You are not failing. You are not hopeless. You are not broken. You are not rubbish.
If you are anything like me then thoughts like these revolve around your head every day. They scratch at your eyes in the middle of the night so you have to open them and stare all over again at the lies you are perpetuating because these are the things you feel. But feelings aren’t real. Feelings are not facts. All too often feelings are nonsense.
I know that you have long read that you must learn to trust your feelings. I also know that you have been taught to listen to that oh so feminine of traits – the instinct – so you already know instinct is quite separate to feeling. Feelings live in your head while instinct is a whole body possession. The goose-pimples on your arm. The stone inside your stomach. Instinct can be trusted because it pushes feelings aside and forces you to acknowledge truth so we ignore it at our peril.
But not so with feelings. Feelings are born from thoughts and thoughts are nothing more than a litany of mindless words formed in your head when you have quite forgotten how to look for your own truth. And heckity-pie aren’t we just abundant with thoughts and feelings these days, for wouldn’t the internet and the TV and the media and the lies we tell each other be enough to send us all insane?
Modern life means that at every second of every day we are confronted by perfection. Or perceived perfection. We read a blog and decide she who wrote it is perfection. That she follows every last piece of her own advice to the letter and always looks like she has fallen out of the pages of a magazine. But neither the written word nor a picture frozen in time can tell the whole truth. We do not know her: only the manicured version of her life she is willing to share. For she, like you, like me, feels shame about the gaps inside her head: the places where she doesn’t feel whole, lets people down, gets screechy and eats pot noodles when she is supposed to be eating kale.
We have to stop comparing ourselves to half-truths. We have to remember that even those we consider our closest friends do not always share their truth. That the woman we admire from afar may be living through her own particular type of hell and that glossy hairdo is merely her only means of controlling a life spiraling out of control.
We also have to stop pretending. For there is no glory in hiding our experience. No reward for stoicism. None at all. It merely further enables our misery. Perpetuates the myth that telling the truth about our lives would be letting the side down, when actually telling the truth in a safe space is the sigh of relief that gives other women – our sisters, our friends, the woman in the library, the blog reader – permission to live out loud too.
Once in the supermarket, the lady at the till served me with tears in her eyes. And I was looking at her and she was looking back at me and in the end I couldn’t bear it and I asked her what was wrong. She told me that her best friend was in hospital dying of a brain tumor that very day, and I, deep within my own grief, only two weeks after Mum had died, told her that I was not coping either and there we were: holding hands at the till. Ignoring the queue of horrified Middle-Englanders. Acknowledging another woman’s pain and feeling better for it and then carrying on with our lives because there was no other choice.
We have to learn to ask. To stop being polite. We have to look in to he eyes of both those we love and those we do not know from Adam and dare them to tell us the truth. Women are so very good at faking a life. So ludicrously wonderful at having ha ha ha isn’t he funny conversations when HE is breaking her heart at every turn. And more than that the comparison has to stop for it is that which inspires the kind of devastatingly low self-esteem that tells us at every turn that we are not worthy.
This then is what I want you to know: we are who we are in this moment. Doing our best in these circumstances. So very few of us are wicked. Or stupid. Or both. Some of us are dealing with the unimaginable. Some of us are barely coping. Some of us lie next to men who have long left the relationships. Others walking around with a pain in their chest that terrifies them the moment they have a second to think about it. That woman there? She has a Mother who will, even now, not let her breathe. And that one over there? She is in the midst of an affair (of the kind that is going nowhere) that makes her feel at once alive and so very, very dead. Your best friend may never step in to the shower because she cannot bear her body, or may always insist on visiting you because her house is falling down around her and she is too tired to deal with it.
The trials and tribulations of modern life are not to be underestimated. Social media is turning our children in to heartbreaking monsters and we cannot prevent it. Men are suffering the kind of mid-life crisis’s that make no sense but destroy our families anyway. Our parents are ageing before our eyes. We are less beautiful than we were yesterday in a world that insists beauty is the only currency worth having. We eat too much. Alcoholism is rife among women of a certain age and the frittering of money on tiny bits of nonsense prevalent and threatening to our own financial security.
Life is horribly hard. And despite all the images we are bombarded with it is hard for everyone and we are all making it up as we go along. Today then I want you to know that you aren’t rubbish. Or broken. You are surviving in difficult times, challenged by the need to live up to the standards you imagine the rest of the world is living up to.
So do your best and do no more. Be a woman less ordinary at every turn. Ask questions and find comfort in other peoples truth. Acknowledge your shame. Write it on a piece of paper and give it form so that it is no longer something fleeting but something concrete you can put in to the bin. Give up being so hard on yourself. Carry on muddling through. Stop listening to that voice in your head. Let other women help you. Don’t contribute to the myth of perfection. Don’t add to that noise. Stop standing still. Do little things. Big things. Things that scare you. Don’t wallow. Don’t stall. Seek help. Stop allowing the mutterings of teenagers to sting you when they know not what they say. Find your tribe, a community, a book-club where truth is poured like so much wine. Don’t take the kind of calls you know will cloud your day. Don’t allow the child to crawl all over you when you long for just a moment when your body belongs to you and you alone. Be your own bodyguard. Say no. Calmly but quietly. Have conversations that hurt. Stop comparing yourself to anyone at all. Tell yourself you are doing your best every time you pass a mirror. Out loud. In fact screech it whenever you find yourself alone. Screech it because you can and because screeching feels good and telling the truth feels astonishing and mess doesn’t matter and your children probably wont grow up completely horrible and you are OK.
Right now, in this moment you are OK so tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and pop your feelings on a bonfire.
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