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

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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Why I will never have man flu, or look after someone who does

I don’t want to whinge, but…

I feel like my head is going to explode, and…

I have been up four to six times a night breastfeeding my one-year-old, every night for six months, and…

I get up with her most mornings at 6am – sometimes 5.30am, and…

I am working like a dog. Ten hours or more in front of the computer most days this week (including writing this post – let’s be honest), and…

Yesterday, I had two showers. It was the only time I felt half decent all day, and yet I felt guilty. Get out, and look after your children!

I promise, I am not complaining, but seriously, when was the last time I had a massage? Or read more than one page of a magazine, or went to the cinema, or had someone saturate me with sympathy when in the grips of illness? When did anyone last think to offer me a hot-tottie?

I don’t know. Not recently. Not much, ever. Once, I got sick enough that my dad put me on a drip. But that required serious spewmanship.

In general, I don’t get much sympathy. Which is why it would be a very weird thing to do to put myself to bed for the day, claim Man Flu status, and resign from all tasks – professional, motherly, housekeeping and other.

Truth is, though, that I don’t get much sympathy because I am not very good at receiving it. If someone gave me the invitation to go to bed for the day, I probably wouldn’t accept it, even if I was feeling like bat faeces. In fact, like today, I would steadfastly plough through my work, like an iron shovel.

I like being tuff. And I don’t much take to sympathy.

The sad reality of this, though, is that I am absolutely, utterly hopeless at giving it.

Please never, ever place me with a sick husband, please, especially one who is used to receiving sympathy. I suck.

In the first years of our marriage, my husband got sick from time to time – actually, often. Every cold that came knocking, he let in through the front door. With every illness, and with every child born, I became less and less sympathetic towards him when he got sick, until at last, he gave up getting colds. Whatever his secret – whether it’s mental strength in the face of adversity, or one clove of raw garlic a night – he no longer lets that cold in. It stands shivering, unwanted, at the front door.

I wish I could be different. I wish I could happily receive a massage from my husband (who happens to be a remedial massage therapist), or sap sympathetic comments and cuddles for all their worth. I wish, in return, I could give a bucketful, and feel gracious and kind in the giving, instead of irritable.

But, in the meantime, I got a lot of work done today, head cold, broken sleep, early mornings and all. Maybe I am just as stoic as my grandma, and will live healthily well into my nineties like she did…I’ll let you know if I do.

Are you a Florence Nightingale, or a Scrooge when it comes to sympathy? Are you any good at receiving it?

{Disclaimer: I edited this post to omit comments made about my inability to look after sick children. The last week, we have had two sick girls, and I have felt nothing but warmth and sympathy towards their small, sad little selves. I wish I had never wrote those comments on this blog…but there you go. Edited.}

I just want to feel loved

I have been chatting to a few people, recently, who are expecting their second baby. My words are reassuring – “It’s really not much more work.”

Since having Baby nearly nine months ago, life has not been much more crazy than before. Maybe there’s a formula – with each subsequent child, life gets X degrees busier. Not double.

In some ways, life got easier. The two children entertain each other. I have less one-on-one interaction with either child. I do what I have to do, and they potter around me, each happy in their little world.

Baby #2 was far easier – the birth was easier, her temperament was easier (she barely cried), and she slept better.

I’ve been more relaxed second time round – I know what I am doing, and I know that, more than likely, it will all turn out OK.

As it was at the time of Baby’s birth, the biggest challenge for me has been how my relationship with my oldest girl has changed.

I miss her.

While still pregnant with Baby, she used to cuddle up to me in bed, as close as close can be. Her little body kept mine warm.

When I had Baby, I moved to another room so Baby and I could get our sleep patterns sorted out. I missed my night cuddles with my big girl.

Before Baby, my oldest wanted me for comfort.

Now she wants her Daddy.

There was a time when taking my oldest to bed was a trial of my patience – I would have to lie there, for up to an hour, waiting for her to go to sleep. Every night I would curse the fact that it was only me who could take her to bed. Now, she vehemently professes she wants Daddy to take her to bed. In a strange twist, I am jealous.

I was at a baby blessingway yesterday, and the circle facilitator read out the poem by the Prophet, Kahlil Gibran, about children.

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts, 
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, 
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, 
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, 
and He bends you with His might 
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, 
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

I realised how much I need the affection of my children. I do hold their love hostage – I want it to complete me.

Before having children, I was adrift in a sea of loneliness. One person, floating around, waiting to feel complete. My husband gave me company, but it was still just me on the life boat.

My first child gave me a person who needed me round the clock. When I walked into the room, my baby’s face lit up – with relief? I didn’t complain about the clinginess of a toddler. I loved the attention.

Am I sick?

The story of my life: I just want to feel loved

But as toddler becomes child, and more autonomous, she loves others. She doesn’t always need her mum. She prefers her daddy to take her to bed. Sometimes, she’s quite content being on her own.

Toddlerhood – childhood – is a push-pull towards independence. It is what we consciously or unconsciously cultivate in our children. It is what we want. And yet, when it happens, we feel sad and lonely.

I am trying to be a big girl, and not depend so heavily on my daughter’s affection. She will love me, probably more than anyone will, but sometimes, she will pull away. And that’s OK. That’s why we made her.

Do you know that feeling?

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