Social Anxiety

The doorbell rings and my panic rises because it might be a friendly neighbour who wants to talk to me or doesn’t want to talk to me and I might talk too much or too little and they’ll think I’m annoying, rude or both but I can stand in front of three hundred teenagers and talk to them about self harm, gender identity and love.

I am reminded that somebody should do a toast at a party and that somebody could and probably should be me and I think I am about to fall over because of the sudden buckling of my knees and the terror of getting the words wrong or looking stupid but I am about to deliver training to a county wide team about strategies that I have used to teach GCSE English to low ability classes.

Somebody I know a little has invited me to celebrate their birthday at a local pub and I really want to be sociable but I worry about what to do if nobody speaks to me or they do speak to me and I can’t hear them over the music or if everybody else there knows the person really well and they think I’m pathetic because I turned up looking so hopeful in this new town full of people who don’t know me but I can dance like a maniac at a party or do a random handstand in a park.

I stroke a person’s cute dog and the dog starts licking my ear and wagging its whole body and I’m so happy but then the person starts chatting and I worry because I don’t know when to stop the chat and how to say goodbye or end the conversation without looking weird but I can rock up to a therapy training course and talk about anything and everything with a class that I just met.

Coming up to any social occasion where there are people who are posher than me, which isn’t difficult if you saw where I come from opposite a high rise block of flats in a council maisonette with a corridor outside that people urinated in and a washing line that people stole underwear from, I spend days worrying about whether to kiss one cheek or both cheeks, how long to hug them for, whether to hug them at all and what to do if our mouths accidentally collide, but I can talk to a homeless alcoholic and offer him a job helping me to move house and I don’t know why anybody wouldn’t.

There’s a new neighbour and I know I’m supposed to be friendly and welcoming so I see him and say ‘hello I’m Ruth lovely to meet you’ but the words stick in my throat and I don’t think he’s seen me so I quickly open the door and scurry in like a terrified cat but I write about almost everything in my life on my personal blog and I don’t care whether or not anybody likes it.

Religious Trauma Syndrome

A very secular problem

Most of us have a mental health problem of some sort or another and most likely won’t fit any particular label. It’s more likely that we all exist on a spectrum between perfect, unabated joy and unbearable mental anguish, oscillating between two points on that spectrum much as we lose and gain a certain amount of weight over the course of the average year. Our mental state, when poor, is often an amalgamation of conditions: depression, anxiety, OCD, disordered eating, PTSD, bipolar, BPD or countless mixtures of each. What are the labels for anyway? Mostly diagnostics to ascertain how to treat the condition as cheaply as possible on the NHS. Or perhaps that’s overly cynical and the diagnostics are genuinely helpful and informative. They can certainly be useful in helping others and ourselves to understand and show compassion.

In amongst my particular mental makeup and the challenges that present themselves as I face the world every day is the result of my religious upbringing and it was brought to my attention during my counselling training when I ticked every NHS question for diagnosis of PTSD except for the triggering event (because religion isn’t officially a triggering event). There is now some growing evidence that religious trauma is a real issue for many and symptomatically it’s the same as PTSD: nightmares, severe anxiety, replaying of terrifying scenarios, flashbacks, feeling of imminent doom and certain situations that are triggering. I generally don’t have these symptoms badly but I have, and do, experience them all. Most of the time I jog along OK. But sometimes a comment about Hell or a preacher in town shouting about the last days can put me into a state of fear for days such that I can’t sleep or think about much else.

Anybody raised in a fundamentalist church will know how it goes. The second coming, the antichrist, the tortures, beheadings, burning fiery flames and everlasting torment. Of course there were wonderful parts of it, too. There was divine love, a God of mercy and forgiveness and an eternity in Heaven for the saved. The resurrection was a particularly pleasant story that sent happy shivers down my spine. But I focused on the negative as a child. I’d wake up in the night and feel the flames of hell because I knew, deep down, that I did not believe. When it all hinged on my belief I felt fragile and disconnected. I’d get a floating feeling of flying away from the edge of the world, into space, where I’d whirl around into outer darkness and nobody would be able to reach me. I know now that this is dissociation. It happened a lot in the middle of the night.

For years I tried to resolve these fears by seeking to acknowledge and understand a more liberal Christianity. I realize that the brethren presented the bible in a narrow and simplistic way that is not representative of Christianity on the whole. I’ve been to churches that do not preach hellfire the way that they did. Many Christians don’t believe in it at all or any kind of afterlife. Many say that the Bible doesn’t even teach it. It’s hard to unlearn and rewire the brain, however, and I wonder if even going to theological school would completely undo the interpretation of scripture that I was taught.

Now I am beginning to see that everything in the bible is human. The God of the Bible can be merciful, forgiving and expansively, endlessly loving. The God of the Bible can also be jealous, exacting, cruel and breathtakingly unfair. I could cite countless examples of both. I mean – sending bears to eat some young people who laughed at a prophet is pretty horrific. Striking down a couple with immediate death because they told a lie is fairly despotic I’d say. As for whether the biblical God actually condemns millions of souls to eternal torment because they failed to trust in the sacrificial and atoning blood of Christ, specifically, is questionable, but if the brethren got that right, it’s unspeakably horrific!

All of these attributes, both good and evil, are human. The Bible was written by people. I really feel that this is the point. If we are to gather anything from the Bible, or any other holy book for that matter, we have to understand that it was written by people, which sounds obvious, but in a fundamentalist faith the holy book is a magical, divinely inspired revelation for all mankind for all eternity. It is imbued with an unquestioned stamp of authority and then the fundamentalist must find a way to make it a cohesive whole. This requires mental gymnastics of the sort that made my mind boggle even as a 5 year old. ‘Did God create evil?’ ‘Does God love Satan?’ ‘Why did the grannies have to drown in the flood?’ I was seeing contradictions as wide as a barn door before even tackling the great questions of predestination, free will, pre-millennialism and the question of what happens to those who couldn’t accept Jesus (babies, people with learning difficulties and those who never heard of him).

No. The Bible is human in all the glory and diversity of human thinking and emotion. There is love, beauty, transcendence, radical forgiveness and stunning wisdom. There is eroticism, intelligence, logic and redemptive hope. There’s also vengeance, hatred, jealousy and rage. There’s hunger for power and longing for control. This is humanity. We’ll never be in a perfect world. Never have been. We’ve got war in Europe again after all we should have learned from the last ones. There will always be people like Putin who become megalomaniacs and somehow others have to limit the damage caused by them. We humans fuck things up. That’s why the Bible doesn’t make sense and is so far from being cohesive. Because people don’t.

I once wanted to rip the Bible up and throw it out of the window, or burn it to shreds, or stamp on it. It incensed me so much with its capacity to strike fear into my soul that I wanted to destroy it utterly. But I never did that. Somehow that Bible had woven itself into the fabric of my being and I loved it despite the damage that it caused. Some might call this a toxic relationship. It was certainly dysfunctional. But I could no more stamp it out of existence that I could harm or disappear my family or any other human (except potentially Putin). We are all glorious in our imperfections and that includes the Bible, which has all of the characteristics of any other expression of humanity. It’s the perfect representation of what it is to be human in this world. Light and dark, yin and yang, good and evil: call it what you will, it’s all of us and in all of us and thus it stays on my bookshelf while I continue to work on my mental health!

Winter blues blues

I know Spring needs to do all its wonderful stuff when I:

  • feel so melancholy that I listen to ‘Now We are Free’ from the end of ‘Gladiator’ – the bit when he meets his Mrs in the afterlife.
  • prompted by the poignant tones of Lisa Gerrard’s melody, start sobbing at the memory of Russell Crowe’s character dying a violent and terrible death.
  • watch ‘Queer Eye’ every evening and cry. Every episode.
  • start eating pistachio nuts as though my life depends on it.
  • subscribe to Gaia.
  • try to meditate but just fall asleep.
  • post on facebook about everything, from nice dogs to aprons.
  • wish I lived in Morocco, Spain, Tanzania, Australia or anywhere warm.
  • lift my face to the weak, winter sun and beg it to be warmer.
  • eat mashed potatoes for breakfast.
  • have a hot, bubbly bath every evening and sit in it until I wrinkle, adding hot top-ups every time it stops burning my skin.
  • am unable to speak until I’ve had 3 cups of coffee.
  • fall in love with Abby Wambach in a creepy way.
  • fall in love with Glennon Doyle too but feel jealous that she has Abby.
  • wonder if I have a droopy eyelid and keep staring at my face to check.
  • read Rupi Kaur poems and (surprise!) cry.
  • get feet that resemble something from the Jurassic age.
  • get armpits that would scare off a burglar.
  • enjoy cleaning because it warms me up in the house.
  • stare obsessively at the smart meter and turn off every plug socket in the house.
  • wear three layers at all times indoors and out.
  • wear socks that my boots won’t go over.
  • get a wine problem.
  • get a whisky problem.
  • keep looking on Ebay for the Lucy and Yak boilersuit that will fix everything.
  • find cute pictures of the people who share my genes and who, luckily, haven’t inherited my winter grumpiness.
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Your personal strength assessment

Clever but pointless, all round average or practical but dim ?

Having spent the last hour trying to figure out how to put a bike onto a smart turbo trainer, I figured that the turbo trainer is smarter than me and, covered in oil, sweat and the filth of all the swear words I uttered, I am writing a blog instead. I believe that I am clever but pointless, and my personal strength assessment will probably prove it. But which one are you? Answers on a postcard.

  1. You buy a turbo trainer so you can work out at home. How do you go about setting it up?

a. Watch a few Youtube clips, figure out that it looks easy, wrestle a bike indoors, hurt your back trying to fix it on, wonder how to fix a puncture, wrestle another bike indoors, get mud all over the carpet, scream, swear and then write a blog, knowing that somebody else will do it for you eventually.

b. Watch a few Youtube clips, mess about with it for a while, an hour later figure it out and then cycle merrily along.

c. Do it straight away as it’s fairly obvious.

2. You are sent an article about postmodernist readings of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’.

a. You stop what you’re doing with a feeling of intense enthusiasm, devour the article, exclaim ‘oh yes’ and nod at lots of the points, consider others for a few minutes before forming an opinion, share it with your uni friends and spend the rest of the day thinking it all through.

b. You skim through it with some interest, picking up one or two of the points, and then forget it.

c. Post what? What’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’? A TV series isn’t it?

3. You move house and need to put lots of pictures up.

a. You place them on the floor underneath the place that you want them, consider briefly watching some Youtube clips of how to hang a picture, but realise that it’s pointless to even try, and that the endeavour will end in screaming, swearing and smashed pictures.

b. You faff about a bit, don’t get round to it straight away because you’re not sure where your spirit level is or which types of fixings you need, but then eventually do a five minute think and get on with it.

c. You go to your fixtures and fittings drawer and hang the pictures. Don’t know why anyone wouldn’t.

4. You are driving along and put on the radio, to hear a discussion about the philosophy of Derridas, who said that meaning cannot be confined to words, and that the only real meaning lies in the difference between words. He spells it ‘differance’ to highlight the fact that it’s a new concept.

a. You are so enthusiastic about this idea that you almost drive off the road. You start to apply the philosophy to every book you have ever read.

b. You realise that red is only red because it isn’t any other colour, think ‘oh that’s quite cool’ and change the channel to some jolly music.

c. You think ‘what a boring twat’ and change the channel.

5. You’re out in the middle of nowhere when the car tyre goes flat.

a. You call the emergency rescue people who take an hour but you don’t try and do it yourself because you don’t know if the car has a spare, or how to jack the car up, or what a wheel is.

b. You watch a Youtube clip of how to change a tyre and are pleasantly surprised to see that it’s quite easy.

c. You get it fixed in five minutes.

6. Somebody starts explaining how the crucifixion of Jesus, in Anglo Saxon times, was depicted as an act of power and victory, with Jesus leaping up onto the cross like a warrior lord with his thanes watching in admiration. Only with the Black Death in the Middle Ages did Jesus become dejected, weak and destroyed.

a. You imagine the scene vividly, loving the historical perspectives of the same narrative and how cultural contexts change the telling of an event.

b. You remember watching a series about the Anglo Saxons and you realise that this makes sense.

c. You don’t see the relevance of this fairy tale nonsense.

7. A child in the family asks you if they can make a box for their treasures and paint it.

a. You say ‘yes’ and then ask everybody you know if they can make a box with your child.

b. You say ‘yes’ and watch a Youtube clip about how to make a box, then do it.

c. You do it immediately with some spare wood from the garage, your power tools and a very happy child in your workshop.

8. The TV is showing ‘Couples Therapy’ and a psychology expert starts discussing the applications of various branches of feminism in clinical supervision.

a. You consider how TERFS have contributed to the exclusion of many minority groups and write a lengthy letter to J.K. Rowling on the subject.

b. ‘Yes’, you think. ‘Feminism is important but I don’t know much about the various branches of it’.

c. You wonder why couples don’t just go for a walk, watch a film and stop whinging about each other.

9. You keep noticing that the back door glass is really smudged and dirty.

a. You decide to clean it, but whatever you do the smears just get worse and worse until the door looks like an opaque bathroom window, and you wonder why everything is impossible to do.

b. You get your glass cloth and improve it significantly.

c. You put on your marigolds, have a good enjoyable session of cleaning and the windows come up sparkly.

10. The ironing needs doing.

a. You iron a shirt for an interview and keep putting more creases into it that then won’t iron out, and the shirt looks like shattered glass by the time you’ve finished. You spray it all out, then iron it again, and it burns, setting the smoke alam off.

b. You do an OK job of it although you know your Grandma would do it better.

c. You switch on the TV, get the iron steaming away and whizz through the lot.

Well, there you have it. Mostly As makes you a clever but pointless waste of space, mostly Bs makes you a jack of all trades and master of none, and mostly Cs makes you a practical god even though a bit dim. Happy days.

Sixty smiles for my favourite sixty year old

  1. I always feel that I am Tim’s little sister, I’m sure annoying at times; hopefully I have given him some proud moments as well, but one thing for sure I love having two big brothers.  Sarah Seymour
  2. He is the only person I know of who covered the seat of his Harley Davidson motorbike with a real tiger skin – one that was brought back from India by our grandfather, complete with bullet hole.  Gavin Lishman
  3. Lots of great memories from being my bodyguard in tricky situations, and protector on the rugby pitch. I remember us both watching ‘The Life of Brian’ in a cinema in Austria, completely dubbed in German and no subtitles, and we knew every line and were a step ahead of the audience! Martin Beecham
  4. Tim gave very thoughtful birthday presents, particularly when we were growing up and he was endeavouring to guide our taste in music and keep up on the right track with a succession of interesting CDs. ‘The Strangers’ was the one I particular remember, and particularly enjoyed. Always something I appreciated. James Lishman
  5. I first met Tim when I interviewed him for a place at Lincoln College of Art and Design.  I remember being impressed by his rugby achievements and his ability to maintain his beloved Harley Davidson.  Gordon Broadhurst
  6. I love Tim’s generous (Spaldonian) nature and that he always has emergency condiments to hand. Faith Horne
  7. I remember our drives to rugby training.  It would take half an hour usually and we’d talk about films for a lot of it; never anything particularly insightful or any powerful critiques – just idle chat about films.  There was never any pressure or expectation; it just came easily to both of us.  Tom Lishman
  8. One thing that has always stood out is his love of the simple things in life: a picnic, music, enjoying time with friends and family. Kas Tinkler
  9. I always smiled when Tim would close his eyes and (properly) listen to a song he liked that was playing, often tapping his fingers or moving his hand to the rhythm.  Matthew Lishman
  10. I love that you know literally everything about musicians and actors from your younger days and can recite factoids about their musical history, personal relationships and prison sentences, but still know nothing about Kim Kardashian (‘who?’).  Ruth
  11. He is very generous, and very thoughtful, remembering little things about people’s lives and always asking how things are going.  Will Stevely
  12. Tim said he always had two Big Macs because he never thought one was enough, and Christmas dinner twice at the same sitting.  Jeremy Lishman
  13. I love the email essays you get from him.  I love the easy going nature (99% of the time).  Colin and Karen
  14. I always think of Tim as someone who takes houses apart and puts them back together again, and the eating competitions at Christmas with multiple Christmas dinners. Carol Lishman
  15. His sense of humour.  Joan Mountstevens
  16. I like Tim’s taste in music as I like most of what he does.  Luke Winn
  17. Tim has many qualities but two of the most memorable have to be Sunday Lunch eating competitions at ‘The Washdyke’ and designing and constructing the biggest and best playhouse in Hertfordshire!  Janice and Peter Seymour
  18. Our tutorials often involved tasting sessions of the latest home brew.  His brilliant skills and creativity earned him a place at Kingston on Thames where he achieved a 1st class honours.  I felt very proud of him.  Gordon Broadhurst
  19. Some of Tim’s best qualities are his kindness and generosity, and his dad jokes aren’t bad either.  Abi Stevely
  20. When we were on holiday in Norfolk, I think it was Tim, myself and Dad were working up the courage to go into the sea, which was very cold.  Tim was involved in a lot of sport in those days and doing weight lifting to build himself up, so he was quite a fit looking young man.  A short distance away, two similar aged girls were heading in the same direction and were looking our way.  Dad kept prodding Tim to go and say hello and whatever else Dad thought he should say.  We were both very shy of doing such things and Tim wasn’t budging, so Dad went over to them to try and arrange an introduction…as you can imagine, Tim was mortified.  This was not unusual behaviour for Dad and the effect was always the same.  Jeremy Lishman
  21. We will always be known as ‘The Hobbits’ to Uncle Tim; we promise you there are no hairy toes in our socks.  Nuala and Orla
  22. You make the best breakfasts in bed with lots of coffee.  You are spread.  Ruth
  23. From his MASSIVE yearly erection which he always took pleasure in showing me to his huge cucumber in the summer months was always a delight to witness.  Sheila Willerton
  24. His handwriting is cool and he always sends a card (or present) on special occasions even if sometimes late, but more importantly he always comes across as himself in the cards and writes nice messages.  Matt Lishman
  25. Love the way you give big cuddles when we come to see you all.  Feen Seymour
  26. I remember a few years later sitting on one of his beautiful benches at Heathrow airport that he designed at OMK Designs.  Gordon Broadhurst
  27. His healthy appetite and excellent time keeping always make us smile.  But we love him.  Helen and Steve Czornyj
  28. He was never put off when I invited him to pop over for a beer in the summer house and observe my neatly trimmed bush and the chance to have a look at my huge melons.  Size really did matter to Timothy and I in our world.  Sheila Willerton
  29. Tim or Dim is a lively dependable chap with the best sense of humour and in his teens the worst sense of dress (Judas Priest cap and leathers smelling of patchouli). Martin Beecham
  30. I love how Tim makes my samples in no time at all.  Tom Riddle
  31. I love how Tim can never walk past the biscuit tin without grabbing himself a bite.  Ellie Wainwright
  32. I always enjoy his conversation around the table at family gatherings and dinners.  He has a great sense of humour.  Matt Lishman
  33. The same bike also featured in a lucky escape for Tim who did a bit of dyke driving on it, managed to just miss hitting a fallen tree but stripped all the branches off as he slid down the trunk.  Lucky for him that his big brother was on hand to help retrieve the bike and bring it home in Mum’s car, without her knowing!  Gavin Lishman
  34. My life has a huge hole since he dumped me for a younger woman but every now and then I smile when I’m busy in the garden thinking of him popping his head out of the bedroom window to comment on me hoovering the garden.  Apparently, ‘normal people don’t do that!’ and the constant silly comments that went back and forth.  Sheila Willerton
  35. I love his various accents when asking a question.  Correne Bratley.
  36. (See above)  How they change half way through the conversation, hahaha.  Ellie Wainwright
  37. Tim, you’re a dude.  When I first met you I thought, ‘Yes, this is the man for my sister’, and you certainly are.  You have been a rock for her and my nephew and nieces and I love you for it.  Plus you give a great man hug.  Happy birthday, proud to have you as a brother.  Paul Mountstevens
  38. His Daddy God prayer was the stuff of legend.  Marvellous humour.  Will Stevely
  39. I love the level of optimism that makes you think you can do 59 things in two hours.  Ruth
  40. He is a very good hugger of elderly mothers ie me, or Mummsy, which makes me smile.  Diana Lishman
  41. The first time daughter met him when she was about three and he dozed off like Uncle Pig in a Peppa episode and she thought it was hilarious and called him ‘Uncle Pig’ for the whole time.  Jonathan and Liz Mountstevens
  42. Dad has always been supportive.  In more recent years he’s been key in my pursuit of more eccentric life choices.  A steady reassurance in the face of an unusual career path.  Tom Lishman
  43. Brevity, a concept Tim struggled to grasp…..Mark Langston
  44. I love the way that you have transformed old places into beautiful spaces.  Ruth
  45. We always enjoyed his great enthusiasm for Christmas and particularly his magnificent Christmas trees that he takes so much care to decorate.  Chris and Liz Dickinson
  46. I love that we can be completely open and honest with each other and that talking to you feels effortless.  I am immeasurably grateful for that connection and the role you have in my life because of it.  Jess Lishman
  47. He gives a great bear hug when greeting or saying goodbye.  Matt Lishman
  48. I love your music obsession, the live music we’ve seen together and the way there’s always loud music somewhere, especially when I’m working or when you listen to my lectures about how the lyrics are really sexist.  Ruth
  49. I love the way he types – very unique and he makes me look quick!  Andrew West
  50.  My favourite memory of Tim is his Daddy God prayer and my favourite thing about Tim is that he is reliable and kind. Kirstin Stevely
  51. He is a big, kind, gentle bear who treats Ruth like gold. Rohin added a big ginger bear. I remember how uncomfortable he was to lay on, and I might have to clarify that memory by adding he was the bottom layer of a human stack with Ruth, Devon and then Rohin on top of me. I’m more amazed that the couch survived than Tim. Peter, Raj and Rohin Mountstevens
  52. Uncle Tim is such a kind, caring person and also slightly mad (in a good way).  As a child I loved the playhouse that he built us in the garden.  Kirsty Seymour
  53. I loved spending time with Tim at the wedding; it was such a lovely week.  I particularly remember hanging out on the beach and archery.  Abi Stevely
  54. I love how you sing tunelessly with enthusiasm and joy, and I love your very positive and funny atheism.  Ruth
  55. His sense of humour and likeness to Lewis Hamilton behind the wheel.  Gary Brant
  56. Aside from his creative talents, he has a fantastic, irreverent sense of humour.  When I was his tutor he preferred to call me Mr ‘Broadthirst’, Mr ‘Bratwurst’ or Mr ‘Cloudburst’.  He was a cheeky, loveable and very talented lad.  Gordon Broadhurst
  57. Apart from all this he is a very sensible man who is a pleasure to be with.  Timothy, we hope now that you are 60 you will behave appropriately at all times and if you get to the end of this year and haven’t achieved it, GOOD NEWS!………………….you don’t have to!   Sheila Willerton
  58. We have had such lovely times with you Tim.  From camping to walks on the beach in the rain, I am so pleased to call you my brother in law.  You are kind, thoughtful, fun and sincere.  You and Ruth are so good together and the best thing is you make her laugh and make her happy.  Love you so very much brov.  Helen Mountstevens
  59. A funny memory of Tim is wondering exactly how big the Christmas tree will be each year.. Sarah and Peter Hommel
  60. PS Marcus quite likes you too.  Sheila Willerton

The good enough parent

Perfectionism and modern day parenting

As a special needs teacher, I work with families every day, going into their homes and helping young people with learning difficulties or social and emotional health problems to make progress academically. This role often involves listening to stressed out parents. As a teacher in school, I also spent time making calls home or holding meetings for chats with parents. As a friend to others with children, I see people trying to raise children in a world that is more complex already than the one in which I raised mine. It’s a minefield of social media, online bullying, distance learning, and increasingly pressuring expectations for them to go to university and get a degree.

When my parents raised my siblings and me, I do not think for one second that they often stopped to wonder if they were doing it right. In conversations now, mum might reflect whether she made mistakes, but this is 30 years later! At the time, they seemed pretty certain that what they were doing was correct. I don’t remember receiving apologies from either of them, or hearing them ruminating over a perceived failure!

And yet nowadays, I hear so many comments like: ‘I just feel as though I’m letting them down all the time’. ‘I don’t feel as though I’m good enough as a mum’. ‘I feel so guilty’. ‘I have terrible mum guilt’. ‘I worry all the time that they will become unwell’. ‘I worry that I’m going to mess them up’. ‘What if they never forgive me for mistakes that I make?’ ‘I feel awful because I didn’t (insert some type of caretaking gesture that might have been pleasant but definitely wasn’t necessary)’.

I remember feeling guilty when I had to leave Will with a childminder whom he did not like. He used to complain bitterly about going once a week for two hours at a time. A wise friend told me to stop feeling guilty because I wasn’t neglecting him, the childminder was a lovely kind person, and Will was miserable only because he wanted mummy and actually being with somebody else for a couple of hours was not doing him any harm at all. He has subsequently grown up without any longstanding resentment about this trauma!

In other respects, I did let my kids down. I had poor mental health, for a start, for years, and didn’t know it. I knew that there was something wrong with me, because I’d fly into a rage about minor things after being as patient as the proverbial saint for weeks on end, and I was an awful mum at times, saying and doing things in an explosive temper that I then grovelled about afterwards. I thought it was just a case of learning to control myself and become a better person. I felt shame about it. And yet, now, my children love me and accept me despite these failures. We have an open dialogue about it, and they can see and respect that I have grown loads as a person and have worked on my mental health.

And yet, I hear younger parents than me striving continually to be perfect. They worry about losing their patience, missing a symptom of illness for a couple of days or failing to check everything in the child’s school bag one morning. They feel shame and guilt over really minor things. They feel responsible for everything that the child experiences every day. They want to wrap the child in cotton wool and ensure that their lives are always happy and always positive.

This collective obsession with perfectionism is driving people insane! Our younger generation have worse mental health than ever. The wrapping them up in cotton wool isn’t achieving anything. When parents are anxious and worried, the kids then become anxious and worried about the parents’ anxiety and worry. It becomes a vicious cycle of doom, with kids not opening up to parents for fear of triggering an anxiety and guilt response.

I have had to learn the hard way that my anxiety and perfectionism isn’t my kids’ problem. When they have suffered with health problems both physical and mental, I have had to learn to deal separately with my emotional reaction. The worst things a parent can say are: ‘I am so worried about you’, and ‘I can’t stand it when you are suffering’. By saying those things, we make their suffering about us. One of my children took the time to tell me so and I am forever grateful for that honesty. I am grateful because, faced with my own anxiety, guilt and shame, and unable to share it with her, I sought therapy and grew as a result of that.

If I were able to talk to my younger self as a parent, I would tell her that she doesn’t have to be perfect. She just has to show up every day and do her best. Many her kids experience is out of her control. They will go to school and get treated unfairly by a teacher, bullied by some hideous friend, excluded from a party, put in detention for forgetting their pencil, dumped by a boyfriend or girlfriend and suffer with physical of mental illnesses that we cannot protect them from or prevent. From a parent, they need consistency and self-care. We have to take care of ourselves so that they can see how it’s done. They need us to be mentally robust and to have strategies for peace and calm internally and externally. They also need us to be able to get it wrong and to then take accountability for that and, when needed, to apologise and to learn from it.

There is a term coined by a child psychologist, Bowlby I believe, that the ‘good enough’ parent really is good enough. Perfectionism and unrealistic expectation has no place in family life. We muddle through and mess it up, and then get up and try again. And again. The most important thing to do is to love: both the kids and ourselves! I am close to my adult kids now, despite being a hopeless twat a lot of the time, because I loved them, I tried my best with what I had at the time, and if that’s good enough for them, then it’s good enough for me!

My crazy overactive thyroid, mark 3

(Actually, it’s now a tedious underactive thyroid)

So now we’ve got four months down the line, the fun and joy continues with medication for my overactive thyroid now making it underactive. The situation goes like this: a) Get blood tests once a month b) wait for the endocrinologist to see the blood tests c) wait for the endocrinologist to write to the GP and d) get a change in medication. There are a few pitfalls to this system and they are as follows: a) the blood tests go to the clinic and are unavailable to the GP and to me b) the endocrinologist can take up to two weeks to see them and respond c) the GP can forget to respond at all and d) the patient continues to experience unpleasant symptoms because they are on the wrong medication now.

At 40mg of carbimazole, my thyroid levels went to within the normal range, at 30mg, the thyoid became underactive and at 15mg I have gained well over seven pounds, am cold all the time, am down and tearful and, worst of all, am so tired that I can barely function. It’s difficult to drive from child to child as a home tutor because I want to pull over and nap in the afternoon. I have done so just for five minutes on occasion.

The NHS response times are so slow that I have now reduced my own medication to 5mg a day on the grounds that I feel like crap. I will inform the clinic of this on Monday. If I can get through. Unlikely.

I think I say this every time I blog about health, but the system really is broken. I understand why and I’m not complaining or offering any solutions, but it’s really unsustainable. If I don’t get a suitable and timely response to the next blood test (Thursday – and I know the numbers will be very low) I will go private again. This is so unfair on people who can’t afford to go private, but I guess at least it frees up the NHS a bit more. The private system can’t cope with the influx, however. Their waiting times are also getting too long. What are we all going to do?

I had a test for Graves disease in the middle of December and am still waiting for the result. Is Covid affecting the labs as well? It’s all so miserable! Sometimes in these blogs I offer advice to fellow sufferers of hyperthyroidism/hypothyroidism and everything in between. I am sad to say that I have nothing of much interest. However, I am still adamant that the wealth of nutribollocks and self-help crap that can be found on the web is of no use whatsoever, but I understand why people fall for it all in a world of inadequate healthcare, long delays, poor communication and uncertainty.

Some recommend intermittent fasting, others say Paleo fixes autoimmunity and still others say to cut out all ‘processed food’, or go raw vegan, or ‘eat clean’ or give up gluten, dairy and sugar. Who are the people doing IF, Paleo or cutting out half the food on the planet? I don’t think I know any, although I know people who do the 5-2. It doesn’t seem very sustainable somehow. Intermittent fasting for life? Can’t imagine anything worse.

I’ve got a funny suspicion that autoimmunity is caused and exacerbated by stress. When I get a feeling in my head of being time-starved, overtaxed, anxious and obsessive, there’s a physical tension that accompanies that. It makes my shoulders tight, my jaw clenched and my forehead furrowed. I can’t imagine what it’s doing to my insides, but I know that high cortisol levels are really baaaaaaaaaad for us. I wonder if there were systemic measures in place to reduce stress, whether we would all magically become less plagued by weird and worrying diseases.

A four day week for all might help. Cycling in towns only so that we have to get fresh air and can avoid stupid gnarly traffic. Compulsory phone curfews so that we have to talk to each other. Maybe a community centre within walking distance of every home, with big comfy chairs, huge colourful fruit bowls, good coffee and board games. Sparkly pavements. Table tennis everywhere and public pianos. A better minimum wage and more effective public services.

Or getting together at a neighbour’s house to make crafts for the Jubilee, which is what I’m doing tomorrow. And walking, somewhere beautiful. Deep breathing, warm baths and favourite music. Smelly candles. A banning of winter. Booking a massage. Being kind. Pushing back the world of busyness and creating a home haven. Watching comedy. Right – that’s my Sunday sorted.

Locus of Evaluation: who makes your decisions?

There is a spectrum when it comes to decision making:  at one end is using an internal locus of evaluation and at the other is using an external one.  A person lucky enough to have an internal locus of evaluation, my oldest daughter, for example, makes decisions by consulting herself.  She always has!  I joke that she raised me and not the other way around, except that it isn’t a joke.  When Abi was 6, she decided that animal consumption was immoral and cruel, and in my maternal ‘wisdom’, informed by mainstream thought about meat, protein and growing children, I persuaded and cajoled her to continue.  Sorry, Abi!  But by the time she was 9, she pointblank refused, and I realised that she really was going to exist on potatoes, pasta, vegetables, baked beans and toast unless I intervened.  So I joined her in the meatless way of life but persuaded her to continue eating fish and dairy and eggs, for protein and Omega 3.

Abi continued to consult herself on these matters, doing research and ordering informative leaflets from a range of animal welfare organisations, and made it increasingly clear that she considered fish eating also immoral and bad for the planet, as well as dairy and eggs.  She presented me with information that corroborated her internal suspicions, and she educated me about the reality of the egg industry (which involves shredding up male chicks) and the dairy industry (which involves shipping unwanted males off for veal or just shooting them in the head at birth or a few weeks old).  By the time she was 12 we were vegan.  I couldn’t unknow the facts that she had presented me, and we have been vegan ever since – her more successfully than me as I have had the occasional unvegan day. 

My point is this: up to the age of 30 something, I had believed all the nutritional advice that I’d been taught, never questioned it, did the same as everybody else and didn’t question the status quo.  Having a prophet in the family – somebody who is prepared to stand on the hill and speak truth loudly and clearly – somebody who is prepared to question the status quo and ask:  ‘Is this right?  Does this sit right with who I am on the inside?’ isn’t always convenient but I am deeply grateful for her.  She has brought me to a more ethical life and one that is better for the planet.  Without her, I would undoubtedly not have made those choices all those years ago.  She has also brought most of the family to her way of thinking and made a significant difference to our carbon footprint as a result.  All because she has an internal locus of evaluation.

I have always had a largely external locus of evaluation.  This isn’t to say that I haven’t followed the light of inner knowledge, because I have.  I managed to get a degree, train as a teacher, leave a bad relationship and become a better partner as a result of that, learn as a parent and choose a career path that suits me and my needs.  But there’s still a hell of a lot of worry about what people think of me.  I ask my husband:  ‘Do YOU think this is OK?  Was that BAD?  Should I have said that?  Do you think I upset him/her?’  I sometimes spend bloody hours after a conversation analysing what I said or didn’t say, and worry that the person will think less of me or not want to see me again, regardless of how much or how little of a role they actually play in my life.  I also spent years of life hyper focused on my appearance, which was always, always about how others perceived me because I honestly do not care how I look to myself in the mirror.  I really don’t.    I was always looking at myself through the lens of imaginary other people.

When we have this external locus of evaluation, we become performers for the benefit of others.  We have performative sex instead of loving fun together with our partners.  When we light candles so our partners won’t see the wobbly bits, who are we in this except bodies to be looked at?  A person with an internal locus of evaluation would ask:  ‘How does this feel?  What do I want to do right now in this moment?’  Not, ‘What do I look like?’

And when it comes to food and eating, this has to be the biggest personal one for me.  If we’re counting calories, following a plan, using a food log, tracking fat, macros or carbs, doing the 5/2, intermittent fasting or any other form of rule based eating, what has happened to our inner knowledge?  Our awareness of who we even are?  We were born with an instinct to eat until we were satisfied and then stop and rest and then eat again until satisfied.  As children, we chose an apple sometimes and a piece of cake at other times.  I used to give my kids a plate that they called a picnic, with bits of sandwich, cubes of cheese, little chocolate buttons, a few crisps, some raisins, some slices of apple and a few iced gems.  Sometimes they didn’t even touch the chocolate buttons!  They were using their internal locuses of evaluation – before being whipped into obedience by external expectations about their bodies, their choices and their autonomy.

Our gendered behaviours and expectations are also external.  I didn’t care about being slim, toned and sexy when I was charging around the park like a feral chimpanzee aged 10.  I was fit, strong, happy and full of energy, free of all that expectation.  That all came later and I forgot my identity in a confusing whirlwind of trying to be whatever a girl was supposed to be back in the 80s.  I recall that having a ‘good body’ was a part of that but heaven forbid actually enjoying said body because we weren’t supposed to be a ‘slag’ and I don’t think much of that has changed, sadly, for our teenage girls today.

I just want to be free of all of it now.  I want to be able to look inside and ask myself: ‘What do I want to eat?  How much of it do I want?’  I want to go out without any makeup and not give a crap what anyone else thinks of my face.  It’s a 51 year old face: sometimes its tired and sometimes its pale, and nobody suggests that my husband hide his eye bags or spend time making himself more agreeable for others to look at and I’m damned if I’m going to suggest that to myself.  I have no issue with people wearing makeup, high heels, glamorous styles, nail varnish and fake eyelashes.  I have no issue with people having botox, face lifts, breast implants, tummy tucks or acrylic nails.  Your body, your choice.  Do it if it makes you happy and makes you feel good.  Do it for yourself.  Do it because it makes your heart smile.  Don’t do it for anybody else or for some societal expectations about how a person ‘should look’.

So, where is your locus of evaluation?  Most people are going to consult others and care somewhat about their opinions.  None of us live in a vacuum.  We do need to consider our loved ones and perhaps our colleagues.  Using deodorant and refraining from unlawful behaviour are pretty useful external expectations that help us all.  But for most of us there is a vast amount of material going on in our minds that we really could shed.  In the words of Gestalt therapist Fritz Perls:  ‘Lose your mind and come to your senses’. 

The enjoyable rationalism of a good atheist.

I am slightly jealous of people who can live without any religious belief at all.  I still carry about the shadows of introjected beliefs from my fundamentalist childhood and, irritatingly, they tend to be the darkest ones.  I find it much easier to believe in eternal Hell, for example, than in a loving and benevolent God.  It’s a childlike fear of demons in the night that makes it unwise to watch a horror film if I’m alone in the house.  Satan is easier to picture than God.  I imagine that’s because it was really scary and traumatic to be afraid of these things as a child.  I really think that it’s helpful to question internalised beliefs and subject them to rational examination and evidence.  So I found it really refreshing, interesting and genuinely hilarious when I found myself asking my pragmatically minded atheist husband for his views.  Here they are.  I hope they prove helpful to someone out there who struggles, like I have, to shed beliefs that no longer serve them. 

Me: How do you know that there isn’t a God?  How do you know that?

Tim:  He’s just a mythical being like werewolves, vampires, ghosts and other things like that. 

Me:  You must know that Christians don’t believe that God is the same as werewolves, vampires and ghosts.

Tim:  I know they don’t believe it’s the same but still – they’re all mythical things and God is too, you know.  They don’t see God.  They tell themselves that they feel his presence or… did I say him?  I don’t know whether he’s a he or a she or a they but for some reason they seem to refer to him as him which is probably because men ruled the church for millennia and they think God is shaped in their image.  But it’s really just a mythical thing.  It’s all made up.  All made up for the convenience of answering these questions for people who don’t know anything else.

Me:  So how do you know that God didn’t create the world?

Tim:  Because we know all about the bloody Big Bang and the explosion in the universe and that there are many universes and we are just a tiny bit of it and over millennia the planet has cooled down and life forms have evolved and then we have evolution and we have evolved as part of that.  We probably won’t be here forever, the rate we’re going anyway.  We’ll probably wipe ourselves out like the dinosaurs went – although they didn’t wipe themselves out – or like the film we watched last night; there’ll be a 10 kilometre meteor hit the world and that’ll be it, bye bye.  But then something will spring out afterwards.

Me:  You must know that some people contest The Big Bang theory

Tim:  Well I know they do but there’s a lot of science and scientific evidence to support it.  Whereas there isn’t any scientific evidence to support God.  It’s all stories.  Dinosaurs aren’t stories.  We found dinosaur skeletons.

Me:  How do you know God didn’t create the dinosaurs, the same as he created people?

Tim:  Well, if he did, then they need to re-write all their books and things, don’t they?  And their stories.  The Bible and so forth. 

Me:  How do you know that there isn’t an afterlife?

Tim:  Why would there be?  We get buried or we get incinerated.

Me:  So that’s our bodies.  How do you know we don’t have a soul?

Tim:  I think we do have a soul while we’re alive but then it expires – disappears – gone.  I mean who would want to be going on in an afterlife?  It would be dreadful.  It would be like eternity.  Sounds like a real punishment sitting around in clouds and things forever.

Me: What do you think the soul is if you say we’ve got one while we’re alive? 

Tim:  I suppose it’s character really.  Some people are described as not having a soul or having a good soul or ‘he’s a good soul, she’s a good soul’ or ‘that person is soulless’ because it’s the way they behave; it’s their character.

Me:  So you think it’s a figure of speech?  It’s not a natural part of the person?

Tim:  It’s not a physical part of the person, no.  It’s part of what makes us who we are individually.

Me:  How do you know that we don’t get reincarnated into another animal?

Tim:  Because it’s just a fucking silly idea.  It’s like kids’ stories.  I mean, if we get reincarnated into other animals, why not into buildings or a lettuce leaf or something?

me:  Because buildings and lettuce leaves don’t have souls.

Tim:  Well, how do you know animals have souls?

Me: Because they’ve got personalities.  Mia has a different personality to Heidi.  Oscar had a different personality to Tilda. 

Tim:  There’s a lot of people who say buildings have got a soul.  Some buildings, not all buildings.

Me:  I’ve never heard anybody say a building has a soul.

Tim:  You have.  You’ve heard of people walking in somewhere and saying ‘it was so soulless in there’ or the opposite when they walk into a building and they feel it has a soul because it’s magical and wonderful and whatever; it has a presence, an aura.

Me:  How do you know the religious people aren’t the ones that got it all right?

Tim:  Well obviously they haven’t.  Completely mad.  They make it up as they go along and they all contradict each other and they’ve all got different versions of the same thing. Which religious people have got it right?   There are loads of different religions as well.  Before things like Christianity and Islam and so on you had all the bloody Greeks and Romans and all their myriad gods and things and the Aztecs – they had a whole load as well, and the Mayans had a whole load and the Vikings and the Druids.  They’ve all got different gods and different things they worship.  Primitive people worshipped the land and the sun and the sky and the sea and the trees. 

Me:  So why do you think modern people still believe in God?

Tim:  Probably partly as they’ve been brought up that way and it’s been passed down generation after generation but fewer and fewer people do believe in God.  Congregations are shrinking.  There are many that do, especially in churches like the Church of England; it’s a very kind of casual relationship with God – more for convenience and conforming and being part of society and  sometimes the good side of it is that it gives a sense of belonging and getting along to the various activities and things that are associated with churches: whether it’s a mother and toddler group or a choir group or a reading society or whatever.  So I don’t believe churches are bad; in fact, churches are wonderful places to go into – the atmosphere in there and the peacefulness.

Me:  But you know evangelical churches are growing so why do you think that is?

Tim:  Because the world’s going mad.  Because of people like Donald Trump.  People are becoming more extreme and becoming more divided so they look for a more extreme answer to things.  I mean, the evangelical churches in America are just multi million dollar businesses.  The pastors or whatever they’re called that run them are just ripping off their congregations.  It’s obscene.  I mean, if you want to believe the stories of Jesus and things like when he goes into the temple and the money lenders and all that – imagine if he came on earth today and saw all this in his name!

Me:  So do you think Jesus existed and all the stories are true?

Tim:  I think Jesus existed yes.  I don’t see any reason to disbelieve that he existed.

Me:  Do you think he did miracles?

Tim: I doubt he did miracles.  He probably did some good deeds. I suspect the feeding of the 5000 was more likely feeding for 50 or 500 and there was probably a bit more there than was suggested but the story wouldn’t have been as good, so it’s been made yeah like one crust and a fishtail shared amongst 5 million. 

Me:  You know the Bible says that Jesus brought people back from the dead?

Tim:  Well, I don’t believe that. I should think what happened if anything would be that they were not very well when he came to see them and he cheered them up and they said ‘ooh; thank you very much! I’m alive now!’ and then he went onto his next next duty or whatever he was doing and everybody left.

Me:  He was a carpenter

Tim:  He didn’t do much of that though, did he?  He was on tour like a rockstar.  He was busy going around preaching to people. I don’t see when he’d have got time to make anything.  And you know after he’s brought people back to life or whatever supposedly and goes onto the next thing they probably find that person just would have croaked it and it was just a momentary respite because they were so pleased to see him.  He was a nice bloke.

Me:  So how do you think this whole religion built up around him?

Tim:  Because people liked what he was saying.  There were probably a lot of people disillusioned with the Jewish faith and the temples.  I’m not very good on all these Bible stories but I believe that he thought it was all a bit corrupt and they had lost their way.  Certainly I believe the story about the money lenders in the temple.  Can you imagine today if he just popped along to check up on things and found people being charged money to go into cathedrals and things and evangelists raking it in off the congregation?  Obscene. 

Me: What do you think Mohammed is then?

Tim:  He was a very very good boxer.  Very entertaining… Mohammed was a prophet like Jesus.

Me: what do you think a prophet is?

Tim:  Someone who comes and prophesises and declares how they think things will be or should be. 

Me:  Do you think they were deluded when they talked about God then?

Tim:  Probably but then that’s how they were brought up.  I mean Jesus was brought up as a Jew, wasn’t he?  So that’s what he knew and what he believed. 

Me:  Do you have any respect for people’s faith?

Tim:  Yes. that’s what they want to believe that’s what they want to believe – as long as they’re not harming anybody.  Unfortunately, historically they have harmed people – seriously harmed people – butchered and massacred people in the name of Jesus and God.  Those people – no I don’t have any respect for their faith.  Used as a tool to destroy people who they disagree with or who disagree with them. 

Me:  How do you know people don’t go to hell?

Tim:  Because I don’t believe in hell.  I think they get incinerated or buried just like everybody else.  Heaven and hell are used just like so many other things in religion to threaten people to get them to toe the line.  They had to make hell sound like a dastardly place so that people would fear it and then that was the threat: ‘If you don’t do this this and this you’ll go to hell.  Fall in line’.  And they do. 

So there we have it.  I think the man has some fine theology and that it’s worthy of a share.  If you are an aspiring atheist, like me, feel free to take notes!

 

 

The New Year Pledge

‘I want’ is usually false crap.
I am not all that I lack.
There is a light hidden within
webs, masks, mazes and locks.
Until the day I die,
I will silence the distractions,
and self improvement dictats,
let her fill the hollows
and feel what she feels.
I am not all that I lack.
Already, I am all that I ever needed,
And all that I will ever need.

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