A little critter called self doubt

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There is a little critter, which runs around the house. It chews cords, and makes a mess. It keeps you awake at night. 

When I was little, I devoted pages in diaries to this critter. Why doesn’t So and So like me? What did I do wrong? Why am I such a horrible person etc etc. With every page, the critter got bigger as it feasted on my every analytical and self-critical sentiment. A monster house pest roamed around me, haunting and bothering me and keeping me awake. It did its best to ruin relationships, and convince me that I was worthless and hopeless.

By 20, I was so sick of reading about and writing about this critter, I stuck my diaries in a big wooden box, and tucked the box under my bed. The critter squirmed and writhed. Apparently lack of oxygen does wonders when deflating over-sized house pests.

This critter goes by a name. You may have a critter with a similar name. Mine is called Self Doubt.

Self Doubt the critter is smaller these days. But it’s still there, under my bed. On days full of productivity, positive feedback and praise, Self Doubt is silent and forgotten. If ever I receive negative feedback, or feel I’ve done something wrong or less than, the critter reminds me of its presence under my bed. It may even have a bit of a wander around the room, wake me up, and damage the electrical wires.

The thing about Self Doubt, the critter, is that I’m kind of used to its presence. And I’m wondering if it’s all bad.

Here’s what I’ve learned about Self Doubt over the years.

Don’t feed it. 

The critter is pretty great at finding its own food. Leaving chunks of cheese out is not necessary. Critters such as Self Doubt love tasty morsels like negative self-talk, lack of sleep and overwhelm.

Know it’s there 

There’s nothing worse than being woken up in the night by noises under the bed, and not having a clue what or who they belong to. Knowing Self Doubt lingers in your house means 3am wake ups don’t need to turn into 3 hours of insomnia. Hello critter. I know you’re there. Goodnight.

It’s not all bad

Most houses have critters. And most living things have a purpose, of some kind. Spiders eat mozzies and flies. I’m sure mice do something useful, somewhere.

As a creative type person, prone to productivity and putting myself out there, Self Doubt is a useful regulator. It keeps me in check. It helps me question myself. It makes me try and see things from other people’s perspective. Just because I think the little story I’ve just written could be my  opus, doesn’t mean others will. Sometimes, a gentle reminder from the critter under my bed helps me moderate my expectations.

Like all things in life, in balance and moderation, Self Doubt is okay, when you learn to live with it. It could even be a good thing.

Do you have critters under your bed too?

Image from Creative Commons. Linking with Essentially Jess

The storyteller

the storyteller

I am flicking through photos. Photos of Christmases gone. One year, we sit around the folding tables at the Evans Head river house. Another year, palms grace the background. Another year, we huddle around the outside table at my mum’s place.

There are photos of backyard cricket. Beach cricket. Batters wear long flowing dresses, and catchers are on their backs, legs in the air.

In later years, a mic is set up. There is a photo of each of us, singing, talking, playing piano. We have practiced through the year in anticipation of the family Christmas concert.

I stop flicking, and rest on a photo of my cousin Rohan. He is standing, holding the mic. His hand is poised. He smiles, sunglasses on his head even though it is 8pm. His gaze is strong as he looks out into the audience. He is telling us about people who run from taxi drivers. He calls them “runners”. Runners comes in all shapes and sizes and ages.

It’s not in the photo, but I know we are in stitches, laughing. Among other things, Rohan was a taxi driver. He’s driven taxis around Adelaide, Hobart and the Gold Coast. He’s met many people in taxis, and some have become life long friends. He’s had a lot of runners.

As I look into the photo, my throat constricts. Rohan was 31 in this photo. Last Christmas. He’d had 31 Christmases, but there is only one photo like this.

In previous years, Rohan is sitting quietly on the corner of the table. In most group photos, he isn’t there at all. Maybe he was outside, having a smoke.

He mightn’t have been in the photos. But he was at Christmas most years. I sat next to him once or twice, and he told me about various things. Life in Adelaide. An opinion about politics. I’m not exactly sure. I wish I could remember.

The photo I am looking at was the only photo like this. But this was the second time Rohan held the mic. The first time, a year earlier, he hadn’t prepared anything. His story was impromptu.

After my husband Gregor had finished rapping about being a frustrated house husband, Rohan grabbed the mic.

“If he can rap about that, then I can bloody well tell a story,” said Rohan.

We were surprised. Rohan, who sat quietly at the ends of tables, had grabbed the mic. And then he spoke.

We were on the edge of our seats, as he told us about his solo flight across the Kimberley. During his flight, he realised the landing gear didn’t work. We held our breath, waiting to hear how he managed the situation. How he anticipated a crash landing – knew it was inevitable – and had to plan the safest way to do it.

He didn’t crash land. He worked it out and landed safely. And then he had to turn the plane around and fly it back again. We knew he’d survived to tell the tale. We just didn’t know how.

Rohan was a storyteller.

I wonder what other stories he’s told around dinner tables. Maybe friends in far off cities have been listening to Rohan tell stories like this for years. Maybe they knew Rohan as the storyteller long before his family knew his gift.

Storytelling wasn’t Rohan’s only gift. He had a gift of intelligence. One that understood mechanics like no-one else I know. One that had outgrown Lego while I was still playing with Duplo. Rohan flew a plane before he could drive a car. And he could have told you every make and model, and every trait of every Ford ever made. Apparently, Rohan played the guitar, and composed next wave electronic music on his keyboard. There are many musicians in our family, but we didn’t know Rohan was one too.

I guess I stopped knowing Rohan when we were about eight or nine. In small, sweltering country towns, we played pranks on neighbours. Made gross sandwiches, and left them with a note Please eat me on the front door step. Rohan drank Ribena. He also loved milk. We were all about the same age, and had the knack kids have of burning through endless holidays without boredom, because a pack of kids know how to make fun.

As we grew up, Rohan and I dropped in and out of each other’s lives. He dropped into my apartment on the Gold Coast during Schoolies week. We met up for coffee once in Lismore. I got an email about learning to fly, and was CC’d into Rohan’s emails sent while holidaying alone in Thailand. Other than that, our paths crossed at Christmas, when an awkward hug and scraps of conversation that don’t really reveal much about a person were shared.

I thought about letting him know we were on the Gold Coast for a blogger’s conference last year. He was living there, driving taxis. But I didn’t. Greg was sick, while looking after the girls, and the weekend bulged at the seams with blogging classes and social networking events.

Less than a year later, Rohan had moved home to his parents. We heard on the trusty family grapevine that he wasn’t having an easy time. We didn’t know the details, and we didn’t pry. We trusted he would be okay, and at the very least, we’d hear his story at the Christmas concert. As details of his home visit emerged, we knew maybe it wasn’t okay.

Midst manic calls to bookshops, press and other bloggers, midst work contracts, midst family commitments, I burbled out a little email to Rohan. Rohan, we love you, know you are having a hard time, know we haven’t really connected, but we love your authenticity. Love how you are you, with no apology. We are here for you. I sent it to his mum. I thought she’d know whether it was the right letter to send.

It was. She showed him the email. Apparently, he smiled. And that was a good thing. He wrote me a beautiful reply. So eloquent. So authentic. I’ll treasure that email.

My five-year-old daughter wrote him a postcard too. Well, she started it… Rohan, I hope you…. A tired little hand petered off. I kept the postcard on our kitchen bench for her to come back to.

She didn’t.

She couldn’t. Because a week later, Rohan had taken his life. His pain was too painful. He could have stood at a mic, and told us a story about that pain. It would have been the best damn story and the hardest story we’d ever heard. But we would have listened. That story, and all his other stories untold went with him the night he fell asleep forever.

He’d told his parents he wanted to sleep forever, if only he could wake once a year for family Christmas.

As I sat in the Melbourne airport, reading Rohan’s beautiful, eloquent suicide letter – so thoughtful – so him – I balled. My five-year-old stood next to me. ‘Read me a story,’ she asked.

‘I can’t – I can’t,’ I said between sobs. It was unlike her to be so insensitive. ‘You can see I am really upset.’

‘Why are you so upset?’ she asked.

I told her about the letter. She knew Rohan was dead. But she was thinking about her own card, sitting on the kitchen bench, unfinished, at home.

‘It’s okay,’ she said. ‘He knows in his heart we love him.’

I hope he did. Does.

Christmas will never be the same.

Rohan, we will miss you forever. And you will live on in our stories. xxx

Finding peace and joy in 2015

finding peace and joy 2015

I was more wound up than I thought I was.

Lying beside the lake yesterday, reading my book while my little one slept beside me, my breath came from deep within. It’s been a long time since I breathed that deeply.

I hadn’t realised.

My year of work began around November 2013, and didn’t stop until just before Christmas 2014. Slowly, work and creative activity built on itself. As I took on task after project after task, my endurance for stress and hard work slowly increased. A bit like the endurance you build from carrying a newborn through to being a toddler. You don’t realise how strong you become.

But the year of excessive computer work, and endless activity did take its toll. By the end of last year, I was having difficulty sleeping. My adrenalin was pumping.

I snapped easily – like a sharp, spiky twig – if anyone stepped on me, or whined or criticised me, or cried unduly, I snapped. It wasn’t always pretty.

I could manage my work life, it seemed, but the toll really came when my two-year-old cried herself to sleep each night, instead of falling asleep easily as she’d done before.

I think that was my tipping point.

I did take on work over the Christmas break. I also did Quincy stuff. But I was hardly ever at my computer {unless, of course, checking YouTube views for All The Babies In The World, which, incidentally, went crazy}.

Most days were spent swimming, or hanging out with family, or both. There was lots of drinking and eating. There was even reading, which for me is highly unusual.

Day by day, I unwound, and suddenly, I felt normal again. The joy I usually experience crept back into my life. I was laughing spontaneously and full-heartedly. It didn’t bother me how long my baby took to sleep. I was finally relaxed.

Now, I am back at work.

First thing this morning, I began experiencing those adrenal twinges. So as I sit here, I am forming a plan: How to stay calm and experience joy through another year of work and creative activity.

Here’s my list:

1. Drink camomile tea in copious amounts

2. Read books instead of looking at Facebook

3. Eat slightly less dark chocolate right before bedtime

4. Breathe in deeply

5. Say ‘no’ when I can

6. Say ‘yes’ to peaceful moments of connection with my daughters and husband

7. Avoid the computer unless necessary

8. Run at least twice a week

9. Float on water

10. Play in nature

What’s your strategy for avoiding overwhelm? How do you plan to take on the year?

Be careful what you write

be careful what you write

Early last month, my husband and I had a crappy cold. The children had it too. But my husband and I persevered through sickness, and got the work done we needed to do, while looking after the littlies.

At the time, I wrote about sympathy and my general lack thereof, even towards my children.

This last week, though, we have been taken by a more persistent illness (just a flu, but it has endurance). As I drift through half-sleep-half-consciousness, through three nights and counting, I am haunted by words I wrote on my blog last month.

The words weren’t that significant, and I don’t even want to say them again because I am ashamed, but the gist was that I found looking after sick children hard.

I am haunted by these seemingly innocent words because while I must have been striving for an open, honest account of my experience at the time of writing them, I feel I was actually untruthful, or at least not entirely fair to myself and my children.

This last week has been worse than previous weeks of illness, because the illness has been less forgiving. For three nights now, Rosie has been waking up and crying through the night, and wanting to feed continuously. This isn’t like her at all. And during the day, my big girl has stopped eating, and has taken to falling asleep at 2pm, 4pm, or 6pm each evening, and is gone for the night. This is also very unlike her.

Even though we still have to work through it all, and the illness has made us all feel miserable and tired, I haven’t for one second found it difficult to care for my sick babies. Their snotty noses, teary eyes and floppy arms make me feel all tender and loving and deeply sympathetic. I just want to take their hurt away.

I have spent over two hours holding or patting my littlest baby to get her to sleep at night. I am lost in the moment of connection with her, and surrender to the relentlessness of the illness. It sucks, but it won’t last forever, I tell myself. While I am keen to get myself off to bed and rested, my main concern is getting my baby off to sleep.

On Facebook, blogs, Twitter or anywhere cyber, it is easy to flop things out like you really mean it. And often you do at the time. But once the publish button has been pressed, those words have gone to your readers. Meanwhile, you, your thoughts, your feelings and the world around you is dynamic. The words you wrote back then may no longer represent you.

As well as scouting for grammatical and spelling errors (some of which I miss), the other thing I am editing for is if my words hurt anyone, or have the potential to hurt someone, and if they do, they are gone. Sometimes, though, I am too caught up in the post to see clearly the impact of my words. Perhaps it is worth sitting on a post before pressing publish.

What’s done is done, and what can be changed, has been.

In the meantime, I will enjoy this unique moment of quiet reprieve, listening to crickets and watching the sky turn from dusk to dark as children sleep yucky illnesses away.

Do you ever put things out there in cyber-land you wish you hadn’t? Anyone else had illnesses this week?

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The {Sad} Tale Of Two Teacups {and a Tea Pot}

Afternoon Tea Yellow Tea Cup

It was March. I remember it as being wet and miserable.

I was immersed in ridiculous amounts of work by night and in between times, and my husband was covered in paint or tiling grout or something while he ripped up our carpets, repainted most of our house, and retiled.

We were displaced – a little family taking refuge at Mum’s place – a shed, technically, but really more of an upmarket guest house {with espresso coffee machine and dishwasher}.

My older daughter had recently started preschool, and was trying out some new, interesting behaviours.

My baby needed me 24/7.

But I was being a crap mum, because not only were we inundated, but I had the pain of all pains stabbing in my ear – a chronic, pervasive, hellish sear which made me want to scream. And I think I did. Several times. It was an ear infection, which refused to respond to treatment. I had had it for over a week, and it was driving me nutsiberries.

One night, Husband was working until 10pm on our house, and I was washing up what couldn’t fit in the {much loved} dishwasher at Mum’s shed, when I began to experience a strange pull from the over-sized Apple Mac sitting just yonder the kitchen sink.

Without knowing how, I was drawn to the computer seat.

Washing gloves off, and as if it were planned, there I was looking at T2 Tea’s website. Honestly, I hadn’t meant to be there.

Nor did I mean to laden the virtual shopping trolley with {glorious} items, such as the Afternoon Tea Purple Teapot for 6, or the matching Afternoon Tea cup and saucers, or the over-sized Sweet Dreams tea cups and saucers in mango.

I dithered slightly between red and yellow Afternoon Tea cups and saucers, but ended up getting one of each colour. The rest was a blur.

In a half dream state, how great was the pain in my ear, I drifted blindly towards the checkout, paid my way through PayPal, and just as I was about to Confirm, a little whisper penetrated through the pain in my ear, just to say: “You deserve this.”

When the well-packed boxes arrived a few days later, there was no disappointment. The teaware fulfilled its every purpose to give happiness to a poor, forsaken woman. With care, I placed each item on my already overly burdened shelf of tea stuff.

The first to go was one of the over-sized teacups in mango. It capsized off the dish rack onto the slate tiles, leaving behind its lonely brother. I think I blamed my husband.

The next victim was the lid of Afternoon Tea Purple Teapot for 6. As I overzealously poured the dregs, the lid also kamikaze-ed off, and smashed into a million pieces on the slate. I cried.

One over-sized teacup in mango remained, and we loved him dearly. His size made tea feel indulgent, and coffee feel like the ultimate pamper package. My husband and I offered him to each other as a sign of affection. You can have the big cup, because I love you so, and I will take the inferior, smaller cup.

One night, sitting on the daybed, he {the cup} was kicked to the floor, and he too smashed into pieces. After my howl had subsided, I prayed that he would find his brother in the happy place.

The moral of the story? Don’t shop online in a haze of pain and misery? Be careful how you pour? Beware the cup that teeters too close to the edge?

I am not sure. But my Afternoon Tea Purple Teapot for 6 has become {virtually} immortalised in My Little Sunshine House’s banner.

Although I haven’t felt so miserable since, I too have occasionally teetered close to the edge, peering into the T2 Tea’s online treasure trove. But I haven’t confirmed.

Do you ever shop for therapy? Or have you lost a beloved teacup?

{Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post, but a genuine tale of misery and despair.}

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