babies and beyond.
Empathy gets a good rap – and so it should. It enables us to connect with one another on an emotional level, and feel alongside others, particularly those who may be suffering.
I’ve always considered myself a rather empathetic person. I’m a good reader of other people’s emotional states. I’m quick to imagine what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes. I cry during every Queer Eye episode. etc.
I remember times growing up when my mum was depressed and I felt her mood encompass me. While she was sad I felt unable to feel anything else but sad. I felt so attuned to her emotionally but also made it my duty to suffer alongside her – it felt only fair.
After all, isn’t one being emotionally tone deaf to carry along on one’s merry way when someone you love is feeling such pain?
Now that I’m older, my empathy presents in the same way, however, I’m becoming increasingly sceptical if this emotional mirroring is really a helpful asset. In fact, it may be a feature that places a weighty responsibility on the other person, making them feel culpable for my responsive feelings of sadness (e.g. “if I wasn’t feeling so sad, you wouldn’t be upset). Not only that, but it may have the effect of disallowing the other to accept and experience their own emotions, faced with the added burden of having to comfort me in my allegiant gloom.
As I become more in tune, less reactive and slightly more curious about my own emotional responses, I’ve begun questioning my automatic empathetic response. In light of much I’ve been learning about holding space for others, listening with intent to understand and allowing others to have their own emotional experiences without judgment or reparation – I wonder how this empathy might be harnessed in a more helpful way.
I am inspired by my partner – someone with a remarkably high emotional IQ (who hasn’t needed to learn it via a swathe of mental health journals and psychology books, ala me). When he meets me in my moments of suffering and sadness, he doesn’t try to force it out of me, nor does he wilt and wallow in a similar state alongside. He recognises what I’m going through. He lets me feel it without judgment. And while he might extend to me a little more added compassion & sensitivity, he meets me from where he is. If his mood is one of contentment, he doesn’t extinguish this. And having him there, feeling full, is a comfort to me on my darker days. It’s a little reminder of what’s possible. And it makes a part of me happy to know he is happy.
Learning to respond from such a place of strength won’t come naturally to me. My regular programming is firmly engrained and I’m going to have to remain well aware of my emotional responses in the event of the suffering of those close to me, so as not to automatically react with more of the same.
Empathy is a weird thing. But with all the good that it can do (and does), I’ll just have to keep practicing and strive to do it justice.
Ok. I’m going to be real with you right now and I’m well aware that it will not make me look good. But there is a part of me that quite enjoys seeing celebrities fail. Whether it’s marriage breakdowns or public scandals, their creative projects bombing on a grand scale or them simply getting dragged for being socially unaware and generally tone-deaf to the current cultural climate.
Now I don’t generally enjoy basking in the suffering of others. Schadenfreude is a big ugly German word and, I mean, I’m not a psychopath (I know, I’ve done the test). So I’ve been curious about why I derive pleasure from seeing – what are essentially – other human beings fuck up.
I first thought it was the reassuring thought that “celebrities are people too” and they make mistakes. This would then make me feel better about my own mistakes. However, I think this reasoning is far too magnanimous to explain my reactions.
So I started re-evaluating our relationship with celebrities. Generally, they are quite shallow, curated and voyeuristic. Unless we’re close friends with a celebrity, we don’t know that much about them besides the fact they are publicly recognised in their given field, have a large platform through which to communicate and are (probably) wealthy.
Now how do we define/understand the following…?
- Recognized in one’s given field
- Has large platform through which to communicate/access resources
If you’re anything like me, you might see the former points as a clear representation of objective success. These celebrities are often living, breathing icons of “success”. So when someone successful stumbles, fails or fucks up in some way, it’s almost indicative of the fact that they can’t have it all. They can’t have the success and the happy relationship, or success and the smart kid who gets into college off their own back, or success and a first-class law degree.
This type of objective “success” is seen as its own reward. And a pretty lush one at that. Why should these people need more – when it seems like they have so much already? Perhaps I enjoy their failure (as Scrooge-ish as it seems) because it evens the playing field?
There’s plenty wrong with this way of thinking – enjoying the failure of others is a definite “dick-move” mindset. But it does provide me some insight into my personal insecurities and shortcomings as well as a little perspective on a few issues, namely:
- The mindset of scarcity, e.g. the more someone else has, the less there will be for me.
- My personal concept of success, e.g. what does it mean to live a successful life? What do I need in order to consider myself a success?
- Judgement e.g. why do I react with hostility to other people? What is it about them that makes me feel threatened?
I’m going to explore these points in some future blogs to see if I can get a little more wise in these departments. Do you ever recognise these issues at the heart of any of your dick-move mindsets? Lmk.
I don’t like meditating. Thinking a lot about everything is possibly my favourite pastime and so when someone says I should meditate it’s kind of like saying to someone who loves to crochet “Don’t crochet. Find time in your day to specifically not crochet.”
When I was a young kid, I remember my dad meditating. I remember thinking it was weird. Fancy being a grown-up and getting to do whatever you want, like buy every single tube of Pringles at the supermarket or drink Creaming Soda every day or ride all the cool rollercoasters – but instead, you choose to just sit down and close your eyes and do nothing.
I learnt meditation when I was around 8, when I started yoga. I was a super anxious kid – my head would often swarm with vivid and horrible imaginings of awful things happening to me and my family – and it used to give me chronic stomach aches. So to calm me down, my mum (who was way ahead of the yoga game) enrolled me in a kid’s yoga class. At the end of each class we were led through a very basic meditation. It involved feeling love radiate from within you like warm sunshine and fill your body, and then flow out your feet and fill the Earth. I liked how it made me feel and often let it play out in my head before going to sleep. But then I remember bringing it up around some primary school friends once and they laughed at me and said it weird. So I stopped doing it after that.
Fast forward to grown-up me, I’ve found myself consistently shocked at how frequently and adamantly most great thinkers in the psychology field insist upon a regular meditation practice. I mean, don’t they have anything better to do? And yet, time and time again, there it is. Just clap meditate clap So I tried picking it up a few times. I didn’t like it. I thought it was boring. It felt difficult most times, confusing other times, and all in all, not particularly useful. So I gave up. I had better things to think about.
Then late last year, I felt myself in a slump. That feeling where you’re being pulled in every direction (mostly from yourself and your own expectations) and I felt swamped and overwhelmed, like my face was wrapped with a wet towel and it was difficult just to breathe. I was mainly concerned with the fact that I felt chronically uninspired. My days seemed to fill up so quickly with meaningless fodder and at the same time I never had time to do things that really mattered to me. I went to my therapist and explained all this to her, and she said to me…
“Have you tried meditating?”
Pls, not this again.
Couldn’t she suggest something else? Like, anything else? When you go to chat to someone about how busy you are and they come at you with the old “Have you tried sitting down and doing nothing”, it’s like “Seriously? No.”
But she explained to me this notion of “creating space”. How the heaving pull of life can feel so stifling and suffocating when we neglect to give ourselves space from it.
I recalled the feeling of the wet towel. I wanted to breathe. So I tried meditating again.
I don’t like meditating. I don’t like cleaning my bathroom either, but when my bathroom is clean I feel good. That’s how I feel after meditating. It clears space in my head and as a result, helps me clear space in my life. It’s helped me become unwound from my wet towel and breathe through soft linen. I am not free of the weight of the world, but it’s no longer suffocating me.
(Definitely not an exhaustive list.)
- 1. People are not thinking about you, they’re thinking about themselves.
- 2. You don’t always know what it is that will make you happy, and that’s ok.
- 3. Enjoying the simple things doesn’t make you boring.
- 4. People who love you don’t love you for what you might be or what you were, but rather for what you are.
- 5. What feels the strongest is not necessarily the most true (nicked this one off Brianna Wiest)
- 6. The way you think and feel about a situation is not a reflection of any “true reality”, just your own particular brand of reality.
- 7. Air-fried chips are still not a “healthy” snack.
- 8. You are more than your mind.
- 9. Being happy does not mean giving up on achieving more.
- 10. Letting yourself do things you’re not good at is actually really important.
- 11. It’s ok to fuck up, as long as you acknowledge it, own it, and learn from it.
- 12. You do not need to be exceptionally beautiful or talented or successful to experience the things that make life profound.
- 13. When you feel a certain bad way, call it out. It will have less control over you then and you won’t over-identify with it.
- 14. Listen and stop talking over people.
- 15. If you want to know what someone thinks, ask them.
- 16. Models on Instagram are reinforcing your materialistic and superficial values.
- 17. When your house plants die, this is in no way a reflection of how capable you are as a human being.
- 18. Your younger self wanted different things to what you want now, because they were a different person, with less knowledge & experience.
- 19. One day you and everyone you know will die. So don’t chuck a fit over a parking fine.
- 20. You’ve accomplished some cool shit in life so far. Acknowledge it.
- 21. Ask someone before you pet their dog.
- 22. You don’t need to make everyone like you.
- 23. No one wants to spend ages in a queue at the grocery store. You’re not special for feeling frustrated. Be patient.
- 24. Don’t bother arguing with people on the internet. You won’t change their mind.
- 25. Meditating 10min each day is a good use of your time (remember, Bobby Axelrod does it)
- 26. You don’t need a character on a television show to do something for you to think it’s a good idea.
- 27. Calm the fuck down.
- 28. Be nice to people who can do nothing for you.
- 29. Sometimes you are a shit driver too.
Brianna Weist and her 101 Essays To Change The Way You Think gave me the inspiration for this list. She has a beautiful way of expressing complex ideas in short, succinct bursts and I found her essays full of wisdom and delicacy.
The first time I discovered that my breath might be key to managing my anxiety, I was really fucking mad.
I do that already. All the time. Automatically in fact. The idea that something so basic and constant could provide relief for a condition I considered so volatile and overwhelming was almost…insulting. Don’t you think I would’ve worked that out on my own by now?
And yet, there I was. Fritzin’ out my mind. Uneasy about nothing & everything all at once. Wringing hands in the pit of my stomach. Pause. Eyes closed. Attention drawn inward.
Breathing in. 4 – 3 – 2 – 1.
Breathing out. 4 – 3 – 2 – 1.
After a few more of these, something weird happened. Almost like an invisible balm was rubbed somewhere on the most nervous parts of me. And for the moment it brought calm. But not for long. That calm was quickly replaced by embarrassment.
How can breathing be the solution? It’s too easy; too natural – to quell something so complex and unrelenting? It made me feel dumb. And it made my anxiety feel dumb too, and I didn’t like that.
In the following years after this experience, I’ve curiously prodded my strange emotional reactions to it. I mean, fancy being upset when you discover something free, easy and cheap could be a helpful solution to an ongoing problem?
Something I discovered about myself is this need to idolise complexity. I am very quick to discount the simple, easy & accessible. In high-school, I remember feeling like getting married and having a family was literally the most basic and elementary path to life satisfaction – it was what lemmings did, and I wanted more than that. This pattern of thinking was destructive, as it led me to exalt my anxiety, and revere my depression as factors that gave me depth. It didn’t inspire me to go on to do great work or create great things – in fact, it made me resist creating because nothing I produced could ever be profound enough. It shut me off from appreciating the small, simple and wonderful things in life – believing them to be reserved for individuals less ‘enlightened’ than myself – when it turned out that I was the one who truly needed to get woke.
This is something that I’m still teaching myself to un-learn. Confucius served up a zinger when he said “life is simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” We can spend our whole lives searching for meaning, analysing our own and other people’s thoughts, emotions and behaviours, thinking for so long about so many things that seem so important. It’s still pretty much what I do 95% of my waking life. But now, in the other 5%, I’m forcing myself to breathe.
We only ever see ourselves, reflected. Through cut glass, charged between lenses, in pixels, by the harbour of a still pool. Our reflections exist in the eyes of others, in the minds and hands and hearts of others. In what we make, in what we build, in what we create.
We can never stand across from ourselves, face to face, in raw flesh, fully flawed & pigmented – and be real.
I’m no master observer to point this out. The reflections metaphor is about as worn as my Apple TV remote. However, I have been thinking about it a lot lately. This quest to reflect ourselves powerfully on the world. Moments of our lives, sought like snapshots for the fulfilment of that dent of triumph, that achievement unlocked, and then onto the next one. The two mirrors in my apartment almost consume me some days, with the illusion that they are the closest I’ll get to knowing myself. In most every action I perform, from folding laundry to making art, I seek confirmation that it reflects back on me as a good wife, friend, employee, tenant, passenger, artist – person.
It’s difficult to comprehend we exist as more than the sum of our reflections. Even the thoughts in our mind – the place where we consciously make sense of ourselves and our existence – are mere reflections; interpretations, however distorted, of the world around us. Sometimes, I feel like the whirling inside our heads is like a funhouse – stretching, warping, pulling everything out of shape. Insisting it’s showing us truth.
There must be a self that exists beyond the reflection. Perhaps there is a way to access it, or to catch a glimpse. But perhaps it’s not something that can be seen, rather something that must be felt, embodied, like a swallowed flame. I wonder, if it burns.
At this time of year, there’s plenty to celebrate. With an influx of engagements and pregnancy announcements – our parties, functions and online feeds are gushing with public proclamations of some recently unlocked life achievement.
After celebrating my own engagement this year, my partner and I have received many congratulations regarding the upcoming nuptials. Our online announcement elicited many messages of celebration and well wishes, and after the wave of dopamine subsided, I pondered the moments in our lives that will be met with the most congratulations. Weddings, engagements, new jobs, new houses, babies and births – these milestones are widely understood as positive, undoubtedly celebration-worthy events and they all mark the occurrence of one thing – a new beginning.
New beginnings are exciting. They symbolize the heralding of something different, and unknown. Starting something new can fuel us with a fresh sense of purpose and direction.
The moments in life that I feel are truly celebration-worthy are not the beginnings. But the middles. When you’re faced with hardship you never anticipated. When you allow yourself to be vulnerable and it is scary and uncomfortable. When everything seems to be conspiring against you. When you are so overwhelmed, broken and defeated and you’re teetering on the brink of giving it all up.
But you don’t.
These silent and noble moments often pass unnoticed. Not met with any filtered Instagram posts or public announcements over Christmas lunch. I often wonder if we underestimate the importance of these moments because they’re not received with a champagne toast, or a stylized photo shoot or 100+ little cyber thumbs-up.
So with no likelihood of public congratulations, it will be up to you (and perhaps those very close to you) to recognize and celebrate these true life achievements. Albeit not as flashy as the beginnings of a lifelong love or a brand new baby, these moments make up the invisible middles that help strengthen our connections, build our resilience and fill our lives with purpose, direction and growth. So if no ones congratulated you for those moments this year, I’m raising a glass for you right now.