Permission

Over the last few days, I have been thinking about permission. What I allow myself to do, and more importantly what I don’t. Some of those things I know are based on fear, and I guess I will get to them eventually, but the ones that have no particular reason felt somehow more interesting, more important.

Buses in London. For years whenever I have travelled around London, I have done so by the tube. The Tube presents me with a wonderful map of exciting coloured lines that represent whole galaxies in my estimation (though realistically a fair few miles square). It is organised. I know that from my usual mainline station, it is four stops south on the northern line, followed by a couple of stops westbound on the circle and district that will take me to a not too shabby noodle place followed by the magnificence of Tate Modern. Has it ever occurred to me to do this journey on the bus? Not once. However, upon going to London with my Mum (who used to live and work there) I discovered she is massively bus proficient. She crosses bridges, ducks down side streets and somehow finds her way to wherever she needs. She is a bus travelling divinity. And for me, someone who doesn’t get to London very often, it is actually really nice to see some of London, the architecture is incredible, the shops, the parks. Which makes it more exciting than zooming through the blackened tunnels. But until my Mum showed me the way of London Bus, it never occurred to me they were an option.

In a practical sense, permission is easy, once someone else shows you something new, it is easier to replicate than having to forage your way alone the first time. But what about the emotional permissions that I have not allowed myself, stemming from lack of confidence and lack of self-worth? These ones feel much harder to overcome. The times I have held back, not through lack of skill, but through lack of voice or when I have felt alone and wanted to reach out to someone, but didn’t want to bother them. These are the permissions that feel like restraints, and they do not serve me.

It is really difficult sometimes to feel that I am allowed to ask for help, to feel that I am valuable, not only to others but to myself. And then I considered this. It isn’t permission I am looking for, its trust.

Map Point. Am I being honest about my motivations?

 

Eighth letter

Dear Anne and Victoria,

This is my thank you to you both. The presence you have had in my life has been one of support, love and a genuine desire to see me happy. I love you both dearly.

I first met Anne at the baby clinic, where parents go to make sure that their babies are growing properly (and sometimes to watch the people weighing the babies play on their phones, but that is another story). Anne was wearing some amazingly purple trousers and from then on, I very much hoped that we could be friends! We started talking, our daughters were nine months apart, so it was a friendship of lots of baby play dates. Swimming and coffee seemed to be our weekly purpose for quite a while.

When we got to the stage of trusting each other more and sharing our histories, it became obvious that we had both gone through some similar, but not same, experiences. Finding other people that can empathise with what you have gone through is just so very important. It takes away the isolation. And there was the shared humour, the love of board games and the passion we both have for our children. You are utterly the sister that I never had.

And Victoria. You are one of the funniest people I know. Your facial expressions, your deadpan humour, your sharp observation makes you an amazing story teller, and your stories are the stuff of legend! You also had a way of knowing what people want before they ever have to ask. You get that.

You both gave me so much guidance, so much love. When I went through tough times, you were there for me, you looked out for me and my daughter. When I saw you both, it felt like I was home. And when you have had hard times, I hope that I have been able to offer this feeling in return.

I think what I want to thank you both most for was showing me how to be a good mum.

Love always

Sally.xx

Trust

A couple of mornings ago, the alarm was ringing on the tablet. I picked it up and silenced it without opening my eyes. This was a first. It occurred to me that there is likely more I can instinctually do than I give myself credit for.

I can type pretty fast when I look at the keyboard. Only I am not really looking at it, I am just generally staring down at the keyboard, somewhat zoned out in the seeing department. I know that my fingers are moving to the right keys, but I kinda need to be on visual standby, just in case. If I look away from the keys, I can still type absolutely fine for a bit, and then suddenly I realise what I am doing, panic sets in, and my fingers desperately try to invent a new language. Which no one, likely not even me (and I know what I intended to write) has any chance of deciphering. It’s a matter of trust.

I remember standing in the line to see the teacher at primary school. My handwriting was not good. I had been waiting for quite a long time to see her and when I finally got to the hallowed front of the queue, my teacher attempted to read what I had written. Clearly, she couldn’t and asked me to read it out to her. I looked at the words. We both looked at the piece again. I had utterly no idea what my scrawlings were attempting to convey. But maybe this gave me the impetus to try again, and eventually, handwriting clicked for me (although some people, may likely disagree with this!). Even now I can write things down and have utterly no idea what I have written, which the way I see things, is definitely a skill.

Developing new skills is a massive effort in persistence and determination. It requires much energy, but when you have gained the skill, then you can develop trust in your new ability, trust in yourself to carry out a task as planned. Whether this is playing a musical instrument, mastering a new piece of tech or a myriad of other things (including touch typing) there comes a point where you can rely on yourself, you know that you are accomplished, you have achieved.

Letting go of self-doubt can be just as hard. It would be amazing if my eyes simply knew that my fingers were fully competent on the keyboard, but not only do I need to learn to have more trust, I also need to let go of the familiarity of doubt.

Map Point. Are my doubts justified?

 

I like my coat

School exams. Today I was working in a secondary school, overseeing young people taking their year eleven exams. Watching their industriousness, some working right up to the last ten seconds. Others had closed their papers after a few minutes and then sat with their heads on the desk, waiting for the time to pass until they were allowed to leave. Several thoughts occurred, my own exam history and how exams, however useful, do not serve everyone.

I remember one mock exam that I sat in winter time in our school gym. My secondary school was based over several buildings on a woodland site. Each of these buildings was massive mansion type places will wonderful names such as ‘Inglewood’ and ‘The Lodge’. But back to the gym, it was large, it had clearly been built a very long time ago and it was freezing. I remember coming out of exams one morning, with fingers that were so cold they were verging on the purple end of the spectrum. I asked if we could wear our coats for the afternoon and was told no. The person who monitored our exam that afternoon (in the days were there was one person overseeing everyone, and they weren’t really looking, they seemed to knit or read books) left the exam room and came back in wearing a coat. This is likely a good point that illustrates all failings of my secondary school. The injustice of a teacher sitting there all toasty whilst I feared for the long-term future of my fine motor skills was a hard one to bear. The second memory of exams in the gym involved me kicking a copy of Pride and Prejudice from the gym to the front gate. The book was unscathed. My school was a scary place.

I did well with my exams, but not everyone does, and how does that link to how a person feels about themselves? For the people working diligently, as I did, they likely left the exam hall, breathed in deep, pondered the questions that they struggled with, then consulted their exam timetable to work out what to revise for next. But for the others, whether they have revised or not, that couldn’t answer the questions, how does it feel to sit in a room for hours with a paper on your desk that reminds you of everything that you don’t know?

Sometimes that is how I feel about things in my life that I struggle with. I know all the theory about how to complete a task, but when face with the actuality of engaging with it, I freeze up, find excuses not to. I guess this could be a confidence issue or a fear of failure or success. I suppose there are many explanations, but maybe not trusting in my own ability rates highest.

Map Point. What am I really good at?

 

A Seed Bar and some Ice-cream

This morning I went to a vegan food festival. I anticipated this would be a day of much feasting and revelling in all things non-meat and dairy. However the reality was I was overwhelmed, in the last ten or so years, I have never been to a place before where all food was available to me. No menus to appraise for the one or two (if I am lucky) possibilities, no ingredient lists to look through for likely suspects. This was a place where I could have eaten cakes, biscuits, multiple hot dishes, pastries, salads and so much more. But I didn’t, I had one seed bar and an ice-cream. And this felt indulgent.

I have simply come to expect that my choices will be limited with food. I know that in many places I will order chips and salad and that the salad will quite likely be iceberg lettuce, sliced cucumber and some quartered tomato. And this will be served without dressing. I accept this. The way that I eat is not the way that most of the people I know eat. And this is okay too. Everyone makes their own choices with food. However, after the overwhelmingness of the festival, I realised just how much my diet limits my expectations of food when I go out. I guess I already knew this, but today, completely confirmed.

I then started to think if there was anywhere else in my life that my limitations have lowered my expectations? I thought back to what I wrote yesterday, and how I have lowered my expectations in some areas of my life, and it is time to make some beneficial changes. And then I thought about massive changes that I have already experienced and rationalised that it isn’t that I don’t make big changes because I do. It’s that the more changes I make to my life, the more possibility for change I see. The path gets ever wider.

I remember when I was in school about to sit my A Level exams. I could not foresee a time that they would be over, such was their enormity at that point in my life. When I was learning to drive, actually passing my test seemed like such a big thing. Same for my degree, different jobs I have had, and countless other things that I have done extraordinarily well with. So for me, it isn’t actually about me feeling limited, it’s about controlling my anxiety about all the incredible options that are open to me and not being too scared to try. Because if I really want to do something, based on past performance, I know that I can.

Having this knowledge that I can, is definitely a good thing, applying this knowledge? Something much more complex! Knowing that I have done, is past stuff, knowing that I could possibly do? That is the future, full of unknown variables. Learning to trust myself, to have faith in my decisions, that is where I can make progress, that is what will empower me to grow.

When I go to the vegan food festival next year, I will go prepared!

Map Point. What have I done really well?

My brother’s lonely walk

When I was younger, I had various phobias, more ordinary ones like heights and spiders, which am sure many of us go through. As an adult, these can be rationalised and lessened into mild dislikes. Sometimes. My brother in the presence of a flying, buzzing insect is truly a sight to behold. I recall him once walking for about three miles without money, keys or phone as he could not return into the house because a lone bee had taken temporary residence. And another time where we had to sellotape a glass to a mop to extract a bee from our front room, and our mum asking when she got home why one of her glasses was in the shrubbery. Fear can be infectious.

So what can assist us to overcome fear? Could it be an increased sense of trust in our environments? Now some fears are logical, practical, designed to keep us alive (we don’t go looking for hippos to enjoy a casual stroll with them), but other fears seem to immobilise us to the state of inaction.

Anxiety is something that I have experienced, especially as a teenager. I would have full blown panic attacks, hyperventilating until I became dizzy. It was fear manifested. I had no trust in the stability of my world. And often as a child, we are at the mercy of the adults who make decisions for us, rarely are we the decision makers.

For much of my life, I have been scared to make big decisions, needing the validation of those around me. And this is fear. Not having the confidence that my own thoughts were good enough, worthy enough. As a result of this, bits of progress were made, but never enough, never really breaking through with anything, despite any passions or aspirations that I had. I simply didn’t believe that I could.

In my life now, that has changed. I know what I want to do, and despite the occasional hiccup, I do what I intend. Self-validation is empowering. I sometimes wonder what it would be like to be a person who has always had confidence in their beliefs, and even with doubt, they still can bear the risk and proceed. What would be the mindset of a person like that?

Map Point. What have I always wanted to do?