Writing the bullet

keep-calm-and-bite-the-bullet-9

Biting the bullet is a really grown up thing to do, sometimes.

I created a list on my to-do list app (I use the app called “Things” if anyone is looking for one) of all the “grown up” choices I need to make. Because I’m constantly tempted to opt for the childish decision, I’m trying to actively do the opposite. I’m going to tackle them by breaking them down into small, achievable tasks. Bear with me.

Floordrobe… or hang it up?

Laundry later… or laundry now?

Keep playing videogames… or go for a run?

Continue being scared and anxious about workload and ignore emails like they don’t exist… check, flag, and respond to emails now?

Ice cream for dinner… or ice cream for dinner? (No one’s perfect)

Then the slightly harder/more arduous ones:

Sort out household paperwork properly (HUGE job).

Make sure the contents insurance is thorough.

Then there’s some that are right up there on the difficulty level. Hardcore mode. Things I’ll only ever really get one good shot at — permadeath options:

Sort out my will.

Ask the people I know would do an amazing job raising my kids if they would be willing to look after them if my husband and I died.

Write back to my birthmother.

These ones are really hard. Sometimes I use that hardness to force perspective into the non-hard ones and tell myself to grow up and do the washing. But most of the time they just make me whimper and give me hot tears behind my eyes.

I’m not going to make a habit of just opening a vein and spilling out red feelings all over the page, in this blog. But at times when you’re on your journey of self-care some things are going to be Big Things, and some things are little lifehacks and cool reminders to be kind to yourself. This is one of the Big Things. An Everest. Once I write that letter, a weight will be lifted from me that I’m not sure I even comprehend the size of, yet. This isn’t about gushing or complaining about A Sad Thing in my life. This is about getting all the shit done that I need to get done so I can look after myself and be a better human. Sometimes you gotta unpack some shit. (I don’t know why I feel the need to have a disclaimer about over-sharing but there it is. If it makes you uncomfortable I can assure you it feels worse from over here. Very vulnerable indeed)

I’m a writer by trade. I wrangle unruly words into certain orders that please some people enough for them to give me money in exchange for this service. Despite that sentence just now! Amazing, no? My syntax and grammar and breadth of vocabulary and hodge-podge structure and run-on sentences and those god damned em and en dashes all need work. But I’m totally at peace with that. A woman’s not a robot. I’m learning.

You’d think then, that because words can flow from my fingers quite easily sometimes, that I’d be able to write lovely letters filled with loveattacks and pretty prose and articulation not seen since… I don’t know what. But I have written draft after draft of that letter since I was 14. Her letter has been needing a reply for 15 years. That’s now longer than how long I was alive before reading it. I don’t want to say it’s “haunted” me, but it’s the less scary version of that. It’s just always been there, in the back of my mind.

14 sucks at the best of times, and I was going through some stuff on top of that. Looking back, I don’t think I was mature enough to deal with reading the letter right then.

Not sure if I even am now, really.

Earlier this month I saw “Philomena” with my husband, for our 7th wedding anniversary date night. We had a yummy steak dinner and then because I’m an idiot thought that movie looked like it would skewer my heart in that perfect way to make a date night really fun be interesting. It’s based on the true story of Philomena Lee, an Irish woman who found herself pregnant as a teen and given to a nun-lead workhouse, where she was forced to work to pay for her board, and her child was forcibly removed from her and given up for adoption. Naturally I cried the whole way through, even at the parts where I was gushing over how amazing Judy Dench’s performance was. Philomena was going on her journey to find her son, and “just wanted to know if he thought about [her]”. Her request was simple to answer. It was binary, even. Yes, or no. It made me reflect; maybe I was over-thinking this whole letter writing business. (15 years is a long time to think, after all) Maybe she just wanted to know she made a good choice and that I’m okay. Maybe she just wanted to know if I hate her.

I know my birthmother thinks about me every day, she said so in her letter. I was born by caesarian section (breech, still don’t like getting out of bed) and she says every time she sees her scar she thinks of how I’m doing. She gets moody on my birthday and her husband (not my biological father) knows she needs to be left alone. I think of her when I see adoption in the news, or Hugh Jackman and Deborra-Lee Furness, or hear people talking about scuba diving, or the suburb of Frankston.

If I was feeling particularly histrionic I might be tempted to say “MY SCAR ISN’T ON THE OUTSIDE”, swish my cape, apply the back of my hand to my forehead and fall on the nearest chaise lounge, but I honestly don’t feel scarred. I feel lucky. I have no ill-will towards her in the slightest. I’m not putting off this letter because I have feelings I can’t explain, it’s because I can’t explain my feelings. That’s not the same thing. The letter has contained such literary gems as “Thanks for not having an abortion, I guess?” to “I’m pro-choice, I hope that’s okay”, to “I’m really sorry this happened to you”. There’s no right way to say any of what I feel like saying, but maybe I just have to pare it back, and keep it simple. Maybe she just wanted to know if I thought of her. Maybe she doesn’t need to know my entire life story.

So with that knowledge in hand, this is the year I’m going to write that god damned letter I’ve been trying to write for 15 years. I’m going to do it by whittling it down to simple achievable tasks. Yes, I think about her. No, I have no ill will. Yes, I admire what she did. Yes, I am thankful. A short paragraph each, and perhaps at the end a nice little self-indulgent paragraph about what my life looks like now. Maybe I don’t need to sit staring at a blank page thinking “How do I say everything I’ve ever experienced is thanks to you so cheers n stuff?”

Maybe if I break it down into little pieces, I’ll have less chance of breaking down myself! I’ll keep you updated about when I finish it. But in the meantime, bite your bullets. It’s going to feel really good and maybe we can do it together.

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Getting strong (enough to ignore stuff)

(Trigger Warnings are common things in my online circles but if you’re not familiar with them, they’re little signposts that let people know the following text contains things that may have the potential to upset people or trigger some of their own personal issues or traumatic experiences. I want to tread lightly on this blog and don’t want to hurt anyone, so when you see these, please take heed! I’ll also tag the posts so you can easily avoid any certain topics that are triggering for you. So with that said…)

***Trigger Warning: This post mentions body image issues, body modification, plastic surgery, birth trauma, pregnancy, and fitness talk. It may be triggering to people with body image and/or eating disorders.***

So, having kids broke me.

That’s a pretty intense sentence to start with, let’s try again.

So, having kids broke me.

Hrm. Well then.

I guess that’s the only way it’s going to come out. I’m not a good pregnant person. Proof of that is the fact I currently have a 4.5cm separation of the abdominal muscles due to having my 2 sons. It’s called “diastasis recti”. The muscles separate in every pregnancy, but are supposed to go back together afterward, mine didn’t. Part of my physical self-care is fixing this problem, and I’m all for that, but I didn’t expect it to abut my feminism and rub up against my newly blooming body acceptance.

I don’t feel strong anymore. My core is shot and my back is sore because my front is literally not pulling its weight. I get random sharp stabby pains, dull aches, and wear an abdominal brace to prevent possible herniation. 20 years ago, phrases like “she just wasn’t the same after having kids” would be used to describe me. These days, we get advised to have abdominoplasty. I thought it would be a simple keyhole procedure, but a full “tummy tuck” is the standard prescribed method for fixing my problem. When I asked whether it was really necessary and my surgeon replied very much in the affirmative, my face fell. I was gutted (Oh STOP you’re awful! I’m all vulnerable, don’t).

Or at least I was about to be! (okay you got me, I couldn’t stop myself)

diastasis

I wasn’t expecting this news to irritate my feminism as much as it did. Getting support has been tricky. There’s an online forum full of women (and men) getting the same procedure as me, but only 2 for “medical reasons”, the rest are cosmetic decisions. I don’t judge people at all for wanting to modify their bodies, but when you start down that self-acceptance road, seeing the things you used to say and think seems boorishly obvious in its silliness. Almost farcical. I can’t quite explain it, but I guess I could draw parallels to the shit I used to say distancing myself from the term feminist. I was a “humanist”, god bless my little cotton socks. So original. Much fresh.

I don’t mean to make it sound like I’m some amazingly enlightened person, but it would be a complete lie not to admit that there’s a lot of self-loathing on those forums, and it took me beginning to wean myself off mine to really see it clearly. I’m finding it do-able to find the support I need and blocking out all the other stuff, but I tell you it’s really hard. There’s a girl who is 16 and desperate for a boob job for her birthday. There’s a whole forum section on Labiaplasty. Shit like that sends my feminist spider senses tingling. I had to find a way to be around it all when I really didn’t want to be around any of it.

In the spirit of self-care, I’ve had to do 2 things. Get over the fact this surgery is needed and good for me and will make me strong and strong is good; and ignore what other people think. A two-pronged self-care attack!

“I don’t want this procedure! Look at all the people that have this done! They’re not like me at all!” is not a healthy outlook. Plus it’s super judgey and mean. If I broke my leg I wouldn’t think twice about getting it set professionally and this is what’s happening to my abdominal muscles. Yes, some people are going to think it’s bad that I’m getting it done. But that’s their stuff. The occasional raised eyebrow at the term “tummy tuck”, “mummy tuck” or “anything-o-plasty” is going to come, and I’m much more ready for it now than I was.

Learning to mentally compartmentalise it into “Okay, that’s your stuff, and I’m just gonna leave that for you to deal with, while I’m over here tending to my stuff” is going to be essential to me. Whether it’s learning to block out the body-hatred found in these online support forums, or learning to block out the “your body is your perfect goddess you shouldn’t mess with it” from outside those circles.

Right now, I have to fix my broken body, so I can be strong again. I want to roll around the floor with my kids without worrying about pain. I want to pick them up without bracing like I’m that sticker on a box bending with the knees. I want those things more than I want people to always say what I want to hear. So my priority is getting well, and everything else can suck it.

This self-care thing is going pretty well so far with phrases like that, I think.

 

 

 

(PS: I’m really scared…)

She gave us buckets

I was going to make my first post about “making the grown up decisions” but I think it’ll be a long running thing throughout each post really, and I couldn’t stop thinking about this one.

My son started school last week, and (luckily) for him it wasn’t an emotional time at all. I cried. He didn’t see me cry, but I did. I had my sunglasses on with the hopes of hiding it, but after he walked into his classroom in a line of tiny school-hatted pairs holding hands, my shoulders or breathing must have given me away. I was held by another mother in that way that you can only be hugged when someone knows exactly how you’re feeling and what you need. It was very kind of her.

After a week and a half of school, I’m seeing the effect his amazing teacher (we’ll call her Miss Jenkins) is having on him already. His vocabulary is improving. He’s getting better at describing his day. At daycare I would ask him what he did that day, and he’d reply “played a lot”. At kinder I was hoping because it had more structure that he’d have more to tell me about what he did that day, but no. He “played a lot” there too. He’s telling me what classes he had now and who he played with, and what parts of his lunch were “uh-may-zing”.

But my favourite part is hearing the little sayings he’s repeating from his teacher. “Don’t just say no, give it a go!” is one of them. It’s one I think he is benefitting from already as he is a pretty hesitant kid unless he knows exactly what is expected of him and how to achieve it. He’s not a “learn by doing” kid, he likes rules and structure. If I put a bunch of art supplies in front of him, he asks me what he’s supposed to make. If I say “anything”, he just stares at it until I give him ideas. Whether this is an ingrained part of his personality or just an age thing time will tell. His kinder report adorably described this as “a restrained enthusiasm”.

 buckets

One of these sayings struck a chord immediately. I feel like a whole new method of communicating with my son has opened up, and a new way of treating communication with my family and friends in general. Hell, even self-care.

Him: “It fills my bucket when you say that”

Me: “Sorry? What’s your bucket?”

Him: “When you say nice things to people it fills their bucket up, and Miss Jenkins says we should try and make sure people never have an empty bucket because it means they’re really sad”

In a week and a half she’s given my son the ability to communicate when he’s sad (his bucket is empty) and needs some attention in a really clear and observable way. It’s also helped when teaching him empathy (“we should feel sad for people with empty buckets and try and help them fill them”), and kindness (“do you want to be a bucket-filler or a bucket-emptier?”) and when I’m exasperated and need some time alone I can communicate to him very easily the status of my bucket. I love it, and I love her.

The bucket is the perfect metaphor for self-care. Self-care is filling your own bucket periodically so you don’t end up empty. This year I’m focusing on filling my bucket with emotional energy, so I can do all the things I want/need to do without it being ultimately bad for me.

I’m going to fill my own bucket once a day. Sure, having others fill it is nice, but I don’t think it would be wise to rely on others to fill it. I’m also going to fill my loved ones buckets at least once a day, too. Taking it out of the abstract and into this specific metaphor could perhaps be considered oversimplification, but some of the best coping mechanisms and CBT strategies are the ones that look deceptively easy. They seem so simple. Which is why it’s easy to pull them out when you need them immediately.

I feel calm about school, calm about his emotional maturity, and a bit calmer about my own, and I’ve thanked Miss Jenkins for giving us our buckets. It’s been an unexpectedly tremendous present.

Try being a bucket-filler today, but start with your own.