I’m An Empath, So Why Can’t I Cut Myself Some Slack?

I’ve been really grumpy over the past few weeks. I can tell I’ve not been my usual happy-go-lucky self because I’ve seen that fear in the old man’s eyes each time we pass each other in the house, in response to which he has been uncommonly brave and accused me of “unreasonable behaviour” several times.

Photo by Dale de Vera on Unsplash

We’ve both been under pressure, having recently completed our fifteenth house move since we met. I won’t bore you with the details, but sadly the landlord of the lovely pad we moved into in March last year decided to sell it for silly money. Fortunately for us, our agents took on this cute little townhouse around the same time, and aside from a whining dog next door, blinds that bang, and ridiculous Sydney temperatures that turn our bedrooms into private saunas at night, we’re settling in really well. 🙂

I won’t lie, if I hadn’t been forced to work on the day of our move, I suspect that the house would already look like it had been professionally styled, at whatever the cost to my health. So it was fortunate, I suppose, that I had to leave the management to the old man – whose priorities seem to have been moving boxes of stuff we don’t use from one cage to another.

You see, what the move did highlight is how much pressure I put on myself to do everything perfectly

I don’t know why I’m so hard on myself when, in general, I would describe myself as an empath to everyone else. I truly believe that my journey with Kurt has made me more compassionate towards the plight of those less fortunate. Furthermore, I like to think I’m a good person to have around in a crisis – if someone gets ill or is blindsided by something unexpected.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no saint, but I rarely judge others unless I am judged. For example, when I pass overweight people on my walks, I don’t judge them for their size. My default setting is to commend them internally for trying to change their lifestyle. It’s the same when I hear stories about the acts of the mentally ill or even paedophiles – I’m always trying to find reasons why they behaved that way or excuses for what they did.

I felt nothing but sadness for the plight of Joachim’s character in Joker, in spite of the way he handled his trauma

But strangely, I don’t seem to have those same reserves of empathy when it comes to myself. Like so many of us – on this endless treadmill in search of perfection – I never sit back and say ‘well done’ to me.

Each time I look back on what I’ve achieved, it seems insignificant – certainly not the sort of achievements that deserve a bottle of bubbly or a work jolly

Why is the expression ‘it’s the taking part that counts’ considered loser’s talk? Social media has pushed us all aspire to be what (perhaps) only the top 5% of people manage to achieve, i.e. public recognition for their success in some domain, and yet we choose to measure ourselves by these people – models, actresses, perfect mothers, successful career women – rather than “good” people.

The way the media handled Kobe Bryant’s death was a great example. Kobe was put on a pedestal while there was barely a mention about the other people in that helicopter, who presumably had successful lives and families that would miss them as well.

I’ll save the question of how we measure success for another day

But if you’d asked me ten years ago if I ever saw myself as a paid writer, I’d have laughed in your face. And yet here I am – achieving something I am hugely proud of and fulfilled by on a daily basis.

Needless to say, I had to reinvent myself AGAIN to do it – a problem many women face when they need a job that fits in with family and lifestyle and the reason the list of jobs on my resume reads like a Jill Of All Trades – most of which I have no real qualifications for. But luckily for me, I am good at being in the right place at the right time, I’m a great bullshitter, and (apparently), I look trustworthy.

I’m not sure why we feel the need to keep ramping up our personal goals without acknowledging the stepping stones we cross along the way? Small achievements are still achievements, aren’t they?

Over the past few months, I’ve lost nearly two kilos through sheer willpower. I’ve never felt as hangry in my life and I still can’t get into my old clothes, but I am achieving my goal – which is what I set out to do. So why aren’t I happy about it? Why do I always focus on the days that I gained weight rather than the ones when I lost? Why do I keep doing a job that I find stressful, particularly when I’m balancing it with Kurt’s needs, house moves and writing goals?

Have you done anything recently that you should have celebrated, but never got around to it?

Let’s Stop Judging Ourselves By Our Bodies

I went on a girls night to the city last Friday night.

I’m ashamed to admit that it took me longer to get ready than usual because the outfit I had put together in my head that week looked crap when I put it on and I had a confidence crisis, which meant I had to go through every other outfit in my wardrobe until I came back to the original one.

Seriously, I thought that by this age I wouldn’t care how I look, but apparently, I’m not alone – all four of us “girls” that night had our own personal what-to-wear crisis before we met up.

Comments about fat thighs and dog jowls were bandied about, and sadly they’re not unusual. Honestly, anyone listening in on our conversation would have thought we were teenagers on the pull, not a group of middle-aged women praying we’d be home in bed by 10pm at the latest.

Who has done this to us? Who or what has driven a giant bulldozer through the confidence of women when it comes to their bodies? Because you’d think that by your fifties we’d have accepted ourselves for who and what we are, wouldn’t you? And that when we tell our daughters that it’s what’s inside that counts, we’d really mean it?

Sadly, our problem is pretty universal. Check out The Bikini Rant below:

I need to take her advice. I mean it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever wear a bikini again in public, but why do I still care so much about how my body looks at this stage of my life? Who do I want to impress? I should be proud of it. It’s been a reliable vessel to two children, a ton of junk food and a veritable Tardis when it comes to Chardonnay.

And it’s not like the old man ever worries about what his bum looks like.

This week I listened to one of Yumi Stynes fantastic podcasts from her Ladies, We Need To Talk series – during which she discussed this very issue.

Yumi mentions the importance of us having some self-compassion when we think about our bodies. She asks if we would say to our friends what we say to ourselves when we look in the mirror?

Like ‘Shit, Lou! You’d be quite pretty if you didn’t have those three chins!’

But of course, we wouldn’t, because a) It would be rude and hurtful, b) It doesn’t matter, and c) there’s probably nothing that I can do about them even if I really cared.

So, whose standards of beauty are we trying to live up to and judging ourselves by – because they’re not universal standards. Countries such as Mauritania, Tonga and even Fiji embrace a little extra weight in women.

No, they are magazine and social media standards – hello, Instagram – that push men and women to to attain impossible standards of perfection. In the same way that porn influences men to believe that women should be hairless down below, some of them now see a women’s size 6 as the norm.

Kim Kardashian has launched a new range of shapewear called “Solutionware” – a name which has the ‘built-in implication that there is a problem’, according to India Knight of The Times. And Kim’s range isn’t targeting mid-lifers like my friends and I, who are showing the normal wear and tear signs of ageing, they are aimed at our daughters.

Which is why we have to demand better role models for women and our girls. We don’t want our kids fawning over Love Island and Bachelor wannabees; we want them inspired by “real” women – true heroines, whose success isn’t derived from their looks, but from their magnanimity, their intellect and talents. Women such as Ashleigh Barty, Nakkia Lui, Malala Yousafzai, Lady Gaga, Jacinda Ardern or Tiera Guinn, to name but a few.

Historically, women have been prized for their looks and ‘valued for their sexuality’ (Darcy Steinke), because we used to live in a man’s world. But not any more. However, if we are to be taken seriously as equals, we need to value ourselves so much more.

This Birthday, JOMO Replaced FOMO

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It was my birthday yesterday. In some ways, it’s hard to believe that I am now 53, in others, it feels like it has taken me bloody ages to get here. The most important part, I suppose, is that where I am, feels right.

The kids and a good bunch of friends came over for a late lunch; twelve of us squeezed around a makeshift table in our living room due to the unseasonable weather outside.

Girlfriends often ask me why I don’t just book a table at a restaurant to celebrate my birthday, but I’ve always loved the idea of a long table of ‘family’ like they do in the Mediterranean, enjoying good food, wine, and banter, with no rush to be anywhere else.

The old man knocked up his Sangria – somewhat of a tradition now – and each couple brought along a plate of food – tapas-style this year. Spanish meatballs, spicy lamb cutlets, prawns, and salads were washed down with cheese, two delicious homemade Spanish tarts and several (!) bottles of red wine.

I felt very lucky. It was a very special day, the sort that I do less frequently now that I no longer need the validation of people constantly around me like when I was younger.

My life is much more about JOMO (Joy of missing out) than FOMO (fear of missing out) these days, most likely because I feel more comfortable with who I am and how I manage whatever time I have left.

In my twenties and thirties, we entertained a lot, much to the old man’s horror. In fact, that insatiable need for acceptance pushed our relationship the closest to a fracture, until we found a compromise. Inevitable, as a Leo, I love to be the center of attention – as long as it’s on my terms with people I’m comfortable with. But if I’m being brutally honest, those gatherings were about something more than simply whipping my flowing mane around, they were about boosting my self-esteem and fuelling my ego.

Sometimes, they were necessary. Itchy feet precluded us from ever settling anywhere for too long. In fact, the old man often jokes that as soon as I start to make too many friends -squeezing him out of his comfort zone – I force him to consider the next move.  So, we were never the couple at the top of the guest list. We had to work hard for acceptance; to keep reminding people who we were. Throw some social anxiety into the equation – and my semi-permanent resting bitchface – and sometimes it felt like an ongoing battle to be included.

FOMO is normally associated with Millennials as they are thrust into the competitive, adult world of social and professional ladder climbing under the spotlight of social media.  But at some point in our lives – once we come to terms with what we have, find some peace within ourselves and discover the glaring truth that only a few things REALLY matter – we enter our JOMO phase.

JOMO means different things to different people, but for me, it means not worrying if I am in bed by 9 pm on holiday or on a Saturday night when everyone else is out partying; it means not going on that mega trip of Europe because everyone else is doing it, and it means being strong enough to say no. It means looking forward to getting into my PJs by 3pm on a Sunday afternoon, Maltesers on my lap, in front of a good movie.

I’m sure that JOMO has something to do with my body slowing down. Or perhaps, it is simply about feeling more comfortable in that body, but for me, it is also about learning to prioritize my own needs again and my time, which becomes more precious by the day. It is about listening to what I need, rather than trying to please everyone else.

‘Making Self-Love Habitual’

‘Self-lovers don’t diet. They eat what they want, when they want, but do so mindfully.’ (Jacinta Tynan, Sydney Morning Herald)

reading-925589_960_720Admittedly, I’m still working on the ‘mindful’ part of this comment, but I’ve been doing a lot of research recently about loving yourself and this article – How To Make Self-Love An Instinctual Habit – confirmed to me how easy it is to change your outlook if you look at it as something that needs and deserves the same care you give the rest of your body.

Ie. If you value yourself.

 

I also rewatched Tim Minchin’s Nine Life Lessons again  – frankly, one of the best video clips online, in my opinion – in which he recommends embracing life and taking a positive approach wherever possible, even if (naturally) you err on the side of “glass-half-empty-dom” or like him, take the piss out of people for a living. 

Recently, I have tried to mix things up a bit within the confines of my own personality – to adopt new interests and remove bad habits, so that I embrace life more proactively. Recent health studies into dementia stress the importance of learning new skills – crosswords aren’t enough, it seems, (much to the old man’s disdain) – and so, after my last stay in the Doldrums Hotel, I’ve introduced nine habits of my own (below) that I’m forcing myself to do I’m cultivating within my lifestyle to help improve my mental outlook:

  1. Reading – As a teenager, I was an avid reader – anything from Mills and Boon to Jane Austen, and loads of Jackie Collins in between. It provided escapism, fuelled my eschewed dreams of romance and relaxed me when I was feeling anxious. And then I had kids, and the opportunities for reading time dried up. I tried various book clubs – that forced me to read books I wasn’t interested in – and when I began to write seriously, fiction had to be replaced by articles, how-to-write and self-help manuals. Anyhow, recently I’ve forced myself back into reading before bedtime, and not only am I sleeping better, I’ve also been inspired by what I’m reading from both a creative and educational standpoint. You’re never too old to learn.
  2. Fangirling – I know it sounds as pretentious AF – and by way of a pathetic excuse, I will say that this new pleasure of mine is somewhat tenuously linked to my writing – but I love to listen to author talks. NC and I attended a Q and A with the writer Emily Maguire last weekend, which included High Tea and Champagne.  What better way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon?
  3. Masterchef – After a sabbatical of seven or eight years, I decided to give Masterchef another go and I’ve dragged the old man in for the ride. Neither of us has massive culinary aspirations – and I’ve ignored the notebook he passes to me each time the show starts – but what’s not to love about watching the journeys of this likable, brave group of amateurs, who are willing to make mistakes so publicly in search of their dreams?  The arrogance and bizarre eating habits of the chefs are equally entertaining as is the occasional public slaying of the professionals. Miss you, Brendan – talking of fangirling!
  4. Exercise – Admittedly, I never thought I’d include this one in a list such as this, and after years of wobbling down my street in a vain attempt to shed weight, that’s no longer my goal. These days, I exercise to keep my brain fit and healthy. Nothing too strenuous – mainly walks and swimming – but just enough to stop my mind reaching into those dark corners where it prefers to reside.
  5. Simple cooking and eating – I’ve always been an advocate of four-ingredient cooking (preferably three), and recently I’ve turned my hand to a few new dishes. Soups have been my thing in these cooler months and I’ve worked out that you can basically knock up any sumptuous vegetable soup with one hero vegetable and a base of potato, onion, and stock. Comfort in a bowl. I sprinkle a handful of crisp bacon on the top to disguise the fact it’s vegetarian from the boys.
  6. Friends – I know – obvious, right?  And yet ageing and menopause can conspire to push you back into the doldrums more than you’d like, making you socially anxious. And one day, the thought of staying at home under a blanket with the dog on the couch sounds far more appealing than making an effort to see people. Having moved back to our old neck of the woods, I’m so grateful to old friends for forcing me out.
  7. Writing/Journalling – For me, writing has been a life-saver. It’s cheap therapy for me, and really, I should be paying you for listening. There was a while back there when I was so focused on my manuscript that I rarely left the house, when I felt like I had nothing much to say and I parked the blog for a while. But recently, I’ve got back into it with a renewed fervor. My world hasn’t suddenly developed more layers, but it has evolved and developed different layers, and I have begun to enjoy the writing process again. I’ve also started writing a new blog about interior styling here for anyone who is about to sell their home or is passionate about interiors.
  8. Resting – I haven’t resorted to nana naps (just yet), even if some of my friends swear by them, but I do force myself to sit down occasionally. Over-stimulation fuels my anxiety and when I am impulsive and rush, I make mistakes. This has been one of the hardest disciplines for me.
  9. Medication – In the wake of recent events, I can’t emphasize this example of self-love enough. There is no shame in taking medication for an illness – many people are forced to. There should be no stigma attached to taking medication to live a normal life, especially when a normal life is not being afraid to leave your house. Obviously,  I would love all my nine points to be based on organic, holistic ideas, but the reality is that some people need more than that. To enable a quadriplegic to ski, he needs the assistance of a specially-designed chair;  to help someone with anxiety leave their front door, a pill can work. So, what’s the problem?

Letting Go Of The Shit In Your Life

NC and her friends had a sisterhood meeting the other night. She and her tight band of millennial girlfriends, who have recently experienced a spate of more trials than tribulations in their journeys through young adulthood, decided they needed an intervention. After a rough few weeks of new jobs, new-people stresses, cockroach infestations, the cost of avocados and Ubers, men issues…and men issues, they decided to exorcise their demons by sacrificing the drunk backpacker passed out on the floor beneath them and having a big girlie overshare.

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Now I know that I do drop the ‘E’ word and ‘A’ words (entitlement and avocado) in connection to my millennial children quite often on this site, but perhaps the world from their perspective doesn’t look quite as rosy as I would like to believe.

 

Obviously, I have not been made privy to what evolved from the girls’ session, although I remain confident that give my daughter a week, a slap-up meal at our local Japanese and a month’s supply of vegetarian lasagne, her loyalty will crack like a walnut. But what I do know is, each girl wrote down four toxic things that they want to remove from their lives on a piece of paper and then they burnt them ceremoniously in a dish – followed by ten minutes of panic when they remembered about the recent fire ban in NSW.

 

And what I have been given permission to reveal is that number one on NC’s agenda was PTSD – and no, I haven’t screwed her up as well as my son (not that much, anyway) – where the acronym stands for Pre Traumatic Stress Disorder, and relates to her generation’s fear for Gen Y’s future in terms of how we are killing each other and the planet, climate change, the increasing gap between rich and poor etc. There is no doubt in my mind that relationships, men, and sexism would have also been on her list –  particularly as she was still recovering from her company’s selection of a man to lead their IWD conference that week – which may explain the smoking Ken doll and pins I found in her bag the next morning.

 

Anyway, our debrief the following morning made me think about two things: what I would have ejected from my life at the age of twenty-three, and what I would lob in the bin right now, at the age of fifty-something.

 

Personally, I have few memories of my early twenties other than the consumption of vast amounts of alcohol and cigarettes; dependencies that have obviously left their mark in terms of the culling of my brain cells. I didn’t take life too seriously back then, other than donating my time to a few coin collections for the university Rag Society, making tea for the vegan student militants camping outside McDonald’s (because their leader was pretty hot), attending the odd lecture (because the lecturer was pretty hot), and watching various renditions of Welsh poetry (because the poet was pretty hot). In truth, I was pretty shallow and hedonistic back in the day. And in hindsight, perhaps if I’d recognized those unresolved grief issues rooted in my addictions, sober me might have found more time and energy to change the world and bemoan the price of avocados.

 

And what shit would I let go of, today?

 

My anxiety, which stops me doing so many things that I know I would enjoy.

My lack of self-belief that is linked to the anxiety that stops me doing those things I know I would enjoy.

 

Hmmm.

 

My box of regrets, most of which are so embarrassingly first world and entitled: the if onlys seated in family issues, the houses we lost money on, the careers and businesses that never took off, the smoking when I knew the risks…

 

And finally… the men who think they believe in equality, call themselves feminists, swear blind they’d never stand in the way,  hurt or discriminate against them, and yet whose behaviors demonstrate they clearly have no fucking clue.

 

They’d be torched.

Cleaning Out Your Closet And Saying ‘NO!’

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We’re living amongst the debris of our latest house move. Boxes line every wall of the house, there is not enough crockery left to fill the dishwasher and I can’t find any matching lids for the Tupperware. Everything superfluous to our lives – photos, artworks, kitchenware (that only comes out for entertaining) and sports equipment has been packed away and the stuff we really need for the last few days of survival is hanging on for dear life. I did try to get the old man into a box, but unfortunately, he was having none of it.

 

I know I’ve said this during each one of our twenty-eight moves over the past five years, but this stage of cleaning out your closet does make you realize how very few material (and indeed personal) possessions you actually need.

 

I’ve just started reading The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving A Fuck by Sarah Knight,  based on the Japanese book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. It is about ‘discarding items that no longer hold joy and organizing the ones you have left.’ That doesn’t only apply to material things, it applies to friends and toxic relationships, and interests that no longer stimulate etc.

 

The book is about mental decluttering.

 

You don’t need my excuse of a house-move to declutter. You can do it anytime, but I believe that middle age is an optimum stage in our lives to give it a go. More confident and mentally stronger than ever before, we have the wisdom to know what we want, perhaps a little more financial security, and the balls to finally action those changes without remorse.  9781478964360

 

There are obviously right ways and wrong ways to go about effecting such changes, so you do need to be a little careful. I’m lucky, I could throw away our wedding video and the old man would say ‘Good job, Lou,’ but you can’t charge like a bull in a china shop and tell people to fuck off out of your life – as appealing as that may sound. You can prune the tree in a way that is inoffensive – not returning calls is one way, removing friends from social media also works – muahahaha – simply saying ‘no’ is the goal. The premise of the idea is that unnecessary belongings, commitments, and toxic friendships become clutter and need to go. There’s enough to worry about.

 

Giving too many fucks is exhausting and adds undue stress to what is already a pressure cooker of a society.  

 

Unknowingly, I’ve been cleaning out my closet towards a simpler existence for a while now. I realized some time ago that my over-commitment problem sucked the joy from the simple pleasures in my life and was adding extra pressure to an already frazzled brain. It was like working part-time and not being able to do either job particularly well, and it bred resentment and anger.

 

So in the same way that Mark Zuckerberg wears the same clothes every day, I am trying to tailor our lifestyle to make it simpler.

 

He says, “I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community”- replace “this community” with “myself”. (Business Insider)

There is a new lightness, I can tell you. Less guilt, less shame, more time.

 

In terms of practical, day-to-day living, this means: saying ‘no’ and not meeting up with that friend that you dread seeing; planning meals, so that ton of unwanted food in the fridge doesn’t remind you about the starving in Africa each time you open the door; limiting your wardrobe –  I buy four key colours so that everything coordinates which ensures less of those “I haven’t got any clothes” moments – I’m also working on a general colour scheme and theme throughout the house; being more picky about who you choose to spend time with and how many activities you participate in, even if that means more time on the sofa in your yoga pants questioning if you have any friends.

 

In summation, it means saying ‘no’… a lot.

 

 

And On The Topic Of Self-love And Acceptance…

And while I’m on the topic of self-love and acceptance…

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Cue kaftan, joss sticks and Hare Krishna chanting…

 

That trip to the movies symbolized the start of a new chapter for me this week – a chapter I like to call “thinking about myself for a fucking change” – not to be confused with the old man’s version when he leaves the toilet seat up or only makes a coffee for himself. No, this chapter is about self-love. “Loving yourself” is something many of us lose sight of when things don’t turn out as planned or as we get sucked into the vortex of responsibilities that go with parenting or the demands of life and its disappointments.

 

As I mentioned in my previous post, one of the ways to initiate self-love is to get back to the stuff you used to enjoy and made time for, before you became an obsessive worry wort that forgot how to compartmentalize problems. And there are lots of ways to do that. As you are probably aware, I’m not hugely spiritual, so the whole happy place/yoga/taking up religion isn’t really my thang, but going to the movies – albeit by myself – was one step, “painting” will be another and “reading” is a huge priority.

 

I read my first book this week. Baby steps, I thought, so I chose something really light to break myself in gently – a book about the dangers of taking responsibility for the challenging behaviors of our children!  This, as you know, is a topic close to my heart and a conduct I have been guilty of for some time but never found the clarity needed to put it right. You see, I confused the responsibilities of being a mother and its requirement of unconditional love and sacrificed my own happiness for that of my child’s – which is no good for either of us.

 

It’s time to stop punishing myself.

 

(However, a return to self-love doesn’t have to emanate from parenting issues, it can come from any adversity that has knocked you sideways and tested your priorities and purpose, not just the stress that comes with the territory of raising challenging kids or kids with addictions).

 

What I loved about this idea is how the author rams home the importance of reaching an acceptance of who your child is, and ultimately the need, (as a parent), to put away the picture we expected of them when we saw that thin blue line.  We don’t all get the happy, smiling baby on the front of the parenting manuals and that’s okay because it takes all sorts of people to create a society.  

 

In the same way that our children have the right to live their own lives, so do we. Wallowing in anger, disappointment, and guilt means we miss out on living, and that ultimately helps no-one, least of all the child who senses that negativity.  Self-love is just as important as the support we continue to offer our offspring.

 

It is also important to remember two things: 1) we don’t know how much time we have in this world and 2)  in most cases, “change” only comes from people when they are ready to commit to that change – and it’s generally not something we can coerce them to do successfully. While in the author’s opinion, it is fine to remain in a consultant capacity to these children, we do need to step back at some point and take back our own lives.

 

I also have to stop punishing my son for how he has chosen to live his life. The book is about recognizing mental illness and addiction as a sickness rather than a weakness or a faulty gene and treating that person with the same respect you would treat someone with a physical illness. Which is fucking hard, to be honest, and for a while now my halo has been slipping as the lines of unconditional love began to blur.

 

We are human, after all.

 

Everyone deserves to be loved and second and third chances, no matter where their journey leads them. From the kid that can’t walk a straight line and the toothless, homeless man on the street, to the lottery winner who wastes all his winnings on drugs or the sex offender who was abused as a child, acceptance, love, and forgiveness are the sign of true strength.

 

Now I just have to practise what I preach.