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How to fall out of love…

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.

Søren Kierkegaard

I’m not sure when I first realised that I no longer loved my husband. It may have been last summer when I first articulated the phrase to my boss and the words that had been swirling round in my mind came tumbling out on to the desk in front of me and clattered like smashing crockery.

I’d known it in my heart for a long time, but it took a long time for my brain to catch up. The human psyche is strange like that. You can know something in your soul but not recognise it cognitively for sometime.

I’d spent years being slowly ground down by living with someone who had slowly over the years left me feeling like squashed cabbage leaf, in the words of My Fair Lady’s Eliza Doolittle. And the thing about feeling like a squashed cabbage leaf is that all of your decisions are based upon that low self-worth cabbagey vantage point. The same goes for food, you comfort eat and then wear big, baggy clothes to disguise your now, overweight cabbagey-ness. Then you don’t like to leave the house because of how you look.

It’s a well-known adage that life is lived forwards but understood backwards, and so it has been with me. I came to be here because of taking the decision to attend a children’s centre on a local estate near to where I lived when my son was born nearly seven years ago. The children’s centre was in a very deprived area of my town. Having worked in journalism and teaching all of my working life I’d inadvertently ended up mixing with a very select group of reasonably educated middle-class people. Attending the children’s centre gave me the opportunity to mix with folk who had not had the opportunities I’d had and it was a game-changer for me.

Instead of reading high-minded political arguments online and in books that left me feeling frustrated, here I was dealing with people, who, on an everyday basis, were facing life at the sharp end of politics. I learned so much about parenting and dealing with a baby from these amazing women, and without them I’d have struggled to survive those early exhausting days of first-time mum parenting.

This experience led me on to take part in two local politically charged campaigns that both ultimately failed but put enough fire in my belly to start the resurrection of my self worth, and so when my son started school I started volunteering for a local gardening charity, culminating in me taking a job there four days a week six months later.

Like a butterfly emerging from a cacoon I was suddenly reborn, invigorated by working in the outdoors with a divergent group of people. It was like I’d joined the levellers and I loved it! Working there ignited my soul and my self-worth and before long what started off as slowly burning embers became like a raging fire, impossible to put out and leaving me with a difficult decision. Do I extinguish or fan the flames.

I came home to my husband one hot day last July and the sense of feeling trapped and suffocated was so profound that I screamed and cried inconsolably for hours; a primal scream that culminated in me screaming the words ‘I don’t love you anymore’ and once said they could not be unsaid. Our marriage couldn’t be put right. It took nearly six months for me to move out, in that time we tried and failed to make it work.

So far, so not very unusual. What I did do was take the decision to let my husband stay in our family home and keep most of what was in it. We also agreed that we would co-parent our son in an amicable split residency agreement, where he stays with his dad three days a week and me four days. For much of my son’s life he’d had a pretty distant dad, I chose to give him the opportunity to be a full-on parent and stocked the odds as much in his favour as possible. And eight months in, despite the fact it hasn’t been easy I haven’t regretted that decision. Our son is thriving at school, and his home lives are happier and less filled with tension. He has much more fun in his life. He has two parents who work together and put 100% of their energies into one-to-one time with their son.

Here we arrive at the title of this blog. The title of part-time mummy is in no way to suggest that I actually see myself as part-time – I don’t stop loving or caring about my son in the days I don’t see him. But I know that he is being loved, looked after and cared for by his dad, and that leaves me with days to fill when I’m not in a traditional sense a hands-on parent. This has been a challenge at times, and no always an easy one, but I hope that in improving my own sense of self worth, my son will benefit and become a more resilient person as a result. I also hope that this blog will help others who are also negotiating post-split waters and co-parenting in a brave new world.

How to burn fearlessly…

We are here to burn fearlessly….

I came across this quote recently and something about it really chimed with me. I have been trying to find myself after me and my boy’s dad split up, and some days I do well at burning brightly as me, and other days I hang my head down, as I lose her again.

At the minute I’m really struggling to keep my emotions stable as they are up and down dependent on other people. And something I need to learn to do is to stop anchoring how I feel to other people and to just burn with my own flame, and not allow it to get extinguished by other people’s negativity or lack of interest.

Last night I took the, to me, brave, step of going to a cocktail bar alone after doing some Christmas shopping. I sat perched on a bar stool with a lovely, expensive, cocktail, enjoying my singledom and totally happy in my own company. I was burning fearlessly. And today when I felt like my sparkle was dimmed a bit this morning, I thought back to last night, and the memory of it has reignited my flame, and reminded me that doing things solo that frighten me a bit makes me braver and more grateful to be single at the minute.

How to be more mindful…

Today’s message required me to push the boat out a bit in terms of the space needed on my arm, so I thought I’d try a bit of calligraphy too! I’m going through a difficult phase with a close friend, who keeps pushing me away on a regular basis. Remembering some of the good times we’ve spent together is making me a bit sad to be honest and prompted today’s quote. I spend too much time catastrophising about the future when I should be more mindful and just enjoy good times as and when I am lucky enough to have them.

How to change your mind….

For months, even years, I’ve been writing inspirational quotes in my journal. But then I realised, that to get them to stay in my head, they need to become mantras, and in order for that to happen, they need to be in front of me.

In the summer I embarked on a wristband project, where I collected, and kept on my arm, wristbands from events and good times. It worked as an incentive for me to keep having a good time and enjoy life, as well as a spur for further adventures.

I’ve missed that project since I stopped it at the end of September, and I needed something to help to keep pulling me forward. I’d been toying with the idea of having another tattoo on the inside of my wrist. But why put something permanent on there when I can change the message every day if I just write something on in pen instead? So, here we are, welcome to my new wrist motto project.

Today’s mantra was inspired by a conversation I had with my friend at the weekend, when I was catastrophising about the future, and he explained that he just lives day by day in the moment. I listened. I just need to learn.

How to get someone out of your head…

Well, I can’t promise that I’ve successfully managed to do that yet, but I’m trying something new to see if it will work, as I need to do something otherwise I fear I may run mad. Well, maybe that’s a tad too Bronte-esque but you get the picture.

I’ve been involved in a very complicated relationship for the last few months with something of a game player, with issues. I’ve decided, while he’s away on a three-week-long vacation, to call time on it, before it has a seriously deleterious affect on my mental health.

The problem is that what your brain decides to do using its purely logical imperative, it also manages to stymie using its illogical drive. I’d become aware that my thoughts were endlessly drifting to conversations we’d had, memories of fun times and things I wanted to say. I’ve been on this endless loop now for weeks and weeks, it reaches its conclusion in the middle of the night when I wake and cry soft tears into my bed sheets.  

I realised that I’d fallen into a rather self-destructive cycle of eating bad food and drinking too much, but I’m losing weight, which sounds like an ideal scenario, but in reality it was another indicator, if one were needed, that there was something out of balance in my life.

As is my wont, on occasions like this I did some research online to find a way to get my head clear of this guy. All my friends, for months, have been telling me to steer clear, but my heart always got the better of me, until now. But it’s easier said than done to decide you want to evict an unwanted tenant from your head.

I know how errant and untrained my brain can be. I’ve tried meditation but while I love the idea in theory, in practice my thoughts run amok untamed. Such it has proved to be with the subject of my complicated relationship. I can’t seem to bring my thoughts under control. One technique I discovered online that I thought might work, is the elastic band trick. Filled with the boundless enthusiasm I invariably have when I hit upon an idea that gives allows hope to triumph over expectation I headed to the stationery cupboard at work and found myself a suitably elastic band.

The key to this method is to twang the band, hard, whenever thoughts of your ex beloved pop into your head, so that it becomes a Pavlovian response to association pain and discomfort with thoughts of them. I’ve been doing this for a couple of days now, and while I can’t guarantee that it’s cured me, what it has made me aware of is the number of times I think about him during the day. Recalling a kiss, twag, having an imaginary conversation where he declares undying love, twang, endlessly interpreting messages, twang.

My thoughts have now turned more to anger about his behaviour towards me, is that a good thing? I’m hoping it means that I can move forward on to the grieving process. At least it feels like progress.

How to be damned by a glimpse of paradise…

I’ve come 20 years too late to The Beach party, but better late than never. I read Alex Garland’s 1990s classic over the course of a few days and couldn’t put it down. For any fellow late-to-the-partiers it’s the story of Richard, who finds himself on an idyllic island in the Gulf of Thailand, where a collection of backpackers has founded their own utopia. Typically, as well as other books to explore this theme, such as William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, there is a snake in Eden and the community implodes.

There was an interesting phrase in the book where Richard, the narrator talks about being ‘damned by a glimpse of paradise’. He feels spoiled for future pleasure by what he has seen and experienced on the island in his early weeks on it.

This phrase has resonated with me for the last few weeks, as I’ve been involved in a ‘relationship’ for the last six months that promised so much, but ultimately delivered so little. It’s taking a lot of energy and self-restraint to disengage myself from it, and do I feel damned by a glimpse of paradise? Yes, I very much do.

I have very little close family, barring my son, and this guy introduced me to his family and his children, telling me that I was now part of his family. He was physically affectionate, something I’d missed in my long lonely married years. He spent two months integrating me into every part of his life, and encouraging me to allow my son to make a bond with him, but a week before he was to go away on a month-long vacation, pulled the plug and told me he wasn’t ready for a relationship, suggesting that I’d been the one pushing for one. This is far from the truth, I’d been very, very cautiously trying to trust what he was saying and very slowly allowing myself to have faith in what he was offering. But he’d taken the lead, not me.

Each time I think about what I’ll now be missing it makes me sad. The ‘family’ unit we’d created; the hours and hours we spent talking, sharing our secrets, the feeling that I’d found someone who ‘got’ me, who was my soulmate. I’m now grieving for a lost ‘paradise’.

But what has saddened and hurt me the most is that I’ve always been someone willing to believe the best in people, now I feel that I’ll be more guarded and less trusting in future. More cynical about promises and less willing to give freely of myself. I’ll be slightly harder as a result now. Mostly I just feel sad, but thankfully not alone. I’m good in my own company, which is a plus, for at least I can now go back to myself, find my freedom again, lick my wounds, and maybe have faith that something that good can come again.

How to face your fears….

I was left looking up into the dark sky, rain drops falling through the gap in the smoke-shelter roof. It was midnight and the place was thronging with people, dance music pounding. My head felt other worldly because of the alcohol and the nicotine pulsing through my brain. Senses heightened, I perched, alone, on the edge of a damp picnic table looking skyward. ‘Yeah, it’s fine,’ I’d said, ‘you guys go home. I’ll be fine,’ channelling my inner feminist that said, ‘guys can be in pubs on their own, so can women’. But the sober me knows that there’s a big difference between theory and practice.

Just as the reality of being in alone in a club on a wet September night began to sink in I turned round to find my friend, G, grinning at me. The risk had been worth it. I’d been rescued from social oblivion. Four fun hours later, after a really in-depth chat and throwing shapes to some classic dancefloor tracks I wobbled home. Risk taken, rewards reaped. A night to remember.

This Saturday my best mate invited me to go to a fair with his kids. Last year the thought of going anywhere with heaving masses of people would have brought me out in a sweat and my brain would have gone into meltdown panic mode. But, to quote my boss, I put on ‘my big girl pants’ accepted the invitation and jumped in the van. An hour later we were indeed pushing through a solid block of people, but my brain stayed calm, there was no panic attack. I’m underplaying this, as for the last few years crowded places have rendered me insensible and turned me into a sobbing mess. For me to deal with this much humanity packed into one place with total equanimity is something of a miracle. At this same fair I was also talked into taking my mate’s 12-year-old on two rides. Something that I’d normally avoid like the plague owing to the vertigo and motion sickness fairground rides tend to induce. But as my mate had recently been in hospital I took one for the team, or rather two, and took his son on two vomit-inducing rides whereby I screamed and closed my eyes as I was hurtled round and round and up and down contained within a tin can. Pure hell. But, I survived, despite feeling epically vomity and shaky legged afterwards. But it was worth it, as 12-year-olds can be difficult to get to know and me joining this one the rides he wanted meant that we had a shared experience we could laugh about.

I’m learning that if you let go of things, and more especially try to let go of the fear that can envelop things that good experiences can come out of them. It’s always the fear of something that’s worse than the thing itself.

How to be more confident….

We were skating, my son clinging to the plastic polar bear that was helping to guide him round the rink and my ex periodically clutching the barriers while tottering around unsteadily. I was skating round to the exit barrier when I noticed a woman coming onto the ice. She was spraying her hair and then scrunching her wavy curls. The chill indoors and damp outside must have made her feel that her hair needed attention.

What struck me about the moment was that there was absolutely nothing wrong with this woman’s hair, apart from in her eyes and in her head.  You see similar things happen on nights out, women fiddling with their skirts thinking them too short or unflattering, or touching up make-up they think needs attention.

What I’ve learned in the last few months as I’ve tried to strip away the social conditioning that expects perfection is that what attracts people, whatever you look like or wear, is confidence. Do whatever you do with the confidence of a four-year-old in a batman T-shirt and you’ll win people over – it’s the self belief that people will notice, not the hair you think is too frizzy or the dress that you think makes your bum look big. Imagine yourself to look beautiful and you’ll radiate confidence and attract people.

It’s not easy to do this. I’ve suffered from a chronic lack of self confidence my entire life. It debilitates you, makes you compare and despair and stops you from making friends as you think to yourself that if you don’t love yourself then no-one else will love you.

What I’ve learned over the couple of periods of my life where I started liking myself a bit more isn’t that I necessarily look any better, it’s just that I stopped carrying the weight of other people’s opinions, and more importantly laid down the mental baggage that keeps my shoulders low and my eyes to the floor. I’ve learned that crucifying yourself doesn’t make your life any better, so why do it – think more positively about yourself and others will do the same.

This weekend I went out with my girlfriends and drank rather too heavily of my homemade cosmopolitan cocktail. On the way out of the club one of my friends tripped and chipped her tooth. It was a really small chip, but for the rest of the night she couldn’t take her hand away from her mouth. In her mind she looked maimed by the tooth chip. I told her that she still looked beautiful and that it was barely noticeable – but her self confidence was so dented that she immediately jumped in a taxi to retreat to the safety of home.

What I did next would have been unthinkable to the old me a year ago. I sat, alone, in the smoke shelter, watching the rain drops fall through the roof. The place was crowded, but still I sat. I can do this I thought to myself. I always dance on my own anyway, so what’s the difference I reasoned? I was right to be confident and stay put as within minutes the familiar face of my mate appeared and we spent the rest of the night dancing. Zero fucks given, as my best mate would say. In an instant the image I had in my head of someone who had been left by her mates in a club, had been turned into the sort of person who when left in a club knows enough people to end up staying out and having a great night. It’s all about perception.

How to love your body a bit more…

I’ve been thinking a lot about weight this week. I’m currently reading Martin Amis’ autobiography and I stopped to think when he talked about his father’s descent, or rather expansion, into corpulence in later life as a conscious decision made as an acceptance of his disconnection with his sexual life.

That to comfort eat and gain extensive roundness was to dull his sexual urges and signal in physical form that that part of his life was over. It was something that chimed with me. When I was child I was skinny and mawkish, but once I hit 18 and started working at McDonald’s part time my weight began to balloon, and it has fluctuated for the whole of my adult life and caused me considerable psychological issues. When I’m ‘thin’ I feel good and sexy and when I’m ‘fat’ I feel slothlike, unsexy and unattractive.

I was rather staggered last year when my decluttering urges led to me to start digging around in the loft and I came across an old notebook from when I was 18. In it was a weight chart and exercises, demonstrating in paper and pencil reality that as soon as I hit adolescence I was ensnared by an obsession about weight and appearance, ‘good’ food and ‘bad’ food that would follow me around and find physical form in the range of sizes of the clothes in my wardrobe from a size 12 when times are lean to an 18 when I’ve expanded.

Having my son six years ago lead not only to weight gain but also a change in physical shape, and a lack of a sex life with my ex husband meant that I bought elasticated trousers, sheathed myself in voluminous fabrics and generally signalled through my abandonment of any pretensions to caring about my appearance that my life as a sensual and sexual being was over. 

But when I look back, it was a chronic lack of self esteem that led to me feeling like that. Once I changed my job last spring and lost several stones of weight, started wearing nice clothes again and generally gained more confidence I realised that the weight acted as a cloak to hide behind and give me an excuse not to engage with the world. While eating too much was a way of both comforting and punishing myself and also not caring about my health or my body.

These feelings all came to the fore at work this week when one of my work colleagues was talking about his partner ‘carrying too much timber’, piling on the weight and generally, as a result, becoming sexually unattractive to him. All in the name of banter you understand. But I heard the words and felt chilled to the core, as my sympathies lay with his partner, who, probably aware of his feelings was taking the same path I had trodden, to self pacify with food and not go out and socialise because of a total lack of confidence.

Obviously now I newly single, my worries about weight will once again resurface, as if I do want to re-enter the shark-infested waters of dating then I’ll need to be the best version of myself that I can be, and that will include being self critical and scrutinising myself in the mirror. But I don’t actually have to take that well-trodden path, for once in my life I may just walk tall in self acceptance, however much ‘timber’ I’m carrying, and see where that takes me!

How to draw summer to a close….

‘They’ll all come off at the end of September’ I’d said to a friend as we sat in my back garden in June, when the autumn seemed like it would never arrive. In the lime-green freshness of early summer the idea that everything will turn golden and die always seems inconceivable. But everything has its day. As I was talking I was stroking the two or three wristbands I’d collected from a few events I’d attended in the preceding weeks, and for some reason I hadn’t wanted to take them off. Over the next four months the collection expanded up my wrist taking in night clubs, beer festivals, memories and gigs.

In the morning I’d sort out any crumbled ones, check for breakages and apply tape where needed. It became something of a ritual to touch them and reaffirm my memories and experiences. The colour gradually faded and the indications of what event they’d been for washed off. The black marker pen memories greyed to near oblivion. But I could remember where each one had come from. They became part of me, a conversation starter – I even acquired a couple from events friends had attended – they became synonymous with me and my new life.

I knew that they’d have to come off eventually, but throughout the summer they’d driven me on to travel, do new things, taste the sweetness of life – a siren beckoning me to do more, and be more. They had become part of my new identity – I was the girl with the wristbands.

But, now the nights were cooling and darkening, summer’s lease was indeed expiring and it was time to draw this period of adventure to a close and start a new chapter.

At this time of year I always find it natural to want to hunker down, I start dreaming of candlelight, snug fires, cosy blankets and nights in reading. My forgotten recipe books start looking more alluring as I look forward to cooking comfort food and eating with friends and family. I want to be able to come in from the cold cuddle with my cat, take my son out in his wellies for splashy puddle walks and go conker picking.

And so my brain was already starting to detach itself from my drive for summer adventure. I no longer needed the crutch of my wristbands. I’d learned that adventures are there for the taking, I just need to be the one who chooses to take them, and I no longer need an armful of coloured bands to remind me to do that.

So it was on Sunday that without any sense of ceremony, but with a bouncy child shouting ‘mummy can I do it?’ I took a pair of scissors and one by one severed each band from my wrist. They fell curling in coloured heaps on to the worktop revealing a pale band of skin untouched by the sun. Looking now like nothing more than scraps of waxed paper, but to me, they represent a snake skin, I’ve sloughed off the old and started the new. It’s time to go blinking out into the autumn sunshine, or hang my head under the drizzle and see what possibilities the next few months will bring.

How to go to your first festival…

festival, equinox, summer, camping

Firstly, buy a tent. In an ideal world erect tent before you go so you know what you’re up against. But hey, in my new-found spirit of abandon and winging it I decided to just rock up and see what occurred. The same went for a camp cooker and an air bed. I’ve spent so long within the constraint of dominant relationships for much of my adult life that my new chaos and disorder-filled life is needed as an antidote. I need to know that however much I try to control things life will take its own course.

As my son and I had driven down to the festival site, after rushing around attending training, picking a friend up from hospital, last-minute packing it was heading towards twilight. I’d decided that as we’d slept out in the garden on the sofa cushions in the summer that they’d make ideal air-bed replacements when we went camping. I’d rammed them into the back of my tiny car and entirely filled the back window. As we came to take them out someone commented, ‘hey, cool, you’ve brought a sofa to chill out on,’ I laughed rather too lightly and we continued to struggle over the field to the tent spot with far too much beige upholstery than was sensible given the whole field situation.

As I tipped the tent out onto the parched ground, the words ‘needs two people to erect’ were read, and ignored as I struggled with the tent poles, the girl next door offered her services, to which I replied in my rather-too-English fashion, ‘I think I’ll be fine thanks’. Five minutes later son was saying I an over-loud voice ‘mummy are you going to ask for help’. As though I was the seven-year-old and he was the adult. I’d forgotten the mallet, so when the lads nextdoor took over the tent erection and were hammering the pegs in I was terminally grateful.

The sky was turning that sparkling shade of turquoise and the strings of light that stretched to the festival site started to glow. It was ethereal, a slight chill reminded me that we were at summer’s end. We grabbed a torch – one of the things I had remembered to bring – go me – and headed over to the wooden enclosure where I could already hear a ‘boom boom’ from one of the music tents. We were both giddy with anticipation. Our first festival. We’d made it. We had somewhere to sleep and now we were walking down a chalky embankment towards a huge equinox fire that was showering sparks into the darkening sky. We found a log to sit on that rocked slightly unsteadily but that became our base over the next couple of days.

This was something that in my married life we’d never have done. My son would never have experience this grand autumnal equinox party. He’d never have run up and down this hill under September sunshine, free and full of life, while I lay staring up at a jewel-blue sky feeling happy to be alive. I may have packed badly but in essentials we had everything we needed.