Just over a year ago, I started seeing a therapist. It’s not something I’ve hidden from anyone, but is something I’ve had trouble talking about. Most people who know me don’t know about the vast oceans of hurt I carry in my heart. But when I realised that it had started to leak into my parenting, I knew it was time to get help.
Therapy has been deeply transformative for me. You see, I’m a natural storyteller and can – pretty dispassionately – tell people about events from my life without feeling too involved in it. I tell it as though it happened to someone else. I downplay the enormous hurt and trauma I still feel. You might have heard some of the stories, but you’ll never know how deeply I feel the scars.
But in therapy, I finally found an outlet for all the feelings I had been stowing in my heart since I was a child. I found a way to process all the pain, trauma and confusion that I had no way of dealing with before.
2018 was an incredibly hard year for me. My son had a rocky start at his new school, and it was only after the start of the second term that I was able to start to focus on work. That meant my business took a back seat to the rigours of parenting. My sister, husband and I bought a flat late in 2017. We did a full gut job and renovation on the place, which I project managed as they both work full time office jobs. It took us a few extra months to find the right tenant, taking us up to June.
In July, we had the incredible privilege of taking a wonderful holiday in Portugal for two weeks to celebrate my husband’s 40th birthday. This was my highlight of the year. But if you’ve ever travelled with a young child, you’ll know how much planning and preparing it takes to pull off a successful holiday.
Just before we left for that holiday, I signed onto a 3 month trial retainer contract for what seemed to be an exciting role. It turned out to be both more and less than I thought it would be, veering wildly between far too much to do and focus on (and give my other clients their due attention) and far too little to keep me occupied for the time they asked of me. We ended the contract at the end of August, and I think we were all relieved.
In the last week of August, my son came down with the flu. Not an earth-shattering occurrence, except that after a week of the flu and another week of antibiotics for an undetectable suspected infection, he was admitted to hospital with severe abdominal pain. After 24 hours in the hospital, he was in surgery to have his appendix removed at just 3.5 years old. He and I were in hospital for 6 days, and he didn’t walk for two weeks. He was out of school for 3 full weeks over the course of just four weeks. By mid-September, he was on the mend and back at school and I could finally turn back to my work and pick up the pieces of life.
But of course, all of these things took their toll. You can’t function on high adrenaline and stress for the better part of a year and expect to just put it down and function normally again. My work had suffered during those months – I knew it, and so did my clients – but my mental and physical health also suffered enormously.
While all of these events were difficult and hard to cope with at times, I was also working with my therapist to uncover and heal the wounds of my past. One day I will be able to write about these events without feeling unmanageably vulnerable, but today is not that day. Suffice to say that although you cannot see the rewards of the work, working through the traumas of your past is still work. And very hard work, at that.
Throughout the difficulties and setbacks of 2018, I continued to show up at therapy, to bring my hurt, pain and scars out into the open. I started to realise that I had built a fortress around myself and my heart. Some may say that my experiences weren’t ‘that’ traumatic, but to me they feel like the world. A world of hurt and pain that has made me shut myself up into a prison that no-one is allowed into but me and even I don’t go into that prison voluntarily.
But now that I am able to see what I have done, what I have become, I can see a glimmer of where I can go and what I can become.
I ended 2018 in an extremely low place. My business and my confidence had taken a knock. My brain, my body and my very soul felt exhausted, completely drained. The December-January holidays were nice, but caring for a 3 year old all day, every day is only so relaxing. And while I do feel better, I constantly wonder when I will start to feel like myself again.
On Brené Brown
Last week, Brené Brown (and, truthfully, Audible) completely changed my understanding of the world and myself. I’m forced to take a break from therapy while my son is out of school, but try to retain a shred of sanity by listening to podcasts, and now, audio books. I’m halfway through my second listen of Daring Greatly, and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that it has changed how I think, how I feel and how I intend to parent.
Earlier in this post I referenced the pain and trauma I still feel from my childhood. That pain and trauma has affected how I parent and how I feel about myself as a parent. I was parented through a system of shame and fear, and I have grown up to be a shame and fear driven adult. I never feel like I am enough. I never feel like I’m good enough to warrant care, love and acceptance. And that is largely due to the messages I received during my childhood, both overtly and covertly.
I’m working through that in therapy, working to improve my relationship with myself, to shed the toxicity I grew up with and to change my inner voice. But while it has helped, sometimes I can’t figure out how to change how I communicate with my son. You see, when your own internal dialogue is negative, shaming and fearful, the way you communicate with others mirrors that. In Daring Greatly, Brené Brown gives tangible examples of how she has changed the dialogue in her own life and in her relationship with her children. And these are the ways that I will be using to help improve my parenting and my relationship with my son.
On gym for mental health
In a fit of New-Years-Resolution-itis, I signed up for a gym membership last weekend. I haven’t told anyone yet, because I’m, well, truthfully, I’m afraid of the pressure and showing that much vulnerability. However, this wasn’t in the spirit of ‘must get fit and look thin’, it’s more for my head. You see, due to that messed up shame and fear childhood, I have some anger management issues.
I was chatting with my 3 year old, and asked if he can help me go to gym by going to the kids club while I workout. I told him that I hope it will help me to be a better mama for him. And my heart broke when he responded, “Yes, it will help to make you less angry.” You see, the way you interact with your child leaves an imprint on their heart. But the mistake I always make is thinking that one impression is the lasting impression.
Through the words of Brené Brown and Janet Lansbury, I have realised that my relationship with my son isn’t cast in stone. Each day, each time we interact I have a chance to change the impression. Sure, my previous interactions are still there, but over time, I can try to be better, to be the mama I so desperately want to be and to change the shape of the impression I leave on his heart. And if I learnt just one thing in the course of 2018, it’s that in order to be able to parent my son the way I want to, I’m going to have to learn how to parent myself in the exact same way.
So here’s to 2019.
I hope it’s the year I learn how to look after myself, how to show myself love and how to accept that love as something that I deserve. I hope that it’s the year I learn to parent with acceptance, love and empathy. I hope that the impression I leave in my son’s heart is one of love, unconditional and completely without shame and fear. I hope it’s the year I start to feel more like myself and less like the shell of a person carved out of fear, shame and exhaustion. I hope that I’m putting in place some structures that will make these hopes, dreams and intentions more reachable. I hope that I allow myself the space to fail gracefully, to succeed with an open heart and to put love out into the world. I hope that 2019 is the year I learn to be vulnerable and to Dare Greatly with every breath I take.