How to make peace with your weakness

I don’t know about you, but I was raised in a culture that taught me – from a young age – that my weaknesses needed to be “fixed”… my problems ought to be “cured”… and my deficits had to be neutralized.

And the message… that I wasn’t “enough” as I was – and that I needed to be fixed, was never stronger than when I was at school (and in particular, high school).

For example, I’ve never been good with numbers and maths.  I don’t like numbers and maths.  I don’t *get* numbers and maths.  And I don’t want to work with numbers and maths… and I DEFINITELY don’t want a career that involves numbers and maths. Yet, in school, this was viewed as a weakness that needed to be fixed.

So – due to my low marks in maths,  I:

  • got into a lot of trouble with maths teachers
  • was placed in the “Donkey Row” in maths class (the row of desks in front of the teacher’s desk – designated specifically for naughty kids and “dunces”)
  • was scolded a lot for my low maths scores (on tests)
  • was punished – regularly – for daydreaming in maths class, staring out the window (and desperately wishing to be anywhere else in the world – but there)
  • was told that I ought to just concentrate… and focus… and “pull-up-my-socks”
  • was repeatedly told that my low maths test scores would damage my future potential and that I would struggle to get a job (one teacher told me I’d end up sweeping streets… another told me that I’d end up selling-cheese-in-Checkers)

So… due to this perceived problem… this alleged deficit… this weakness-that-needed-fixing… a lot of time was spent (by me) and money spent (by my parents)… on *fixing*… this “weakness” (regular after-school maths lessons, extra maths homework, break-times spent doing extra sums, etc).

Of course (and I’m sure nobody is really surprised to hear this)… that when all that forced coersion ended… and the Master Maths lessons stopped… and school days were over… all of that supposedly “learned” material that was foisted upon me… magically vanished into thin air – and I never thought of trigonometry or calculus… ever again.

To this day… the only maths I do (or care to do)… is basic sums (like add a 20% tip onto the bill at a restaurant)… or a few simple baking conversions… or pricing on a new product.   The rest – I leave up to the people in this world who are genuinely gifted at (and interested in) numbers.   And yes – there are lots of people who love numbers.

I – however – am not one of them.

My point is this:  I truly believe that the obsession with my weaknesses came at the expense of my gifts and natural talents.

There’s a great quote in the Strengths Finder book by Tom Rath:

“What’s even more disheartening is the way our fixation on deficits affects young people in the home and classroom.  In every culture we have studied, the overwhelming majority of parents (77% in the United States) think that a student’s lowest grades deserve the most time and attention.  Parents and teachers reward excellence with apathy instead of investing more time in the areas where a child has the most potential for greatness”

Zactly, Tom!

Imagine if, instead of focusing on fixing my weaknesses (like maths) – that my parents and school teachers, instead, INVESTED into my natural strengths… my natural gifts… the areas where I had the most potential to  thrive and shine.   And what if all that time and money… had been spent on investing in growing my skills and understanding in the fields of art, design, music and literature (the stuff I genuinely loved).

And I think that many of us learned… way-way-back from our school days… that weakness equaled “failure”.  And failure equaled shame.  And shame equaled rejection and isolation (whether self-inflicted or otherwise).   Because it was shameful to fail certain subjects… or just not be GOOD at certain things (like the kids who were always last in the running-races… or those who were always picked last for teams… or those who were placed in the Donkey Row in maths class…)

But…

What if… it was just OKAY… to suck at something….?

What if – there was NO SHAME attached – in any way – to our weaknesses?

And when I say “weaknesses” – I refer to a plethora of areas where we’re just not strong

Like…  it’s okay to suffer from depression.  It’s not a shameful condition.  It doesn’t mean that you’re a self-centred, self-obsessed loser.  It just means that, well, your brain works a bit differently to others… and you’ve probably already figured out that you need to find ways to manage that condition…

But it’s not a shameful thing.

And – it’s okay to be addicted to something (most of us are!)… whether it’s food, drink, prescription meds, gambling, shopping, soap-operas or gossip! (to mention just a very short list).  It’s not a shameful condition.  You are not an evil monster for struggling with addiction!  You are not a ‘lesser’ human being!  In fact, I think society does addicts an enormous disservice by shaming and isolating them.  Why can’t we just be honest about our addictions (without fearing an avalanche of shame and ridicule from others)…. (?)

Because it’s OKAY to say:  “Y,know what?  I am really, really struggling with this thing.  I can’t do it on my own.  I need some help – can you help me?”

And it’s okay to GET help… and to discover ways to manage your addiction in a way that works best for you.  And to be supported – instead of shamed.

And… it’s okay to say:  “I can’t”

You’re not a loser or a weakling for saying:  “I… just… can’t“.

You are not a failure for saying:  “I am just NOT finding this possible!”… or a screw-up for saying:  “Actually – I just don’t want to do this”.

It’s okay to ACCEPT and MAKE PEACE WITH your weakness (in fact – I’d go as far as to suggest… that it’s the only way to move forward)… (as I think anyone who has journeyed with AA would concur).

Quick example:  I could either bully and shame myself… indefinitely… until the end of time… for being messy, disorganised and bad with numbers and money.  I could berate myself, scold myself, tell-myself-to-muster-up-the-willpower to *fix* myself… (and then wallow in the mud-pit of self-hatred when all my Plans-to-Fix-Myself came to naught)…  OR… I could make peace with my weaknesses in that department…. and compose a blog post – sharing my weakness with the world – and ask for help in the areas where I am just NOT naturally strong…. (I have found my “Andrew” – by the way!!)

This is what I want for you:  I want you to make peace with yourself – exactly as you are, right now.   We ALL have flaws.  We ALL have weaknesses.  We ALL have areas of our lives where we’re just not naturally… strong.

But… instead of spending your life… your time… your money… your energy… trying desperately to *fix* all the areas where you feel like you’re not measuring up – try investing in your strengths instead!  Spend your time, money and energy doing the stuff you love… investing in your passions and what makes you come alive!   Do the stuff you’re good at!  And – encourage your kids to do the stuff they’re good at too!

I cannot emphasise enough – how that decision – to stop shaming myself,  make peace with my weakness…. and focus, instead, on my strengths – has turned my life around.

I’m not ashamed that I struggle to keep things organised and neat.  I’m not ashamed that I count on my fingers.  I’m not ashamed of my body.  I’m not ashamed of my limited cooking skills.  I’m not ashamed that my brain sometimes doesn’t co-operate in the way I’d like it to.  I’m not ashamed that I’m not sporty and can’t run fast.  I’m not ashamed that I can’t hit a ball with a racquet.  I’m not ashamed that I suck at acting.  I’m not ashamed of my eating disorder.  I’m not ashamed of my big bum… or my cellulite.  I’m not ashamed of my quirks and oddities.

I have found ways to quietly manage (whilst not obsessing over) the areas where my weakness has the potential to negatively affect my life.   But the vast majority of my time is now spent on investing in my strengths.

And it has changed… everything.

———————————————-

PS:  As some of you have already surmised, I genuinely enjoy hearing other people’s stories!  Any strengths or weaknesses that you’d like to share the the comments section?  I’m listening…

 

Why I HATE asking…

So…

*gulp*

Here goes….

*takes deep breath*.

I was raised in a family of entrepreneurs.  My grandad was a man who didn’t suffer fools and he had a large sign on his office desk which read:  “A friend in need… is a bloody nuisance”.

Grandad valued hard work and independence.  Period.

If you were (in any way) needy… he believed that it was because you hadn’t worked hard enough… and you were, well…. a bloody nuisance.

My Dad, I think, followed in Grandad’s footsteps in many ways.  Dad, like Grandad, was (and is) fiercely independent.  He didn’t like to owe ANYbody… ANYthing.  And certainly didn’t like being in a position of being (or feeling)… beholden… to someone else.

As a result – he never was.

He made his own money.  Paid his own debts.  And never asked anyone for anything.

And he never needed anything from anyone…. including me.

But he would always give.  Dad has always been very generous – and has always found it easy to give (and especially to his family).

But not to *get*.  Never to get.

He doesn’t even like getting birthday or Christmas presents.  They make him feel awkward.  He says he doesn’t need them.

He doesn’t need phone-calls.  Doesn’t need birthday cards.  Doesn’t even need visits.

On the one hand… this makes him the most admin-free family member – because he has zero expectations.  Of anyone.

But sometimes, I feel a bit sad that Dad doesn’t need anything from me.  I would love the opportunity to GIVE something back to my Dad.  Something that he needs.   I would love it if he phoned me and asked for my help with something.  It would honour me, deeply,  to be able to help him.

And here’s an irony:

As it turns out… I’m now married to (surprise, surprise)… a fiercely independent Greek who ALSO doesn’t *need* anything.  So independent is Nick (he who loathes the idea of me “mothering” him)… that – like Dad… he doesn’t really need anything from me.

This is definitely not a criticism.  It’s one of the things I love most about Nick.  I love that he’s never burdened me with a long list of expectations and duties.  I love that he’s a Giver.

But the problem with Givers… is that they find it very, very difficult to receive.

And – in fact – they view “receiving” as “taking“.  And a Giver’s dread is to be viewed by others as a “Taker”.   In fact, I think one of the worst things that anyone could say to Nick… (or to my Dad, for that matter)… (or to Nick’s cousin, Helen)… is to accuse them of being Takers.

Now you have the back-story… here is the point of today’s post:

I don’t view myself as a Giver… or at least not in the same league as most Givers I know.

But… jeeeeeez…. do I absolutely and completely struggle to:

  1. Ask for help.
  2. Receive the help I’ve asked for.

Asking for help is… for lack of a better word… excruciating.

Asking for financial help is even MORE excruciating.  There is so much… shame… associated with the act of asking.  I keep thinking of beggars.  I keep thinking of the words plastered on Grandad’s desk sign… and hear his Lancaster-laced voice, thundering in my head:… “… a bloody nuisance! Needy people are a bloody nuisance!”…

And I think:  “I don’t want people to view me as a bloody nuisance!  I don’t want to be a bloody nuisance to my friends… my blog followers… my family….!”

Everything in me wants… NOT… to ask.

*I* want to be the person that is in the position to give, do, serve, help and encourage.  *I* don’t want to be the needy one… the “weak” one.

But – here’s the thing.  I know this mentality of mine isn’t helpful.

And – more than that – I know it just doesn’t make any logical SENSE.  Because, when my friends and family ask me for favours – I never view them as “needy”, “weak” or “a bloody nuisance”…

In most cases – I feel honoured that they asked me.  Honoured that I’m able to help… honoured that they felt comfortable enough to ask

————————

So – this post is about ASKING.  

It’s hard and excruciating – but I’m doing it anyway (even if it’s just a way for me to face my own fears).

So – now you know.  I’m asking for your help.  Just click on this link to see why:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/send-hat-to-b-school/x/491271

*big hug!!*…. X

PS:  Here’s a TED Talk by Amanda Palmer (one of the most-watched TED talks… one that prompted me to buy her book… and one that also made me feel very challenged and uncomfortable)….

And finally – I’d love to hear from YOU.  Am I the only person who struggles with asking and receiving?  Do any of you struggle with this too?  Have you managed to overcome these fears?  How would you define a “Giver” and a “Taker”…?  I’d love to hear your story!… x

The video (of me) that I almost never posted

I’m going to post a video.

But before you watch this video… I need you to understand the back-story behind the video.

I created the video in 2009 as a part of a social upliftment project that I had embarked upon called Tapestry of Dreams.

The video was created for a show that we produced – and basically – I was trying to encourage the audience (and myself) to escape One-Day-When Land… and to give ourselves permission to live – in the “now”… and not continually put life on hold… and wait, wait, wait…. until all kinds of magical circumstances fell into place… (in my case, being *thin*)… until we gave ourselves permission to actually DO the things we wanted to do with our lives.

The video – in a sense – was a leap of faith for me.  It was my way of putting myself out there… of exposing my favourite One-Day-When excuse… and it was also my way of cutting off any escape routes or excuses to bolt  (Quick Heads Up:  I’m doing the exact same thing with this post… and you’ll understand why when you read the paragraph at the bottom).

Because – if I was going to make a very vulnerable, public video about my One-Day-When excuses… and if I was going to end the video by saying:  “No!  I have the right to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous… exactly as I am… right now!”

Then… by God… I *HAD TO* actually DO what I said I would do.

I had to pursue my goals and dreams… regardless of my weight… regardless of my terrible self-esteem… regardless of my body-shame…

… and I had to learn to love myself – exactly as I was… instead of waiting … and waiting… and waiting… for the ONE DAY… WHEN… I *got thin*.

So – that’s what I did.

I stopped waiting to start living.

And at that show – in 2009… I got up on that stage, in front of all those people… (in spite of my body-embarrassment)… and I sung a song that I had composed which was titled:  “I want to shine” (it was the first time I had sung on stage in many years).

Here’s a photo:

tod show

And… after that show – from then… until now… I have slowly, steadily and very deliberately… learned to un-hate myself… and to treat myself and my body with the love and respect it deserves… and to actively pursue my dreams and the life I want (regardless of my addictions and failings).

YES… the “me” in the video below is significantly fatter than the “me” of today (about 30 kilograms… more-or-less).

But I don’t just want you to focus on the weight.  Please.

I don’t want the video to be *about* the weight… because I also don’t want to give anyone the idea that this journey is all about weight-loss… or that Fat-Me was somehow “bad” or “disgusting”… and that Current-Me is somehow more acceptable or worthy than Fat-Me.

Because I was always worthy.

But – for the longest time – I just didn’t realise it.

I had bought into the bullshit lie (perpetuated by our toxic society) that my worth… or value… as a human being… and, especially as a woman – was based on my weight and my external appearance.

The reason I’m showing this video is NOT so I can say:  “Hey!  Look how much weight I lost!  Look how disgusting that person in the video was… I’m sure glad I’m not her anymore!”

The reason I’m showing this video is – instead – to say… how very proud I am of (the me) in that video.

That person in the video?  I’m proud of her bravery… I’m proud of her willingness to be vulnerable… and I’m proud that she took the steps towards deliberate living and self-love… in spite of her insecurities and struggles.

That “Me” in the video set me on a beautiful journey… that continues to this day.  And the (numerous) wonderful changes that have happened in my life since 2009 – can be attributed to “that” me… when she decided to stop waiting to start living.

I am still reaping the rewards of that choice.

So… without further ado – here’s the video:

 And… speaking of putting myself “out there”… it is with (MUCH) fear and trepidation that… I have launched a crowd-funding campaign.  This – by the way – is the FIRST… EVER… crowd-funding campaign I have ever launched (long-time followers of this blog know that I don’t ask for stuff… or try to sell stuff… and I’ve certainly never done anything like *this* before) … and I can barely type these words because I’m experiencing an over-thinking meltdown… and a gazillion what-if’s (“What if my blog followers think I’m taking advantage of them?”  “What if they tell me to stop begging?”  “What if nobody donates a red cent?”  “What if people think less of me because of this?”  “What if people unsubscribe because of this?”  “What will people think of me?”)…  *cringe-cringe*… okay – so without further ado (insert further cringing and much freak-out here)…  here’s the link:  http://igg.me/at/hat2school/x/491271

Okay.  I’m going.  I need a hot bath….and Nutella.

Hugs & love to all…. X

You are NOT alone (and neither am I)

Blogging can be a lonely road.

I don’t *see* the faces on the other side of this screen.   I huddle in coffee shop corners, typing my thoughts, fears and dreams into this laptop… and I release them into cyberspace.

Sometimes (often) – it feels as though I’m just talking… or rather, writing… to myself.

And that’s fine, of course.  I find that talking to myself… and writing to myself… is tremendously therapeutic and I do it often.

But still, there is always that very human part of me that longs to be *seen*… *heard*… and *got*.  There’s always that part of me that yearns for a tribe – people who not only *get* the journey – but folk who are grappling with the same questions I’m grappling with… and chewing on the same kinds of thoughts and ideas… and those who understand my back-story (because they’ve been through something similar).

There was a time when I thought I was alone in my experiences of being weird… and of not-fitting-in… and of utterly hating (and feeling damaged by) my school experience.

There was a time (in the not too-distant past) when I thought to myself:  

“Who are you kidding, Hat?  Most people WANT normal.  Most people LIKE the status-quo.  Most people are not freakish rat-popping, tune-humming, messy-art-journal-making, semi-nomadic, coffee-quaffing, lunatic-creative creatures with strange personalities who snatch their children out of normal-school and take them for picnics in graveyards or whisk them off around the world on a whim!”

And it’s true.

Not everyone is Hat-like.

BUT… after writing this post and this post… and the MASSIVE feedback (that I have never before experienced on this blog)… I have quickly realised that I am NOT alone.

And there ARE people on the other side of this laptop screen…. lots of people, in fact.

And there are many, many (heartbreakingly many) people… who *get* what it feels like to not-fit-in.  Who understand the tremendous pressure to conform-to-the-norm.  And who resonate and relate with my stories of withering in school… because they withered too!

In the past couple of days, I have connected with… and heard the stories of countless people.

Most of the comments (many of which have arrived in my e-mail inbox) seem to be divided into two threads:

  1. Adults who – like me – feel as though they are *still* recovering from the message (perpetuated by a toxic society, the schooling system, the media, etc)… that we are just – not ENOUGH – exactly as we are.  That we need to *fix* ourselves… and change… and be something else or somebody else entirely (if we ever hope to fit in or to be found ‘acceptable’).
  2. Parents (of children who are similar to “Young Hat”).  Parents who recognise the beautiful uniqueness of their child who just doesn’t *fit*… and who are either in a place of questioning (i.e.: “We know something has to change, but we’re not sure where to start”) – or – parents who have already taken steps to ensure that their child is raised in an environment that is most fitting for the unique little being that they *are* (i.e.: homeschooling, unschooling, alternative schools like Sudbury, art schools, dance schools, etc…)

Truth be told, I have been on an emotional roller coaster over the past couple of days.

Because I resonate so deeply with these stories, I have teared up (more than once) whilst reading the comments and e-mails.  And – just so you know – I’m not much of a crier.

But – my heart has also soared too!  This morning, I received an e-mail from somebody who told me that she was “a Gillian” and she’s now, at the age of 37, going back to school to get a degree in dance.

My heart soared at that news.  In fact – I suspect I may have slurped up some (happy) tears that plopped into my morning cup of coffee.

My heart also soars because she has a 10 year old boy… who thrives in school (and who LOVES his maths and his science) – and yet, when the boy read my story of Hat… and when he got to the part where Hat says:  “Perhaps they are right”…  he shouts out “Nooooooo!!!”

Because even at his age… he can recognise that there are others who are *different*… and that it’s OKAY… and that it’s wonderful (because diversity and uniqueness are wonderful) – and it upsets this boy to imagine that somebody feels they need to squash their uniqueness down in order to fit into some pre-defined Box.

We need more kids like that in the world.  Heck – we need more adults like that in the world!

I think we should chuck all ridiculous One-Size-Fits-All expectations that we have of others (and of ourselves) on to the trash heap.  I think that shit should be hoofed out our lives and our hearts like the toxic mulch that it is!

And I think we should do our best to encourage and allow ourselves and others to just *BE* who we truly are (with all our warts, weakness, weirdness and – of course – wonderfulness).  

Because we need everyone – functioning at their best… in their happiest and most content state… to be able to change this world and make it a better place for all.

Thank-you for showing me that I’m not alone.

And remember:  neither are you!

————————–

PS:  I have created a little mailing list for everyone who is interested in the progress of my illustrated book, “How Heather got her Hat’ness Back”.  I’ll be posting an occasional mail with progress photos, stories and what-not.  If you’d like to be added to that list – just click here.   If you’re one of those who commented on my post about my big, crazy dream… I’ve already added you to the mailing list!  :-)  You can also follow my journey on instagram.

My big, crazy dream…

I have this big, crazy dream.

I’ve had it for a while.

Due to my experiences… as a creative creature who lost sight of herself (for many years) – and then – found herself again… I have wanted – for a long time – to use my specific talents and gifts – in helping and encouraging others (whether kids, teens or adults) to EMBRACE their beautiful uniqueness and to love and accept themselves (exactly as they are right now).

And so… I wrote a poem.  And (kinda like Dr. Seuss likes to do)… I illustrated it too.

Here’s a titbit (PS: read the words on each page out loud for the best effect):

IMG_3604

IMG_3610

IMG_3612

IMG_3615

IMG_3617

IMG_3623

IMG_3619

IMG_3625

IMG_3627

IMG_3629

“You need to stop day-dreaming!  Work hard at school!

You must pass your tests and obey all the rules!

Study your maths and your accountancy

You’ll need them one day in a job – wait and see!”

“Stop playing those games!  Stop fooling around!

Stop laughing so loudly.  You need to calm down!”

“Your art’s just a hobby, your jokes are not funny

You need to pass science if you want to earn money!”

“You need to be cultured, refined and mature

and dutiful, dainty, discreet and demure.

You’ll get a good job and you’ll marry one day,

life will work out – IF you do what we say”…

And Hat started thinking:

hat pic

“I’m sucking at schoolwork.  I’m just getting fatter.

I’m good at the stuff that does not seem to matter.

Perhaps if I *fix* myself – all will be well,

’cause people want “normal” from what I can tell.

If I tone myself down and re-program my mind,

then I’ll be like the others… and all will be fine”

And thus, on that day, Hat resolved to reform

she would be like the rest and conform to the norm.

She tossed out her weird stuff and went on a diet,

she banished her dreams and became rather quiet.

She even threw out her collection of hats.

She stopped writing poems…

and she stopped popping rats.

Out went her artwork and prized peacock feather…

then “Hat” was abandoned…

she called herself… Heather.

—————————-

Okay – so, there you go.

That was about 1 third of the book I’ve made.

My Big Dream is two-fold.  Firstly – I’d like to see this poetry-picture-book published – and distributed far and wide… with the hope (and the big-fat-dream) that it will help somebody to think twice before attempting to mould themselves (or their kids) according to other people’s expectations and ideals.

The second part of my Big-Fat-Dream… (and probably the part that most excites me, because I’ve been dreaming about this for bloody ages)… is to create a unique little short-film… of this poem.

For those who don’t know… my husband is a filmmaker – and we could absolutely DO this thing (just the… uh… small issue of money – like – *uh* sorta… $40 000 USD)…  Because films – and especially properly-made films… are expensive.  Even here in South Africa.  Ex-pen-sive.

I dream of a beautifully crafted, creative mini-film… and I would also just release it for free on the internet – with the hopes that it would inspire and encourage others to embrace their beautiful uniqueness… and stop trying to change or *fix* themselves in order to fit in.

(By the way – the book has a happy ending.  A very happy ending.  It’s not a sad, miserable book).

So – there you go.

I’m putting that little dream “out there”.

I kinda suck at raising money.  I suck even more at ASKING for things (I even read Amanda Palmer’s book “The Art of Asking” in an attempt to cure myself of this impediment – but I still hate asking anybody for anything).

So – maybe out there – there’s somebody with a brilliant Master-Plan… who digs my little book (which would be titled “How Heather got her Hat’niss back”) – and who has a great idea on where I should take it from here.

Do I attempt to crowd-fund this thing?

Do I put a “donate” button on my website?  (uh… no)

Do I brown-nose friends-in-high-places… (not that I have many of those).

Or… is this just another one of those well-meaning little projects that gets tucked away in the cupboard and kept as a cute little heirloom for my future grandkids…. (?)

I dunno.

Any thoughts???

Drop me an e-mail:  heather@beautifullifeproject.com

Hat x

—————————————

UPDATE:  22nd FEB:

Firstly – thank-you – to everyone who has responded (and continues to respond to) this post… and especially those who have written me personal e-mails (I have had 4 people send me POEMS in response to this – and I am utterly delighted)!!!

With your very valued feedback… here’s my current plan:  

1.  Finish the book (I’m close!)

2.  Self-publish the book (international friends will be able to buy from Amazon or order copies from me directly. South Africans can order copies from me directly.  Impatient folk – who don’t want to wait for hard copies – will be able to download a PDF from Gumroad).

3. I will focus on the book first… and worry about the film later.

Another thing that I am QUICKLY realising – is how many people are expecting this to be a children’s book.  To be honest – it was originally intended as an illustrated book for grown-up’s (because later in the book, there are some very dark themes of self-abuse, etc – even though the story eventually has a happy ending.  Those dark themes and some of the language I use – may not be appropriate for a children’s book)…. *BUT*… I can easily make a second kid’s version… which will still retain the message (but won’t be as… um… intense).

So – first Hatbox – is for YOU, dear reader.  And especially those of you who felt squashed into moulds and boxes and systems that just never FITTED your beautiful, unique design!!

And then I’ll follow on with the Kid’s Version.

I’m going to be sending occasional e-mails out to any of you would would like to follow this bookmaking journey! Just drop me an e-mail if you want to be included….  heather@beautifullifeproject.com

X Again – a HUGE thank-you to everyone who has responded!!!!  X

We ALL want the freedom to be ourselves

So… something new happened on my blog recently.

A post of mine went a bit viral.

Not viral (in terms of the internet)… not *truly* viral… but certainly viral for ME and my lil’ ol’ blog.

I usually get around 100 visitors (to my blog) every day.  That number triples or quadruples on days I post something new (by the way – I only checked my stats yesterday.  Usually – I never check stats).

But 3 days ago… my in-box started pinging wildly with new folk signing up… new twitter followers… and, when I looked at the blog… I realised that 3 days ago, I had 28 000 visitors to my blog.  Yesterday it was 36 000.  This morning, it’s steadily climbing at 15 000.

The post – in question – is pretty short (especially compared to some of my long, ranty posts).  Mostly – it’s about a story from Ken Robinson’s book “The Element” - that deeply moved me.

And the reason why that story deeply moved me… is because I related – in so many ways – with the story of the child who just didn’t *fit* into school… into the System… into the box.

In so many ways – I identified with the all-too-common situation of being a unique, creative individual – up against a school-system that continually tried to box me, mould me and force me to be something I’m not.

A system that continually told me that I ought to *fix* my weaknesses (like maths, science, accountancy)… instead of truly invest in – and focus on – my strengths (like art, music, storytelling).

A system that told me that the highest qualities to aspire to was loyalty (usually to another system – like government or religion)… obedience, patriotism, following-the-rules, fitting-in, being “sensible”, “practical”, “responsible”, “respectable”, “acceptable”… and being a good, obedient, dutiful, un-questioning little citizen (and later, raising good, obedient citizen-children).

It’s not just the school-system that does this, by the way.  The school system is where the moulding begins… but, in many way, our toxic westernised society simply endorses and strengthens these unspoken rules.

We’re told that life works a certain *way*.

That there’s a “right” way… and there’s a “wrong” way.

The “right” way works like so:

  • Go to school for 13 years (or more).  Obey the rules.  Pass the tests.  Impress the powers-that-be.
  • After school – go to university (regardless of whether you even know who you are – or what you actually want to DO with your life).  Get a degree.
  • After university, get a job (doesn’t matter whether the job is fulfilling – or whether it makes you happy – or whether it plays to your unique strengths.  Or whether the work is something relevant and important that makes a difference in the world. What matters is The Money.  You get “a job”… for… “the money”)
  • And – after all – you need the money… because now you’re already in debt (usually student-debt… for a start).
  • Buy car.
  • Buy stuff.
  • Get married (with big, expensive wedding and short, expensive honeymoon)
  • Have children.
  • Buy big new house.
  • Buy new stuff for new house.
  • Maybe get a promotion at job (money used to buy bigger house, bigger car or more stuff).
  • Send your own kids to school prepare them for the ‘zact same process.
  • Save for “Retirement” (on the bet that you can buy yourself the freedom to live the life of your choosing – “later”)
  • Get into more debt.  Buy more stuff.
  • Exist on a routine of working, eating, sleeping, TV-watching, shopping and bill-paying.
  • Until – eventually – you’re old… and (maybe – if you’re one of the fortunate ones) you retire with enough money to chug around your nice retirement village in your golf-cart.
  • Die.

But… y’know… what if this “Right Way”… doesn’t work for everyone?  What if there are people who are different?  Or who want something different out of life?

  • What if there are people who don’t want to send their kids through the System of School (usually because they – themselves – were damaged by that same system)…(?)
  • What if there are those who couldn’t give a steaming turd about things like “status” and the accumulation of more *stuff*?
  • What if there are those who would rather live in the *NOW*… than spend their lives fretting and what-if’ing about the future? (The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying is a useful wake-up call in this regard).
  • And those who would rather travel the world than ‘settle down’ in the suburbs?
  • And those who don’t give a damn about the-latest-fashions… and what’s on-trend… and what’s-hot-right-now… and the latest celebrity scandal… and what’s on Reality TV…?
  • Or those who just – want something *more* than rush-hour-traffic, dull-routine, suburbia, shopping malls, soap operas, office cubicles, fitting-in, measuring-up and being “normal”…?

And… I think that for me… and certainly for most people – deep down inside of us… fighting to be *heard* amidst the din of societal expectations… is a very human desire for freedom – and the right to just *BE* who we are.

And I wonder why that’s the reason why my post has been receiving so much traffic.  Perhaps we’re all just searching for ways to embrace the unique individuals that many of us lost sight of… after years and years of forced compliance.

My natural self… my *real* self is creative, adventurous, spontaneous, messy, wild, un-tamed, slightly potty-mouthed, risk-taking, idealistic, considerably stubborn – and brimming with questions.

Here’s a photo that pretty-much sums up the Real Me (taken on my 8th birthday):

tramp party

But – for so many years – I conformed to the expectations placed upon me by school, church and society.  For so many (miserable) years - I completely lost sight of who I was!

And life became about fitting-in, obeying-the-rules, being sensible – and “normal” – and doing what was expected of me (and it almost killed me… in more ways than one).

Here’s a photo taken during the I-Must-Fit-In-And-Be-Normal years:

sad heather5

I am SO done with that now.

And maybe you are too.

And maybe we can journey forward together… and find ourselves again.

PS:  I host creative workshops and send out downloadable “Hatbooks” that tackle this kind of thing in a unique, hands-on way.  For more info, send me an E:  heather@beautifullifeproject.com

Sorry, I judged you

I have a friend who has suffered from depression for many, many years.

She’s been on depression meds for many years too… without which (she says), she would “slit (her) wrists in a warm bath”…

I never understood this.  I kinda-sorta empathised (because that did sound rather ominous… and rather drastic).. but I never *understood*.  I never *got* it.

I’ve always been a naturally optimistic, upbeat, laid-back kind of person.  Even during the really shitty times of my life (and there have been some really shitty times) – I would always manage, somehow, to find a silver lining to the darkest of clouds.  I never understood how some people just seemed to go through life… continually depressed… even when life seemed to be going reasonably well.

Take Robin Williams.  I was terribly sad when he committed suicide… but – for the life of me – I just didn’t *get* it.  How, I wondered, could somebody – who seemed to have everything (including a loving, supportive family)… been miserable enough to take his own life (?)

Sure, I wasn’t screaming judgement and condemnation… and I wasn’t voicing any disapproval of his decision (to end his life)…

But – I think – if I’m honest with myself… on a deep level, there were those lingering questions about Robin Williams, my friend and anyone else who has struggled with depression:

  • “But, why can’t they just get over it?”
  • “Why can’t they just think happy thoughts?”
  • “Why can’t they just get involved in charity work or something that will take their minds off their own irrational woes?”

“Why can’t they just….?”

To be honest… I want to make a bit of vomit in my own mouth when I hear those words.  “Why can’t they just…?”

Because – I remember when those words were applied to ME and MY life… and MY issues:

  • “Why can’t you just eat less?”
  • “Why can’t you just exercise more?”
  • “Why can’t you just control yourself around food?”
  • “Why can’t you just say no?”

And I remember how F*R*U*S*T*R*A*T*E*D… and humiliated… I would feel after those conversations… because - unless you have walked down that road yourself… and unless you have been an addict yourself… and unless you *know* and *get* the deep, internal struggles… the feelings of worthlessness and failure… the feelings of self-hatred… the constant yearning for the taboo… the obsession… the feelings of helplessness…

… well, unless… you *know*…

… unless you’ve BEEN THERE…

You have no right to spout forth judgement on others.

NO right.

Like… NONE.

———-

At the age of 19, I got married to a man 10 years my senior.  It didn’t go well.  He’s a very different man now (all these years later – and he has apologised and made right with me)… so I hesitate to tell you the full story.  But… let’s just say that it involved lots of alcohol, prostitutes and emotional abuse.

It lasted for 5 years.  At the end of it… I was an emotional wreck… and self-abusing (binge eating, hair pulling and cutting… mostly).

The church I attended decided that I needed help (which was true).

So… they packed me off to a Divorce Recovery Workshop… facilitated by (I kid you not)… 3 married couples… who had never been divorced (or abused… or self-abusing… or, well, anything really).

Instead, I had to sit under the condescending tutelage of three shiny, happy Christian couples who were hopelessly equipped to deal with the mess-that-was-me.

And how could they?

They hadn’t walked in my shoes…

They didn’t *know*…

They didn’t *get* it.

They just told me to “pray more”…. and “have more faith”… and that God would miraculously fix me.

————

(I wonder how often depressed people have been told the same thing?)

————

About 4 months ago, a doctor put me on some very strong antibiotics to deal with a lingering chest cold that just didn’t want to go away.  The side affects of the antibiotics (which I didn’t realise at the time)… was depression and anxiety.

Well… it hit me like a freight train (only months later, I worked out why).

And all of a sudden… the “normal” me… the upbeat, positive, silver-lining me… was suffocating under the weight of the thick, black smog of depression…

I have never experienced anything like it.  And I never, ever want to feel that way again.

It’s like all the life and the joy and the purpose seemed to have been sucked out of the world… and out of my life.  All the things that used to make sense… no longer made any sense.  All the purpose that I used to feel… now seemed pointless and irrelevant.  All the beauty and the positivity that I used to see around me… seemed to have faded – like a bright shiny apple that goes brown, rotten and worm-infested.

The rational part of my mind could NOT get to grips with this craziness.  I remember thinking:  “What is wrong with me?  This is not like me?  I’m not like this!  I’m a happy person!  Where did my happiness go?  What is happening?  I can’t carry on like this?  I can’t live like this!!??”

It made no sense.

And the FEAR… and the ANXIETY.

I would be gripped by sudden, inexplicable panic.  My heart would beat so fast and so loudly that I was sure that others could hear it.  I would break out in a sweat – and be utterly convinced that some terrible disaster… some tragedy… was about to happen either to me – or to my loved ones.

I became convinced that I was dying… of some god-awful disease.  I started thinking:  “That’s it.  I’ve lost my mind and my health.  My life is over.  Nick is going to end up raising the kids without me”.

The world just became… a very dark, dark place for a while.

A dark… lonely…. purposeless place.

————

I *get* it now.

Sure, I don’t *get* a life-long struggle with depression and anxiety because, thankfully… I experienced that dark place for only a month… and once the course of antibiotics wore off… the depression and anxiety left too – and I returned to my normal (generally optimistic) self.

But… now I *get* it.

And I suddenly have this abundance… this deep well of empathy… for those who struggle, on a long-term basis, with depression and anxiety.

Never again will I think:  “Why can’t they just think happy thoughts?”  or “Why can’t they just do something positive with their lives that will make them happy again?” or “Why can’t they just get over themselves?”

Never again will I think those things.

Never again will I judge those whose shoes I have NOT walked in.

————

Going through that experience has given me a lot of food for thought.  It has made me wonder about who else I judge (even if only on a deep, internal level).

Who else am I inwardly scorning and judging… even though I’ve never walked in their shoes (?)

Who else do I quietly ridicule… even though I have no idea about their circumstances or journey?

Maybe the world needs more love and compassion from the likes of me.  And maybe I should keep in mind this quote from Ghandi (which, I think, could pertain to pretty-much anything):

“Mine is not an exclusive love.  I cannot love Moslems or Hindus and hate Englishmen.  For if I love merely Hindus and Moslems because their ways are on the whole pleasing to me, I shall soon begin to hate them when their ways displease me, as they well do any moment.  A love that is based on the goodness of those you love is a mercenary affair”

 “A love that is based only on the GOODNESS of those you love… is a mercenary affair”.  

Chew on that for a bit.

I am…