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10 Non-Negotiables to Adulting with a Smile

Breaking Down to Breaking Through

Chasing the sun. Somerset. 2017.

1. THINKING IS OVERRATED, TUNE IN TO THE FREQUENCY OF FEELING

(CRASH & BURN VOLUME 1)

I spent over two years considering ending my marriage. In that time I explored numerous approaches to problem solving. I worked on myself. I read, I researched, I talked to my friends, family and of course, my husband, in desperate attempts to ‘fix’ everything. I tried so hard to be strong enough to carry us all through unharmed, but I couldn’t. For a sunny character, I was living increasingly in the shadows, and it scared me.

My husband was away again on another long stint overseas and by this point, we had become increasingly distant on an emotional level. Each night, I was consoling, entertaining, and distracting the kids, as they missed out on time with their dad. But it felt like a scratched record of me desperately trying everything possible to be all they needed, while simultaneously feeling the impossibility of being ‘enough’ in myself. I felt disconnected, defeated and alone, so why not be alone, for real?

When I made my vows I meant them. Questioning them felt immoral. I felt lost. I went to counselling, provided by the local GP as an alternative to antidepressants. I visualised ideal and worst case scenarios in an effort to prepare myself for potential outcomes of ‘going it alone’ for the first time in my life, having grown up in this relationship for almost 20 years, since the age of 16. I focused on the kids, then 7 and 9 years old – the joy of their clarity, and our connection renewing my energy and strengthening my efforts – but of course, the greatest weight to bare in all of my deliberations was the inevitable, inescapable impact on them.

I carried all three hearts within my own, but my own was becoming fractured and heavy to the point of bursting. I couldn’t have expected to go on much longer without acknowledging the reality of the need for massive action. It was on New Year’s Day in 2014, during a yoga session of ‘Looking to the Year Ahead’, that I lost it for the first time. It was loud. It was messy. I felt exposed, yet trapped.

A vision had persisted throughout the shared meditation of a swollen waterfall cascading relentlessly, with the undeniable force of nature carving out its path between the cold rocks. All I could hear in my mind, over and over were the words ‘You need to cry a thousand tears,’ impossible to ignore. The tears poured down my face in an endless stream. All the ‘thinking’ I had done, the rationalising, the contemplating, felt like a mere drop in the ocean in comparison to the debilitating intensity of my emotions flooding over me, as I finally surrendered to my true feelings, to the grief of letting go of all I had known and most significantly, to letting go of control.

2. WAKE THE FUCK UP – WHAT DO YOU WANT?

I was broken. Exhausted. Dragging myself through daily routine for the sake of the children, trying to summon the enthusiasm they were used to in me, trying to be the best mother I could be. All I wanted was to feel lighter and be more present, to feel free, but I was struggling, slipping down.

I finally made the decision to leave my marriage. I was done. It was time. I couldn’t put the kids through my unhappiness anymore, and I had no desire to build up any more resentment in regards to a situation I had the power to change. I wanted this change before things got worse, in order to stay friends as parents – my ultimate intention.

The next blow was the wait. In this knowledge, I waited 6 weeks for my husband to return from overseas – only for one weekend between jobs – so I could finally talk to him face to face. I broke his heart. He returned overseas to the demands and distractions of work and I returned into my role at home. Heavy, but relieved.

3. WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU? FACE YOUR FEARS, GET CREATIVE

The scariest question of all through this phase came from my counsellor, who forced me to look far more closely at myself than I was comfortable doing. She said “Take away the titles of wife, mother, sister, daughter, employee etc – who are you beneath those labels?’ I froze. I had no idea! How had I got to this point in my life where I didn’t know myself without categorization? I had ‘worked on myself’ for months, terrified by the prospect of depression and fearing the growing sense of inadequacy – I am a yoga instructor – we are expected to know this stuff! So I looked to a higher source, a senior yogini, who advised that ‘depression’ is simply the human need for deep rest. She asked, “How would it feel to stop trying so hard? To resist fixing things for a while?”, floods of tears and a huge wave of relief came over me in that instant. BEST ADVICE EVER.

In the months that followed, I slowed down and rested here and there. I re-emerged from the shadows. Naturally, I couldn’t resist reaching out for too long. I sought inspiration and motivation on transitioning through change with a spirit of enquiry, as opposed to the dark cloud of doom that had been following us around. I threw myself into projects, work ventures, determined to prove my independence, working three jobs around the kids, and parenting with as much positivity and optimism as I could muster. No more fixing, but rather, creating. 

The kids were doing great, progressing well in school, and spending more time with their dad than ever before, he was happy and moving on. Re-energised, I went chasing after new experiences with an unquenchable thirst for adventure. I gave myself permission to get a bit selfish, to take more space and to find time for fun.

4. GET OUTSIDE YOUR COMFORT ZONE – HIT THE ‘FUCK IT’ BUTTON!

While the kids were away, I explored my appetite for all things, from mountain climbing to online dating. It was like I was turning back time, rediscovering the joy of independence and spontaneity in excellent measure. Where I had felt dormant and ‘small’ for years, I could feel myself reawakening and growing in confidence – pumped! Flames reigniting all around me of forgotten interests, creative pursuits and sexuality. It was 50:50 moderation:madness, with the occasional dose of meditation thrown in for good measure, against the frivolous use of the ‘Fuck It’ button. I’m lucky enough to say that I don’t regret a moment of it – in fact I recommend it. It got me through. I even got a tattoo to remind myself of the opportunities and elation stepping outside the comfort zone can bring.

(…CUE CRASH & BURN VOLUME 2)

5. GET REAL – DON’T BUY INTO THE ‘CLOUD OF DOOM’ (SOCIAL MEDIA IS NOT REAL)

I stayed out late and drank too much, I broke my previously held ‘rules’ in favour of the addictive nature of liberation. I celebrated life’s gifts and avoided showing pain wherever possible. Apparently, I enjoyed myself too much. 

With jabbing, pointing fingers, I was advised, by family members, to pull my neck in; I was criticised for ‘looking too happy’; I was accused of being inconsiderate, and lacking compassion for my ex. 

At first, I laughed at their focus on my social media ‘persona’, but when I realised they were 100% serious, I found myself gasping, reaching for words that wouldn’t come. I was stunned.

I felt like I had tried with everything I had to show the children, and remind myself that the only constant in life is change, and that it can bring opportunities and be handled with optimism rather than doom and gloom. I had been fighting hard for that. But in that moment of critique, I felt myself plummet. It was like a switch had been flicked and suddenly I spiraled again, into a torment of negative feelings that I had been suppressing; anger, resentment, frustration and exhaustion to name a few. The life-force that had been driving me forwards left me. The fight was over for now, I had tried and failed to outrun my feelings and prove myself.

Observed from a distance, I can see why my ‘judges’ misunderstood my actions. My social media profiles were oozing positivity and happiness. People, it seems, are generally unaccustomed to seeing this approach to change (and clearly weren’t aware that my ex and I had already agreed to ‘unfollow’ each other – technicalities of modern day separation!). I was considered selfish in my celebrations of life and all its offerings, hedonistic even, which to some extent I was, but with clear intention on my part.

Giving in to feeling shit was not an option. It wasn’t serving me or the kids. There were good days and bad days, although only those in my ‘inner circle’ knew how bad the bad days were. But here’s the thing, being seen to feel shit is so often what’s expected when families separate and the familiar ‘cloud of doom’ emerges in many conversations: “Oh no, I’m so sorry!” – my reply was always the same: “Change is inevitable, we’re doing okay thanks. My husband and I were together for 19 years – I’m really proud of us.” – which was true, and my chosen focus.

Inside, of course I felt shit at times, BUT I WASN’T PREPARED TO SHARE THAT ON SOCIAL MEDIA! That’s a facade, an outlet, a collection of reminders that I would revisit in appreciation of how far we had come – not a place to publicly air my vulnerabilities and grievances – who wants to look back at that?!

I went from feeling good (mostly), proud and protective, to furious, guilty and defensive. The stark contrast left me forced to start afresh. This time, facing the anger and resentment brought to the surface through this ‘blame exchange’.

At the time I felt paralysing hurt, and lost trust in others. But that’s the point. I needed to. It was the catalyst I needed to get to a place where I FELT again. For real. I had become a master at distraction but it was time for the next phase of grief. The grieving process that accompanies loss and separation comes in waves. It’s necessary to engage with these intense emotions in stages, in the hope that in the end, we can let them go.

6. WHEN EXPERIENCING CONTRAST, SEEK CLARITY

The contrast from pride to powerlessness manifested in my relationship with my son. My instability destabilised him. I always knew I wanted to be a mother, and within a few months of meeting his dad, I knew he was the ‘ideal-dad-material’ partner I sought. Clarity. But now my mothering skills were falling short, and as a result I was falling apart.

My son had seen me demoralised again, our family home was up for sale, and he had became aware that his dad and I had been dating other people casually – all this meaning he had to face the reality of our situation, and let go of his hope of reconciliation between us. As a result of trying to make himself feel safe, he began displaying controlling behaviour over me. My main occupation at the time was as a Teaching Assistant in the local primary school, and a key role of mine was supporting children struggling with social, emotional or behavioural issues, but when it’s your own child, and you are both the cause of and solution to their struggle, what do you do? I was desperate to return to my fixing role, but I had no idea how. I was totally out of my depth and felt more alone and inadequate than ever.

To make matters worse, this all played out specifically in relation to my sexual identity as seen by him, and the perceived ‘threat’ any close male friends posed – even those he’d known for years were suddenly a cause to act out. In the months before, the kids would come home and tell me of their weekends snuggling up on the sofa with their dad’s new girlfriend, and they were fine… I was a little breathless at how quickly the kids had fallen in love with another woman, but I was also relieved that their dad was moving on and that they felt comfortable sharing their stories with me. I, on the other hand, couldn’t even go to the gym without scrutiny! There were a hundred questions and comments like, “Are you wearing that to go out?”, “Who are you meeting?”, “Why are you wearing lipstick?”, “What time will you be home?”- ARE YOU KIDDING ME? YOU’RE 9! This was not learnt behaviour; not only was my ex rarely around to comment on whether I was going out or not while we were married, but he would never have spoken to me like that.

My son became my keeper, and I was suffocating. The closer he held me, the harder it was to breathe. I broke down at work. Exhausted, scared and humiliated that I couldn’t find any clarity in how to ‘fix’ this. 

Swallowing my pride to ask for help was a game changer. The school were amazing at supporting us, and dealing with my son’s anxiety. They put me in touch with a psychotherapist who showed me the world from his perspective. Our therapist reassured me that this was a common issue, and offered me strategies to navigate around this ‘bump’ in the road along my son’s journey of acceptance. We made our world smaller and clearer for him. We hit RESET.

Clarity was the key. Bit by bit, we softened together. His sister was incredibly supportive. Now we had insight, we had a plan, and the plan was working. We were getting back on track. Go team!

7. HOLD THE VISION, TRUST THE PROCESS

Sometimes I have to pinch myself. It’s been an incredible journey. I’m tearful now, writing this, thinking just how far we have all come.

It’s been three years since my ex-husband and I separated. Somehow, we have completed our voyage through house sales and purchases, and divorce, to the creation of two very happy homes and two very happy, thriving, compassionate, tuned in kids (even the dog has finally settled into this duality – he took the longest!).

I held onto the vision of a friendship between myself and the kids’ dad, built on mutual respect, every step of the way. So far so good. When things got tough I looked to my framed card, set at eye level as a constant reminder of a useful rule: “It’ll be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end” (source unknown).

8. GET CURIOUS – MULTIPLE ORGASMS TO MULTIPLE EPIPHANIES

There is great joy but also considerable struggle in all this ‘adulting’.

I have cried a thousand tears and more. I have battled depression and eating disorders. I have felt used, and I have used others. I have fallen out with family and friends, and questioned pretty much everything I thought I knew about myself.

Thankfully, during the course of all this learning – learning to explore my feelings and desires, learning to be alone and to be enough, learning to be resilient – there has been an ever increasing appetite for curiosity and personal growth.

Each moment of clarity is an epiphany, like a light bulb switching on in my brain, deeply satisfying, serving to delight my soul and reignite my spirit.

In my ongoing search for this fulfillment and clarity, I’ve delighted in trying out everything made available to me, either online or in person, analysing what it means to be ‘human’ in a culture where stigma is attached to mental disorders, and pride attached to sleep deprivation, in favour of some concept of domestic or professional ‘success’.

I’ve grown professionally and personally, and know the value of every moment of struggle, just as much as every moment of climatic joy. Contrast being the greatest means of measure. Research has been key – learning from masters in various fields of expertise including nutrition, fitness, health, psychology, philosophy and spirituality.

9. BREATHE: MINDFULNESS, MEDITATION & FABULOUS FUCK UPS

‘Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional’ (Quote usually attributed to Buddha)

In the past, I spent too much energy trying to prove myself with some preconceived idea of demonstrating ‘success’.

These days I’m far more fluid in my thinking. If I get a good night’s sleep and a twenty minute meditation 5/7 days per week, I’m winning – in fact as a household we’re all winning and stand more chance of a successful day – success in terms of the ‘feel good’, ‘have fun’, ‘be nice’, ‘learn stuff’ approach – with a solid understanding that it’s TOTALLY OKAY TO FUCK UP, because each fuck up is an opportunity to get curious, to observe ourselves, to feel, to share, and to learn and grow, rather than hide and divide.

10. PAT YOURSELF ON THE BACK FOR BEING HUMAN – BE KIND, BE KIND, BE KIND

I am so grateful to have learned the difference between a breakdown and a breakthrough, albeit the hard way. The keys to survival with a smile are in the choices we make for ourselves.

There were so many times when I wished the challenges (and challengers) would FUCK OFF and leave me in peace, but I have learned to face them, and see their value. These days, I often choose the ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ approach when it comes to difficulties. I’m not afraid to feel anymore. If I’m not sure what to do, I rest – or hide – and await the epiphanies – those moments of clarity – to guide me one step closer to feeling better. I try to be kinder every day, especially to myself.

These have undoubtedly been the hardest years of my life, the most anxiety-ridden, darkest, depressive days and lonely nights, BUT, I can honestly say, I have never felt so ALIVE, so IN TUNE, so appreciative, and ultimately, so HUMAN, as I do writing this right NOW.

Thank you to all those who share their stories.

Red xx

NON-NEGOTIABLES (Surviving with a smile)

1. THINKING IS OVERRATED, TUNE IN TO THE FREQUENCY OF FEELING

Consider how you want to feel, and tune into that.

The brain doesn’t know the difference between real and imagined, so imagine yourself feeling better and reach for good feeling thoughts whenever possible!

2. WAKE THE FUCK UP! WHAT DO YOU WANT?

Do not settle. I repeat. Do not settle. Do not make yourself small.

Tip: ‘If you know what you don’t want, you know what you do want’ (Abraham Hicks)

3. WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU? FACE YOUR FEARS, GET CREATIVE

Spend time on you. Do a social media detox. Walk in the woods. Read lots. Try new stuff.

4. GET OUTSIDE YOUR COMFORT ZONE – HIT THE ‘FUCK IT’ BUTTON!

Seek a more passionate, energised version of you. Prioritise yourself. Lose the ‘traditional’ approach. What’s on the bucket list?!

(It’s never too late – I started gymnastics & handstanding at 34! – Life looks better upside down at times!)

5. GET REAL – DON’T BUY INTO THE ‘CLOUD OF DOOM’ (SOCIAL MEDIA IS NOT REAL)

You can surprise yourself and others. It doesn’t have to be how others see it, or expect to see it! – As long as you are honest with yourself.

6. WHEN EXPERIENCING CONTRAST, SEEK CLARITY

Resist reacting. Act from a place of clarity. If you’re not there yet, that’s okay. It’ll come. Out of nothing comes everything. Fear is a liar.

7. HOLD THE VISION, TRUST THE PROCESS

‘Everything will be okay in the end, if it’s not okay, it’s not the end’. Know your intention. Believe in that vision. A belief is just a thought you keep thinking.

8. GET CURIOUS – MULTIPLE ORGASMS TO MULTIPLE EPIPHANIES

Express yourself. Journaling is good.  

What’s serving you?! Find that buzz, follow feel good factors, moments of delight and clarity! Self-exploration is essential. (Superficiality is fun for a while).

9. BREATHE: MINDFULNESS, MEDITATION & FABULOUS FUCK UPS

‘Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional’ (Quote usually attributed to Buddha).

Chill out. Slow down. Rest up. Quiet your mind. 

‘If it won’t matter in 5 years, don’t spend more than 5 minutes on it’ (source unknown).

10. PAT YOURSELF ON THE BACK FOR BEING HUMAN. BE KIND, BE KIND, BE KIND.

Share your story. Be Present. Be kind. Ahimsa (‘do no harm’ in Sanskrit).

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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