Three short years ago, I made a decision to try and change some of the behaviours and coping strategies that I had developed over many years.
I was once again faced with that dreaded time of the year when we are expected to set New Year’s resolutions, make big promises and set out our vision for a “New Year, New You.”
But I realised that trying to change Me was not actually what was needed; instead, I needed to try and unpick some of the habits that were getting in the way of me being me.
Just like we need to look at the behaviour of a child as something separate from the child (“I love you but I don’t love your behaviour right now”) and a form of communication or coping method, so too I needed to look at my behaviours and motivations with a new honesty.
Why did I need to do this? Because the life I was leading was a struggle. Because it was lacking in joy and characterised too often by fear, anxiety and sadness. Because I realised that it didn’t have to be like that.
Back then I started the process with a short piece of reflection which I buried deep in my phone notes and felt deeply ashamed for even committing to electronic paper:
I can’t do it any more because I’m too broken and can’t ever be fixed.
I can and I’m not and things can be broken and still go on working.
I have no friends.
I do have good friends.
I have worth and can offer a lot.
Everything is wrong.
Lots of things are right.
I am not disgusting.
No-one understands me.
No-one ever can fully understand me but I can understand myself.
Like the worst spouse and parent in the world.
I am a good spouse and parent.
Like I don’t want to be here.
That I do want to be here.
That I am exhausted but can get through it.
Like I have to keep going.
That I have to rest.
I have been and can be happy.
And I also know I can feel joyous, excited, loving, spontaneous and proud.
What I know will get me through and help me to fight the feelings when they visit.
Let this serve to remind me….
As I look at this, three years on, I have to admit that on some days, the feelings are still stronger than the knowings and there are times when the sadness, anxiety and fear overwhelm me. But I can also say categorically that they are fewer and further between than back then. And I intend for them to get even more so (or is that less so?!)
I can’t pretend that the last three years have been easy. Unpicking over 40 years of learnt and well-practiced behaviours takes effort and time.
I ended up writing a book to help me with the process. At first, I did so under a pen name and shared it cautiously and in trepidation but after some positive feedback, I became braver and shared the book as me. Looking back, this was quite a risk to take; as someone in a senior role in education, it was perhaps foolhardy to share some of my innermost fears, vulnerabilities and struggles with a world that includes both the young people with whom I work, and their families, as potential readers.
I am aware that there are jobs I won’t get in the future because of what I have done. I am aware that there are people who find what I have written distasteful and self- indulgent.
And of course, in many ways, it is completely self-indulgent. The reality is that I needed to indulge myself, to write therapeutically and to find some answers to some questions.
My answers won’t be yours. I still haven’t found all the answers yet and I am still writing, reading, connecting and exploring to try and find them. But more things make sense to me now than they did three years ago.
If you are reading this and you are struggling, wondering whether you can ever feel better, asking whether there is any point to keeping going, please know that there is.
Please know that there are better times ahead if you are willing to take a few risks, take some time and accept that you are the one person you need to make peace with, above all others.
You are all you need but you don’t have to do it alone.