IMG_4277I’m, going to share my top tip for those trying to address their anxiety. As you know, I LOVE a metaphor, so bear with me on this, it will make perfect sense in a moment.

My husband badly hurt his shins running a marathon. He couldn’t walk and had to temporarily re-locate to the creaky third-hand, musky scented sofa bed in our little London flat because it was ten yards closer to the bathroom.

 

He took medication. He saw physiotherapists. Nothing worked.

Soon after, we had a summer holiday booked with my parents and he still couldn’t walk unaided. We arrived at our stair-filled holiday home wondering how on crutches he was going to navigate the cobbles of the sweet Greek streets that surrounded us. My Mum happens to be a physiotherapist, and under her encouragement and guidance (and strict physio schedules…I mean he was gonna do what she said right? Mother in law and all!), he did certain exercises three times a day. It felt fruitless to begin with. These tiny little movements he had to make whilst gripping onto the crumbling wall of our apartment, over and over and over again as Dad and I watched on, sipping Sangria. Dull and relentless.

He carried his crutches home, walking totally independently.

It was the seeming relentlessness that did it. The tiny movements, over and over with tiring commitment. They seemed too small to be irrelevant, but over time, they changed muscle and sinew. Over time, the pain was replaced with strength. Over time, not overnight.

You know, you can try all the techniques and approaches for anxiety you like, you can dip your toe in the water of every single theory going…but what makes the difference is the seemingly relentless, daily application. THAT is what changes things, THAT is what will turn the anxiety from the raging bull into a small yappy dog that nips at your heels.

Let me use an example from my own life. My intrusive thoughts are anxiety driven, they pop into my head like a mini assault on my mind. Some days, I let them pass by, other days I turn the flash of fearful thought (usually someone I love dying) into a whole scenario, adding colour and words and feeling. Before I know it, I’m feeling a small stab of realistic grief as if the death of my child has actually happened, or I’m freaking out about how the hell I’d pay the mortgage if my husband died on the way home as I feared.

What works for me is noticing the thought and imagining it passing through my mind like a silk ribbon rather than a gripping, flesh-tearing fish-hook. It’s there, I’m not going to force myself to deny it, but it passes. I also use breathing to ground me and calm those physical anxious feelings (see this site). I try to practice it even when I’m feeling A-OKAY so that it’s a familiar tool on standby for when I need it. I have to use this imagery every single day. Sometimes a shed load of times. It’s my tool. It helps. I don’t ‘arrive’ at a point where I’m utterly anxiety free and go ‘WAHOOOOO. Seeya breathing techniques and imagery. Bye old friends’. No, I will be using techniques for many years to come, but the more I’ve used them, the easier they are to access at an earlier point (rather then when I’m down some anxiety hole where everyone I love has died and I’m the only one standing…oh I end up there sometimes, but less than I did)

Here are some tools that will be beneficial no matter what your circumstances are:

  • Learning to access the parasympathetic nervous system through breathing. This is undoubtedly a physiologically powerful tool that counteracts the stress and anxiety response in the body  – find out more here
  • Not waiting until you ‘feel’ worth it before you introduce acts of self-care. They can be as simple as making sure you’re drinking enough water and eating food that nourishes you. Self-care isn’t all about massages and  manicures. These acts directly oppose the critical and internal voice that often fuels anxiety.
  • Start small. Habits of a lifetime aren’t broken in a day. Small, continuous steps will get you there in a way that is more sustainable than short, sharp change.
  • Get used to asking yourself what you need. Within anxiety there is often a fear, a need and a feeling. Learning to identify them helps you in finding ways to meet them. The more you do this, the more sensitive to your needs and feelings you’ll become, and the easier it will be to acknowledge them. When my feelings are fuzzy and hard to determine, I ‘try on feelings for size’ by listing them until I feel like something clicks – ‘am I feeling, sad, lonely, angry, hurt, scared’
  • Be kind to you! Start challenging the inner critic/abuser/bully. If you’ve got a constant, cruel dialogue going on internally, it will be chipping away at your self worth and value. Start noticing how you talk to yourself in your mind and start thinking about how you’d respond to someone you love if they said those things. Start introducing a more compassionate internal voice. Read this
  • Speak to someone who might understand. Not everyone will, but someone you know to be kind and compassionate may be able to help you talk through some of you anxieties, introducing a kinder voice. Sometimes just verbalising what goes on in our minds
  • If you are finding that your anxiety is taking over to any extent, please seek an appointment with your GP, or a Counsellor/Psychotherapist to chat this through further.

I’m sure you might have a few to add to this list as it’s nowhere near exhaustive, but those are the ones I use the most.

But, my TOP tip for addressing anxiety is..

Start small. And keep going.

Even when it feels silly.

Even when it feels fruitless.

Even when it feels like nothing is ever going to change.

Even when you don’t truly believe it will help.

Keep going.

And if you forget? Or you have an anxiety filled day where things have taken over and not one coping mechanism has been accessed, be kind, DON’T beat yourself up. This is a process and it’s a tough one, and often a long one, but a wholly worthwhile one. Carry on. Carry on.

If you’re someone who likes imagery, find a metaphor that encourages you. I like to think of a motorway that has closed down! No cars are allowed, and they are forced to drive beside it on grass and mud. Wheels get stuck, flicking up mud and requiring pushing out. It’s slow and bumpy and downright annoying. Drivers glance at the empty motorway beside them, it’s so familiar, so easy, so smooth. BUT. Overtime, the wheels carve a new path. The ground impacts, the bumps are smoothed. The journey is getting easier. And as for the motorway? It’s has gradually run to ruin. The tarmac melted in parts by the summer sun and never addressed. Weeds poking through the lanes, tree roots tearing up what was once flat.

Whatever your battle is against and whatever your techniques are (as long as they are good, healthy ones), I want to encourage you to keep utilising them. Use them when you’re feeling okay, use them when you start to wobble. The deeper you are into the hole of anxiety, the more effort required to use the tools that pull you out.

Every time you speak back to that familiar, cruel voice that has you questioning life and future, pick up that tool. No matter how successful it was, pick it up again next time too. Yes, maybe sometimes introduce a new tool or an additional tool, especially as they slowly become second nature and less effort, but make sure you have SOMETHING to hand. I introduced breathing for anxiety, and then once it became almost second nature, I introduced a gratitude journal. And now that’s part of my daily life, I’m trying to drink enough water in order to tell my body it’s worth being hydrated no matter how many times I need to pee. See what I’m saying?

When I speak to coaching clients, I don’t make false statements. I don’t promise them that their worst fear won’t happen, I’m not God, I don’t have the insight. I’m not going to promise them that everything will be okay, because nobody can promise them that. But I DO promise them that if they pursue relentlessly, regardless of feelings, the tools we speak about, then the voice of anxiety WILL get quieter over time.

Sometimes change is about driving in the rain and suddenly realising that this would have made you panic a few months ago. Sometimes it’s about you having a nice long bath and suddenly realising that a few weeks ago, this would have felt like an utter, worthless waste of time because you weren’t of enough value to do something kind like this.

Find the tools that fit you, whether through therapy or apps, research or reading. Value your tools. Use them relentlessly and be kind to yourself when you forget, or they don’t seem to work. Keep keep going and change will come, slowly but surely.

Ax

 

A string of ‘sorry’ falling from my lips,
An unconsidered reflex,
For brushing your leg with my bag as I walked by.
A single seat left on the tube,
Tired legs and pregnant bump ignored,
By myself but not by others,
Standing resolute,
A teen with a confident swagger collapses into space I didn’t claim.
She knew she was worth it.

Imposter syndrome.
You’ll discover I’m not worthy of your cost,
Of time and energy,
So I’ll not rudely shatter your momentary illusions,
I’ll just sit quietly.
You’ll find your own way to my conclusion soon enough.

Swallowed words,
Too many spoken over,
Mown down by a barrage of other people’s noise,
Misunderstood,
Leaving me with echoes of my own dialogue in my mind.
Louder voices drowning out stuttered attempts to verbalise.
Step back and shut down.
It’s so much easier to be less,
Than to relentlessly fight for space amongst the more.

Silenced needs,
I’ll meet them myself,
Why burden another with my words and wants,
When I can silently scrape together my own resources?
Furious self-sufficiency,
Maketh man a lonely island.

Words of others like sticky post-it-notes,
Assumed as truths and ruminated over,
Until they became tattooed onto a heart that couldn’t fight them as false.
Surely the minority,
Uttering spiky words or causing unintentional pain,
Are better placed to tell me who I am,
To see the bad in my good.
Hey,
I’ll let you assign my price.

Accepting gifts with an awkward shuffle and blushing cheeks,
Compliments ricocheting off the heart like pebbles skimmed off a taut sea,
Bending a burdened back backwards,
Spewing saccharine sentences I don’t even believe,
So that you like me.
You could write poetry about your like for me,
It won’t be enough for me to believe that that’s your truth.

You wish you were older,
A little bit taller,
Somewhat quieter,
A lot more wiser,
Much more patient,
Less outrageous,
Lower maintenance,
More contagious.

I need to be more.
I need to be less.

STOP.

No more envying those walking,
Taking space and talking sentences without apology,
Claiming seats without a sorry,
Requesting quenching water without a tensing of the shoulders.

No more swallowing words out of fear,
As to whether they will be mistaken or misunderstood,
Which they may,
In fact they will,
But that is not a reflection of the value of them being heard.

You’re a messy complexity of humanity,
With needs and wants and sometimes profanity,
Of ugliness and sweat and space and pride and love and need,
And that’s okay.

Flex the muscle of your voice,
Throw out your arms and claim your space that was yours all along,
Stop ending sentences with questions and prefixing with ‘just’,

Because
You
Are
Never
‘JUST’
Anything

Exercise the sinews of your voicebox,
No speaking in whispers and avoiding confrontation,
Don’t devalue your innate worth with apologies and intonations.

Learn to grow to love your powerful voice,
As a lioness recognises the authority of her roar.
The thoughts and feelings of others about you are neither facts nor your business,
Just seen through their scratched grey lenses of experiences,
The one you see them through too mind you,
We all do.

Unshrug those shoulders you don’t need,
To shrink into yourself anymore,
Stop chipping away at a body that takes up precious inches,
Because you are of more value than all the space you could ever inhabit,
Laugh freely regardless of snorts and tears,
Your joy is worth experiencing,
And each peal of laughter will become easier,
Even if it’s only you who understands the joke.

Walk stronger,
Hold your head higher,
Line lips in crimson red and wear colour,
Or don’t.
But if you don’t,
Don’t because you don’t want to,
Not because you want to but fear being seen.
Your purpose might feel entangled and confused,
But you have purpose all the same,
That’s a promise.

You don’t need to be less,
You don’t need to be more.
Take your space.

Take your space without apology,
Without bended knee or slipping into the comfort of the background,
Grow slowly but surely in to yourself.

You
Are
Never
‘JUST’

IMG_3513

Do you ever just wish you had a reset button somewhere. A little red button that you could press, hold and reboot?

Over the last few days I’ve had this little squirmy, nagging need to reset somehow. There were things I’d slowly let slip over the last months. I had that familiar low grade, white noise of guilt in the background, the soft buzzing kind that you can mainly ignore. However, the buzz suddenly became louder and less of background noise. These ‘things’ had suddenly been bought into sharper focus. And as a result, I just felt a bit (a lot) ‘eugh’.

I remember being hit with a hefty library fine during my Psych training. I had a text book shoved under my bed somewhere, littered with scrawled post-it notes. I knew it was late, but I kept forgetting it, and then after a while I forgot about it alltogether. Months later the grumpy librarian told me of my unpaid fine. It hit me like a thunderbolt. It had escalated into something so costly without me even being aware.

I think that was the feeling I had last week. This thunderbolt feeling that the things I had let slide – namely nourishing my body with good food and water, had a cost. For months and months I have been grabbing sugary convenience foods and snacking on kids leftovers. Breakfast used to be my most enjoyed meal of the day, and yet now I shove half a banana down my throat along with two supersized latte chasers. Food had become perfunctory fuel to shut my body up from nagging hunger, an inconvenience. As for water, I only had to look at my fluro wee (sorry) to be reminded that I wasn’t even meeting my very basic needs.

For you, it might be exercise, or investing in healthy friendships. It might be opening up about things or getting outside. Sometimes it’s just the little things that we KNOW make the big difference, that get nudged down the list of priorities over time until they don’t exist at all. We think they are little, we think they seem insignificant, but the debt they build up when we let them slide can affect so many facets of our lives.

I started to eat crap, my standards shifted. You think that’s all that happened? No. My actions were giving me the message that I wasn’t worth the time to eat well, that I wasn’t worth a full meal but just scraps, leftovers and gobbled-down sugar highs. I was telling myself that my body’s basic needs were a hinderance. And as a result, my level of self-respect lessened and this just perpetuated the cycle.

We think the little things are the little things, but little by little, they have big affects.

I pressed the reset button.

Too often we wait to make change. We wait until we feel sick with self loathing, burdened with guilt, or can’t do up our favourite jeans We wait for Mondays, or summer holidays, or lent, or for when the New Year clock chimes 12. We delay making tweaks and changes until we are motivated by some sort of time landmark, or find ourselves in a messy heap on the floor wondering how we took it this far.

DON’T WAIT. Press the reset button now. Whether it’s 2am or 7pm. Don’t wait for tomorrow. Press the reset button now because you are worth not beating yourself up with guilt or self irritation. You are worth living without the droning buzz of the ‘I should be doing..’, the dragging guilt, the cycle of neglect and self-disrespect that drains your ability to be attentive to your own needs.

Your needs, your basic needs are where self-care is at. Sod the manicures and the indulgent bath oils, if you’re ignoring your basic needs for nutritionally beneficial food, for water, for company, to be heard, for comfort, for fresh air, THAT is where you need to begin. We want those we love to know that they are loveable. We want to teach our children that they are precious and worthy. Yet, we treat ourselves and our bodies like machines and huff when the warning light for rest, thirst, space or hunger comes on. Actions speak louder than even the most curated of words.

Press the button half way through a day if you need to. Every day if you need to.

For me, pressing the reset button meant having a long hot bath, shoving on a face mask. These seemingly insignificant things make me feel fresh and new, like a little baptism into change. It’s like my own personal ritual for new starts. As if I’m saying ‘hey, it’s okay, let’s start something different’. It’s about self forgiveness and having grace for yourself, instead of self-destructive pummeling yourself with guilt. I do this little ritual as often as I need to. Plus they are just a few of the little things that tell myself that if I’m worth clean hair, I’m worth a few extra glasses of water and feeding myself well. Then, I sat at my laptop and ordered a juicer before perusing the supermarket for a bounty of veg.

Funny thing – I started drinking more water. And as a result, not only did I start to pee more, I felt thirstier. How is it that I should feel thirstier when I’m meeting that need? And then I realised, it was my body believing and trusting that I would finally listen to it’s signals. I had been thirsty all along, it had just given up telling me.

Press that button.

Press reset.

Can you remember the Chaos Theory coined by Edward Lorenz? The belief that the tiny act of a butterfly flapping it’s wings can result in weather differences on the other side of the world. Think of these tweaks like that. You press the reset button. You make the tweaks. You think these are the little, simple things. They are not. They are seemingly small statements of value affecting everything. 

Celebrate your victories. Nobody needs to know what they are unless you want to tell them. They might be as simple as drinking 6 glasses of water instead of 2 or making your first fresh juice (heyaa), or it might be the act of stepping outside for the first time in days, dusting off the cross-trainer come clothes horse, unrolling the yoga mat, or picking up the phone to a friend. Celebrate them.

And hey. If things slip again.

Press reset.

And press it again.

No guilt necessary.

Last year, after a morning of hasty Christmas shopping, we sat down at a hectic, over full Wagamama table. The four of us, dogeared, whining and hangry. In walked a Boden advert. A family of four, with children a similar age to ours, dressed impeccably in Breton stripes and polo shirts. The mum and the oldest boy were even wearing WHITE jeans. WHITE I tell you! We gazed at them in disbelief as their children behaved as neatly as they were dressed. ‘Well, they aren’t even real’ I uttered, and delved into my Katsu, before dropping soy drenched rice on my grubby trousers.

I’ve become increasingly aware of the use of the word ‘real’ and there has been a unease simmering in my tummy. I’ve used it tons of times and have never given it a second thought, but I’ve started seeing it used in contexts that make me think a little bit more about what we actually mean by:

Real mum

Real mum body

You’re real

Usually it alludes to the fact that someone is being open about the messier aspects of life: the tantrum induced rage, the depression, the postnatal stitches and constipation, the vomit, the arguments, the unwashed hair, the softer body bits, the mum guilt, the anxiety, the mundaneness. Perhaps the ‘real mum’ photos that litter social media aren’t all smiles and clean floors, but are punctuated with grey eye bags and pen scrawled on living room walls.

So maybe I AM real because I talk about mum rage and share my cry-face.

But maybe I’m NOT real because I’m usually wearing makeup and I love the gym.

But maybe I AM real because I talk about my anxiety and PND.

But maybe I’m NOT real because I didn’t have stretch-marks and could fit into my pre babe wardrobe (why do I actually feel embarrassed to write this?).

But maybe I AM real because my life is just a series of me falling from one awkward scenario and utterance to the next.

But maybe I’m NOT real because my house is always tidy (read this)

(Don’t start me on ‘real mum body’ because that just makes me mad sad. If you’re a mum, and you have a body, you have a real mum body. Whether you’re a gym-honed size 8 or a curvy size 32, whether you’re enhanced with silicon or go makeup-free. Whether you are decorated head to toe with tattoos or have a story of scars, you have a real mum bod. End. Of. Story)

When we glorify and cheer-lead only the ‘real mum’s, what category are we putting everyone else into?

Real vs Not Real. Of course, it’s NEVER that black and white. But words are powerful.

You see a size 6, toned mum pushing an immaculate baby through the street? Or the mum of newborn twins smiling and proclaiming that they sleep brilliantly and she just ‘adores motherhood’. What about the mum who’s kids have never consumed plates of beige 3 days in a row, or the mum who’s freezer doesn’t boast a bounty of fish fingers like mine. What about those who’s kids are screen-free, homework-completing and toddler yoga-ing all whilst feasting on quinoa bites?

Well, that’s not real is it? If it’s not real, what is it? And why do we feel the need to grade something as real or not just by looking at a snapshot of their day, or a small part of their whole?

Yes, those ARE real bits, they just aren’t ALL of the real bits

It is another form of comparison against something that is different to me. Different parenting, different resources, different life experience, different hidden things, different coping mechanisms, different insecurities. It’s a fixation on one part of a bigger picture that we will never see, used to either invalidate or validate our experience of motherhood and how we are doing. It creates distance between people. Between mothers. 

‘I’m not like her, I’m rougher around the edges. My kids tantrum and I feed them freezer food a little too much. I never do ‘crafts’ and I HATE glitter’. We write people off as different because in the light of what we see, we see ourselves as lacking. However, we are being inadvertently judgemental by creating this ‘real mum’ divide.

Let me tell you. Being ‘real’ in the sense of showing my rough edges has taken me years. And, it’s still not always comfortable (I say things that sometimes make me feel somewhat sick and scared as to how it will be received…like this post!) To able to be open about some of the tougher, uglier, harder to hear, complex to say, less palatable stuff has been a hard and valuable journey of vulnerability. Years of therapy, years of repeating to myself the message that I’m still loveable regardless of who I am, what I look like, what I’ve been through, what people have told me, and what people think. I’ve spent years challenging the relentless perfectionist desire to portray something that hides my mess because my entrenched message to myself is that what people think of me is exactly what I’m worth – their opinions of me are truths. You might as well have walked up to me and stuck a price label on my arm.

I remember walking down the street, getting used to life as a mum of two. I would have looked in control, happy kids, well-dressed, lippy on, huge sunglasses. Was I fake?

If I’d have taken off my sunnies, you’d have seen red, swollen, bloodshot eyes of all the tears I’d cried that morning, and the wet rims of the ocean of tears that threatened. Would that have made me real if you’d have seen?

To have the confidence to put your shit out there, you need to have a level of internal self-assuredness that says ‘if people don’t like/agree/want my mess, then I’m okay. I’m still okay. I still have value. I’m still worth something. Vulnerability is risky. As soon as you speak out the harder stuff, which of it’s very nature is tinged with personal intimacy, you put yourself out there for people to ‘think things’ about you.

Some people choose not to take this risk. Some people can’t. Some people have had their vulnerability abused or misunderstood and thus their confidence to share, kicked in the nuts. Some people hide inevitable mess as a coping mechanism – the lynch pin that stops it from all falling apart (like my lipstick! It sounds stupid but during my horrible times, makeup was the one of those needed things that kept people relating to me like I wasn’t a ticking time bomb of tears). Some people choose to share this stuff in the intimacy of close friendships and relationships and not in instagram squares or toddler groups.

They are still real.

I’m not denying that when people share the sparkly bits it can feed the insecurities of others and can idealise and glorify certain elements of life, which of course, can cast shadow onto our own truthfully messy existence.

But..

It’s our responsibility  to recognise that we NEVER see the full picture no matter how much we see. We don’t need to be victim to how other people choose to portray their lives. I share ALOT with you guys, but never everything.

If you know that you are vulnerable to being pulled into the belief that people’s lives are actually how you see them to be, and yours is rubbish in comparison, then limit your exposure. Limit who you follow, what you watch and what you read until you’ve built some more of the internal self-confidence that says you’re doing just fine regardless of who’s next to you in a coffee queue or above you on an insta-feed.

So, my love.

Whoever you are. Whatever you do. However you do it. However tidy your home is. However your kids behave. However your freezer is stocked. However you find it to talk about the messy stuff. Whatever you’ve been through. Whatever you hide. Whatever you look like. Whatever you believe. Whatever you weight. Whatever you wear. Whatever you choose to share. Whatever you choose not to share. For whatever reasons…

You are REAL.

 

 

IMG_2817My house is tidy. Pretty much always, generally tidy.

(I am having to claw my fingers in order to stop writing ‘I’m sorry’)

Obviously there are pockets of chaos when the kids have just emptied the toys everywhere, or the husband has been at the kitchen, but generally, my house is fairly neat.

Through instagram, I’ve discovered that there’s a mixed attitude towards tidiness. Some believe that I have hours to sort and tidy (not true), other’s think that I tidy purely for Instagram photos (not true). Some think I’m just presenting the tidy corners in order to communicate the best sides of my life and home (not true). I honestly don’t care about you seeing my mess, it’s just that most of mine is in my head!

If I’m utterly honest, I’ve felt shame about my tidy home. I make myself vulnerable daily in order to present the real and rougher edges of myself in the hopes I can challenge comparison and assumptions and empower people to do the same. However, a tidy house seems to call this to question. Is she really authentic and accessible if her house is neat? That’s not real life.

Isn’t it? But, what if I am being ‘real’ in my tidiness? What if you can have a tidy house and that’s just your ‘real’? What does that say about those who fight to keep on top of the mess that kids bring? Am I saying that they are failing? What about those who are content in the chaos of a family home that looks a little less like a show home and a lot more lived in? Does that say that they are wrong for not being compelled to chase around their offspring, whizzing toys back into their places and scrabbling under the sofa for the missing shape sorter cube. I’m not setting a standard here, I’m sharing life.

I want to tell you about the other side of tidiness.

So here’s the other side of my tidy..

I moved to Loughborough University from my little family home. There had been five of us living in that beautiful three bed cottage, and then four after Emily died. Space was sparce and my room was a cosy box room with a window the entire length of my bed overlooking a green valley. There was no space for a chest of drawers but I didn’t care. My clothes were in my sibling’s room. I loved my little nook.

Anyway, I was dropped off at University with my bags and a case of cheap french sparkling wine (friendship bait). Everything was unknown. I laid out my new room with the bedding chosen during an exciting traipse around Dunelm. It was far more spacious than my childhood bedroom with much more storage in which to tuck things away. I stood back and felt a huge sense of calm at this new level of order.

Tidiness quickly became yet another outward expression of my perfectionism. It was a soothing way of controlling my environment amidst the chaos of getting to know life as a student, out in the big world. We went out, partied, studied (sometimes). Life was a chaotic haze, but my room was a sanctuary of order. I’d find myself a little edgy on the evenings my room filled with friends as they innocently (although sometimes teasingly) disturbed things from their places. I’d tell myself that once they’d gone, I could restore order and all would be well.

Neatness can be a soother to many people as it is to me. A way of soothing anxiety, stress and other uncomfortable feelings. It’s an assertion of control when control is somehow lacking in other areas of life (isn’t it always lacking somewhere?).

We moved home last year, so on one level my tidiness is due to the fact that I can just enjoy my home and relax a little more when everything is put away in it’s place. However, it’s not just about that. There’s a deeper need for order that I can identify. This Christmas we hosted 9 people in our home for three days. It was fun, but I found the chaos tough. This is such a difficult and sad tension for me, as hosting people in our home is one of those things that we just get so much joy from. But at the same time, there’s a part of me that finds the physical chaos and disruption unsettling. I tidied around people, I tidied gifts away mere moments after they’d been opened. I didn’t sit down a huge amount. I was like a buzzing bee sweeping away Christmas as it happened. I was bloody annoying.

However, there is a level of emotional chaos that often comes with lots of family in one place. My way of coping with this emotional chaos was to seek order in my physical environment. But keeping a tidy home around 9 people who are just enjoying the festive fun, was like throwing water out of a sinking boat with a thimble. I told myself that I could keep the kitchen as my ‘domain’ of tidy, and let myself tidy as freely as I wanted whilst trying hard to relax about the remainder of the house!

Tidiness is a relentless, perfectionist pursuit in a house where people, ya know… live. I cannot flop into bed after a dinner party until it looks like it never happened at all. It’s second nature, I barely even realise I’m doing it. Perfectionism can be seen as a blessing but really, it’s mostly a curse. It’s a driver and a motivator for excellence, but the goal of perfect will simply never be met and to continue working to meet such standard is utterly exhausting, like chasing a mirage of water in a hot desert. It doesn’t exist and it never satisfies. No matter how tidy my home is, it will never bring total order to the chaos of my mind.

So, yes, I’m tidy. Maybe you are too. Maybe you aren’t. Maybe you’re somewhere in between. Maybe you skid up and down the tidy spectrum dependent on energy and time and how much you actually care on any one day! That’s fine with me.

We can so quickly demonise or idealise qualities about each other that make us question our own lives or ways of being. Weight is another one I see often that gets both idealised and demonised in the same sentence. It can be as if someone who is slim and fit is quietly deemed self-obsessed or actually not that accepting of their own physical body, thus striving to change it. They can’t be ‘real’ because they are inhabiting someone else’s ideal and perhaps unintentionally body shaming others as a result. But if I feel those things about a beautiful girl in a bikini on my feed, that’s my response, my projection, my thinking, my insecurity, not her intention. It says more about me and where I’m at, than it does about her life choices and inner world.

Because when we single out and idealise a single quality in another person, we miss the whole of who they are. We miss the stories, the neuroses, the pasts, the reasons, the personality type, the dreams and drives. Those are what make the bigger picture. And in light of the bigger picture, that desirable quality becomes real and less idealised, and it keeps people accessible. 

Maybe we should challenge ourselves to accept that other people’s seemingly desirable qualities may be because their priorities are in different places to ours, or because their genetic makeup and personality are different. Maybe they have more time or energy, or it’s just the way they are wired. Maybe it’s the flipside of a character trait, or a symptom of a struggle for them, maybe it’s a coping mechanism. 

Whatever we see of people in Insta squares or in black and white on blogs, when we idealise certain qualities, we just turn them into a ruler to measure ourselves up against to tell us what we’re worth, or how we’re doing at being us. We’re all more beautifully complex than that which can be measured against someone else’s singled-out qualities. And the full stories, which we may never have the honour of hearing, would explain it all.

Note…

Neatness can extend into compulsive disorders, and OCD. If you are finding your need to be neat comes with an urgency in order to abate fear, then it’s definitely worth talking to someone further about this.