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Is Facebook killing your self-esteem?

12 Jun

facebook sanityA lot of my friends and acquaintances seem to have left Facebook recently on mental health grounds. Apparently it’s the most liberating thing you can do in the 21st century.  Personally I like to believe I’m one of those more mature Facebook users who can separate weak-chat from chaff-chat, who uses the social network purely for life enhancing reasons, but  in truth I’m kidding myself.

For sure I love the banter, the sharing of funny stuff, moving stuff, crazy stuff. I love bonding over a cat leaping like superman out of an open window before falling to the ground like Wiley Coyote. I love the support I can show to other people going through difficult times. The understanding, the connection, the commeraderie.  However, the reality is I’m no more immune to that “other” stuff than they are.  The stuff that makes you feel bad about yourself, unfulfilled,  not quite good enough. The stuff that sees you compare yourself to other people over and over again.

I have an old friend on Facebook I haven’t seen for nearly 2 decades who’s become my “what if”  friend.  Single, living abroad with the body I once had (pre-kids), the career I lost,  the clothes, the social life.  I can’t help but compare and contrast and come up short.  In reality, this person  is probably looking through MY profile and crying over MY husband and MY kids.  Stupid irony.

Then there’s the friends I’ve lost touch with. The ones I see in photos posted by their other friends looking happy and smiling – that is happy and smiling without me.  And it tugs at you. They’ve chosen to spend their lives with these other people and as silly as it is, it feels like rejection.

I can count on one hand the number of Facebook friends I continue to interact with in any kind of meaningful way once the Facebook honeymoon period is over. Those early days of comparing and contrasting and measuring myself up, with nothing to show for it but a  black mark on my soul. The “There’s yet another friend that’s doing better than you” Facebirthmark.

So it’s clear then, if I value my soul and my sanity I should hang up my Facebook hat and start living my life in the REAL world where REAL people live, not with the better versions that are carefully constructed and lived out online.

Let’s be honest here, I am pretty great, but I’m nowhere near as great as I appear online.

So what do you think? Is it about time YOU saved your soul from Facebook self-destruct?

I Blog therefore I Am

18 Aug

I wasn’t sure I would blog again. You miss a week here or there, and then you find it more and more difficult to get back into the game. The blogging world shifts, new faces appear and before you know it, you feel like an outsider tiptoeing on the periphary of something, uncertain whether you want back in.  A bloggy voyeur.

But the nagging feeling keeps gnawing away. Should i? Can i?

So I’m writing this post out of curiosity more than anything. Interested to see how those keys might feel under my fingers, whether the words will flow.

So much has happened these past 18 months and I’ve changed.  No longer identifying with  Marketing OR Milk, the line drawing of mother and child, nor the over-expectant tagline.

Perhaps that’s why I stopped writing.  If I don’t know who I am, who the hell am I writing for?  But hasn’t that always been the point of my writing  – to question, search, define and CHANGE?

And whoever this person might be, wherever she might be going (and believe me, at the moment she has no clue) I quite like her. She’s older, wiser, a little sad at times, and definitely prone to an embarrassing outburst or two, but perhaps still with something to say.

And as I write, the familar feeling of release takes over: Each word like a small tentative cut:  Slowly relaxing.

Shameful, playful self-harm.

Impractical shoes and a mother’s voice

27 Aug

I didn’t used to be able to make a single decision without worrying what my mum would think, way beyond my teenage years and far into adulthood. It would drive me crazy.  I’d go to get a clean towel from the airing cupboard, and I’d stand there for 10 mins trying to decide which colour and length of fibre, what type – beach, hand or bath my mother would choose.  I’d hear her scolding me for losing my house keys because I would just never learn to put them in the same place.  I’d catch a disapproving whisper “not the liquid eyeliner, too harsh” when applying my make up or a low, amused chuckle when choosing between two sets of shoes that I knew my mother would think equally impractical. I’d replay ten arguments in my head as to why I had made that decision, or this decision regarding my children’s food/clothes/birthday presents, even though it was only in my own head that my choices were ever questioned.

I used to chide myself for it. Why couldn’t I just trust my own instincts? Why did my mother’s opinion on absolutely everything I did as a 30-something still matter? Why was it even more important than my own opinion? In truth I often didn’t even know what my own opinion was, my mother’s voice in my head was so loud.

But now I love it.  Where once it infuriated me, now it only makes me smile. It reassures me, a calming familiarity in a world that is otherwise so changed. Warm, tender, teasing. And it’s in exactly the words she would have used, in her slightly staid tones and with a scent of a New Zealand accent.

And I listen to it now, just as I listened to it then.  Because it’s protective and wise and it knows me. And now I get that.

Bored to tears

13 Jun

I don’t think there’s anything worse than being bored. Boredom destroys me.

Incidentally I also can’t stand waiting. I’ve been known to declare the end of a friendship over being kept waiting for 15 mins. Boredom and impatience; not the easiest of bedfellows.

Boredom is the reason I overeat, the reason I make lists when I’ve nothing pressing to do. It’s why I think too much, overanalyse things, invent catastrophic endings for scenarios that haven’t even happened yet. I just have to fill in the gaps, somehow, or all hell seems to break loose.

I’ve had my fair share of jobs where I’ve been paid to pretty much do nothing. In the early years anyway. A working day wiled away with the repetitive click of a mouse – click-refresh, click-refresh – like some OCD computer monkey. Other people would have bitten their hands of for a bit of time as an overpaid primate, but not me. I was utterly miserable. For me, boredom = torture.

I’m a doer, like my mum. She never stopped. Single parent, 2 jobs, dog, cats, big house. I feel extremely uncomfortable when there’s nothing to do. In fact, I’m at my happiest when doing at least 3 things simultaneously. It’s not unusual for me to be found sat on the sofa watching television while tapping away on the keyboard while simultaneously reading a newspaper or texting a long, indepth message to a friend I’ve not seen in ages. It’s like if my whole brain isn’t engaged all at the same time, if any part is left unoccupied, then I start to get very anxious. I get very low very quickly.

I’m not sure if it’s boredom or just the lack of something. But why does a gap, a break in the proceedings, a pause for breath make me so totally and disproportionately anxious? I’ve wanted to figure that one out for a very long time because a bit of relaxation, indulgent “me-time” would be quite nice once in a while. And no more so than now. But unengaged brain or body = boredom = run a frickin’ mile until you find the nearest pile of washing up.

A psychiatrist once told me it was to do with personal drivers, those pesky things that are set in place by the age of 3, are almost always destructive in some way, and seemingly impossible to change. Apparently “being busy” rates quite highly among mine. Nothing to do = bored = waste of space or something like that anyway. It has no value to me.

I think that’s why I’m struggling at the moment. At first there was an unbelievable amount of stuff that needed doing. Funerals, tax forms, property, people to advise, friends to thank. It was even kind of, dare I say it, exciting. Life wasn’t normal, mundane. Every 5 mins had a purpose.

Now, suddenly, there is nothing to do. I am bored out of my skull. I feel empty, rudderless, abandoned even.

I have so many gaps – suddenly – in my life, and I’m just not sure how to fill them.

More than a house

5 Jun

My mum’s house will soon be on the market.  My family home. The house we moved into in 1980, when I was 3. A house built on clay and memories.

This is the hardest part so far.

And my thoughts are becoming more and more consumed with these pictures from the past. Reruns played over and over;  stop – rewind – play,  stop – rewind – play.

My 3 yr old self, raw from the recent divorce, padding in to my mother’s room and standing by the side of the bed, head bowed, eyes on my feet.  “Can I come in?” whispered with an eager heart.  Climbing in sheepishly next to her and lying bum to bum,  warmth so familiar, so reassuring.

A young child returning early from a school trip with swollen eyes, weepy from fresh cut grass.  Childish excitement deflated like a limp balloon.  And my mother laying me gently on the bed in my childhood room,  and tending my eyes lovingly with damp flannels.

My rebellious, secretive teenage self lying prone in the early hours of the morning, wide-eyed from narcotic experimentation, lamenting the worms that still wriggle from the carpet. Watching guiltily as my mother pads around excitedly, preparing for her youngest’s birthday.

My young adult self, suffering from my first and worst bout of depression and lying in a bath that my mother has run. Her sitting patiently on the toilet as she reads to me from Alison in Wonderland, hoping that the words will comfort with the innocenct simplicity of childhood.

My recently married self – foolishly but deliriously drunk and lying on the grass with my new husband, sister and brother-in-law, like starfish watching a flight of swallows in glorious fomation soaring back and forth across the sky.

And my mum, in every room – laughing,  reassuring, scolding.  Kind, proud, determined. Her music, her cooking, her love.

And somehow I have to say goodbye to all this. Let someone else strip out the worn, dated kitchen – my mother’s kitchen – to replace it with stylish, cold granite.  Flush away all of my family memories and reinvent their own.  And I want to scream and barricade the doors and picket at the fence. No entry here.  But Mr Cameron is eager for his pound of gold, and the clock is ticking.

The natural order of things

22 May

Losing my mum stinks. I miss her with an ache, an emptiness that throbs away in the pit of my stomach, a sadness that never dissipates.   Tears are rare for they seem pointless.  I have nowhere to go with my grief, cannot replace what is lost, or make it better with a good cry or a restful night’s sleep.

But sitting alongside and comforting me, holding my hand and pushing my chin up, is the sense that somehow at least, this is the natural order of things. A few years too early – ten, maybe even twenty years but not unnatural, grossly distorted or sickeningly unfair.  Every child must lose their mother. Though I wouldn’t choose it, I can carry it.

If I had lost my mother just 12 months ago, 6 months even,  I fear I would have fallen apart. Still lacking confidence, unsure of who I was or what I would become. But things have changed for me this past year; I have felt myself grow stronger, more centred, calmer, and I seem strangely prepared, more accepting.  More than this, since the day my mum died I have felt as if all her strength, dignity, calm has been transposed into me. Her gift. And it seems to carry me, even in my darkest moments.

Every child must lose their mother, and it is the task of the parent to prepare them for that. To give them the skills, the fortitude, the drive to live their lives.  My mum gave all this to me, and  though I ache for her, long for it to be different, I  sense that this is my time, that she is there willing me on, that this is what life is about. Me and my babies. Nature’s cycle.

And I think about the infants that lose their mothers before the nurturing has come to an end.  To me that is unnatural and devastating. Everyone must lose their mother, but not before they have given their blessing and passed over the mantel freely and with love.

An enormous embarrassment

26 Mar

My husband says I can sometimes be a loose cannon. Say something inappropriate or tactless in the middle of a social gathering. Strange that, I always thought I was the picture of decency, tact and sensitivity. That my tendency to be direct, honest, say what I think was a good thing. You knew where you stood with me. I was “real” <strikes finger scissor pose>.

I’ve never really doubted the accuracy of my own self-perception before, but now I’m getting older, and seemingly increasingly uncool, I have started to wonder – can we ever really judge ourselves objectively? Is the person we see in the mirror actually anything like the person other people see?

Sure, I’ve sometimes said the wrong thing, like that time I asked the policeman whether he’d ever killed someone during a school visit.  Or the time I told a spa employee I never played the lottery becuase the statistics show you’re more likely to be shot in the UK than win the lottery. “Umm, we don’t usually tell our customers that” he whispered, as the queue of customers waving their red slips behind me looked quizzical.

I went to dinner the other night with some people I’d never met before and I ended the evening (having said not much at all up until this point) by sharing an anecdote I’d learnt the night before about the history of vibrators. Totally unexpectedly, and without any context. When my husband told me the following morning I laughed it off  ” Well at least I didn’t tell them I’d learnt  that particular nugget from a penis pump review”.  <silence>

Ok, so maybe I sometimes really do get it wrong, but a regular embarrassment? A loose cannon?

The thing is, I have to admit that these events are starting to happen more and more frequently. The dad dancing in the corner moments.  The problem is, I AM thinking before I speak, considering the consequences, and I DO think what I’m about to say is funny, sage, tactful.  So if it’s my judgement that’s wrong, what hope is there? Soon I’ll be asking pot-bellied body dismorphic 20-somethings if they want a seat.

Oh, by the way, here’s the bit about the vibrators. Did you know GPs used to manually relieve “crazy” women before….


11 Mar

Isn’t it funny how some people tie you up in knots from the minute you go to open your mouth? Not because you’re embarrassed or nervous particularly, nor because you secretly fancy the pants off them. There’s no obvious explanation for it, except that words never flow freely when you try to engage.

There are those where the conversation is effortlessly fluid, seamless, easy. All the words come out in the right order; you sound confident, articulate and persuasive. Conversation bounces back and forth in perfect tandem, easily and playfully. You feel as if you’ve known them for a lifetime and you never have to explain yourself to get them to understand. In their precense you are Joan Collins – sassy, confident, sharp.

There are others where you always go to speak at the same time, and follow it up with awkward silence. Where the right words are never at hand, and you grapple around until having to make do with the vocabulary of a pre-schooler. Where you can’t make them understand however hard you try; you just feel and behave like a schmuck without them doing or saying anything.

Is this what they call “interpersonal dynamics”?

It amazes me that so much can be going on below the surface, and that it can impact even before you make any physical or verbal contact. Body language, gesture, eye contact, power struggle – facets of behaviour and comparative self-perception that are largely unconscious but can drive every single interaction we have with that person. And so out of our conscious control.

I find it unnerving and it frequently frustrates me. Why can’t I be Alexis Carrington all the time?

How well do you really know someone?

7 Mar

We spend our lives listening to our parent’s potted histories, groan at having to hear them over and over – once, twice, three times – sometimes late at night, often with high emotion.

We internalise these stories without question; it’s only when we go to recount them back to an unconnected party that we start to see them for what they are. Glimpses only. Snapshots. A biographical history – selective, biased, incomplete.

We may know intimately our loved one’s character traits, their struggles, passions, desires. We may learn to predict their behaviour, know how to cosset them against harm, support them in their personal struggles, marvel at their hard-fought triumphs, but do we ever really consider the person they were before we met them? They are “our mum” or “our dad”. We give only a fleeting thought to the experiences that shaped them into who they are today, take foregranted who they might have been to someone else.

My dad had a few anecdotes he told time and again. Like the time he blew his falling out money from the navy on a suite of rooms at Manchester’s most expensive hotel, while his equals slummed it in student halls throughout fresher’s week. Or the first year he spent bording in a madam’s house, looked after like a son, fed cooked breakfast every morning as debauchery went on around him. Snapshots of a life lived to the full, a man with a cheeky glint in his eye.

The thing with anecdotes is that they’re just that. Improved over time, polished, made more funny, more enchanting, more impressive. If we start to ask questions, we soon begin to realise how much more there is to know, that what we know is merely a scratch on the surface of a life lived.

It was only when my father lost his sight and hearing, became isolated, more reflective, when we used to sit for hours talking because there was little else he could do, that I really got to know him. Started to fill in the gaps, build the flesh around the anecdotal bones, get to really know him as he was in life, from beginning to end.

My mum has her own stories, funny, poignant, some tragic, many filled with enormous strength and achievement. We are incredibly close, like sisters, and yet, I’m beginning to realise that for as much as I do know, there is still so much that I don’t. Have never thought to ask, question, or clarify. Or I have listened but never really heard.

I’m looking forward to finding out even more not just about a mother, but a sister, daughter, friend.

What was i thinking?

22 Nov

Many of you will be aware that I went back to work recently. Well, i’m working a contract, but hopefully there’ll be more where that came from. You see, I’d been off work for over 2 years. I’d struggled at first, I mean, really really struggled, and then I’d slowly begun to accept that maybe I would be at home until the youngest was at school. And I was okay with it. I had the routine down, had lowered my expectations of what kind of mother I could be (flawed), and I was starting to settle. Yes, JUST starting to settle after 2 years, let’s just say it had been one bleedin’ long bedding in period. Yes i was still a bit jaded, mouthed off once in a while about why women couldn’t have it all, but I was living with it. Struggling with my identity, going through some kind of third life crisis, but living with it all the same.

But then i went back to work, and i’ve got to say – WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING? Me, Milk, a full time mum? 14 hours a day, non stop fetching, cleaning, cooking, wiping, mopping, shrieking? It’s just too bloody difficult. It’s not me. I’m too impatient, petulant, easily bored, obsessive, emotional, – goddamn too bloody tired most of the time to do all that.

My life suddenly has more balance. I have children days and work days. Weekdays and weekend days. Work clothes, sloppy clothes and, goddamn it, i now even have sexy clothes (and a sexy new fringe may I add). But seriously, this IS me. I think I might have lost myself for a while back there. Convinced myself i was someone else because, well, i had to.

But do you know what? I might have found it difficult, I might be happier having some me time and ponsing on a bit about monetising content and defining user journeys, but I jolly well did prove i COULD do the stay at home mum thing if I really really had to. Just pretty please don’t make me do it again.