Let us feel!

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This morning, my three year old daughter susannah had a cry. It was over a strawberry. It was my fault entirely, I wasn’t thinking. I know perfectly well that she receives huge pleasure from biting into the biggest strawberry in the punnet. Yet I cut it in two. She is very expressional, (I try to encourage that, being an very sensitive human being myself, I am well aware that my children might be the same way), so when her large brown eyes fill up with tears and she looks at me I say: “Oh Susannah, are you sad because I cut the big strawberry?” She nods frantically and the tears race down her cheeks. I give her a cuddle and add: “I am so sorry! I know you like the big ones and I cut it up! How silly I am to forget.” Susannah replies: (as her eyes start welling up again) “Yes because now it isn’t big or massive anymore it’s small and there are no more big ones left.” Her feelings have been acknowledged, she is now on the mend- I know what I have to do to uplift things completely. I pick up the strawberry halves and put them in my eyes and say “Ahhh but with two pieces I can be mrs strawberry eyes! (I put on a funny voice) “Hello- pleased to meet you, I’m mrs Strawberry eyes!” Susannah’s tears subside and her face is now filled with glee and she jumps off her chair and asks me to hand her the strawberry pieces. She imitates me and laughs so much even the twins join in with the giggles. What could have been a huge meltdown has been turned around into fun and silliness.

 

This technique works most of the time and it is rare that Susannah has any kind of giant meltdown. If it does happen it is usually because I am irritable so not thinking properly about how she’s feeling. This is the key really. I hear myself saying on some days (for example) “Susannah, it’s just a strawberry and you are going to eat it anyway so who cares. Just eat it and be quiet.” This will upset her enormously and quite rightly really; by saying that, I have basically told her that what she is feeling is irrelevant and she should feel what I tell her to.

 

But who am I to devalue a person’s emotions like that?

 

The thing I think is so important, and that is so easy for any of us to forget is how small our children’s worlds are compared to ours. Susannah knows nothing about hunger or war or financial stress. Susannah is usually thinking about drawing or clothes or riding her bike. That strawberry and the complete excitement of biting into it’s giant, juicy shape was a big part of her morning. It probably is equal to the excitement I feel when the weather is warm for the first time all year. Cutting it up was like a wind and hail storm arriving just as I make plans and pack a picnic to enjoy the lovely weather. Horribly disappointing and ultimately changes my plans ahead.

 

I remember when Jim (the eldest of my three younger brothers) and I were about four and three years old and we were driving home from somewhere. Our mum promised us that we could stop at Little Chef on the way for some dinner. We were ecstatic! Not only did this prospect contain the adventure of eating out, but we were also given a lollipop after we had finished by that particular chain of restaurant. That was probably going to be the best thing that was to occur on that day, or possibly for all of that week. Sadly, we fell asleep in the car and mum didn’t want to wake us. I will never forget the overwhelming sensations of sadness, regret, disappointment and anger this (what felt to me was a tragedy) sparked for me. The devastation I experienced in that moment from missing out felt as painful as a break up. That’s how big it was to me. Because my world was so much smaller that it is now. But that shouldn’t mean my emotions were any less valid. It’s just different things that triggered them. As my world grew, so did my ability to control my responsiveness as have the things that make me respond.   That’s what I try to remember when I think my children are over-reacting.

 

How often do you hear parents say “It’s not a big deal”, “Get over it,” “Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill,” “There are far bigger things in life to worry about” and that kind of thing? But if we think about it, children react to things just like we do, except they have not yet learnt to understand these intense feelings or how to manage them. So how do these phrases help a child determine these things?! I think reacting to a child this way teaches a child that to feel is incorrect and to be ignored. How incredibly lonely we would all be if we were all treated this way?

 

Even as adults, we expect a certain emotional etiquette from each other in everyday life. We belittle the way others feel just because we don’t accept that it’s reasonable to feel a particular way over a particular thing. If we don’t share the reaction, we discount it. Surely that is the gateway to depression? Feeling isolated with our emotions.

 

You know that other expression “life is hard”. Couldn’t we, instead of using it to shut others up and expect them to deal with their challenging emotions in silence,  use that as a reminder of how we all find things difficult at times? As a way to unite us as human beings and normalise any negative reactions to the everyday struggle we call life? Why is being sad, angry, lonely, disappointed is nothing to be ashamed of. We all feel this way from time to time and we all have our own reasons. Let’s stop expecting everyone to respond the way we think they should. Let’s accept their responses as theirs and be there for them.

 

Muzz and I have been together 7 years so we have had long time to grow together and understand how the other deals with certain things. Muzz’s family are some of the most wonderful people I have ever known and I am so thrilled to have them as family now. But they are not emotional. That is of course acceptable! Everyone deals with things in their own ways. But Muzz did not understand how sensitive and over emotional I am as a person because he had never really seen it before. It does not take a lot to make me burst into tears and at first Muzz would often resort to telling me to ‘dry up’. I am very over the top so you could hardly blame him. Sometimes I just get sad about how beautiful things are and how people let the exquisiteness pass them by. Did you ever read ‘the secret life of bees’? There was a character in that story called May Boatright- she would feel such heartache that she would write about it in little notes and hide them in a wall at the end of the garden. I am like a (slightly less dramatic) version of her. I feel so deeply and care so much it is a stirring. It keeps me awake. It is a pumping through my body that could quite frankly tip me over the edge if I didn’t monitor it frequently. Not everyone experiences emotions this intense on a daily basis, many people simply react to particular circumstances. And that’s what we like to expect from people, a bloody good reason to feel something. But why? To feel something is not a choice, it just is. So with time, Muzz learned to tolerate and relate to that side of me. And I have figured out many distractions to keep me from spending an unhealthy amount of time on one particular emotion. Tit for tat. And perhaps we could all think about limiting how much we compare ourselves to each other. Muzz has accepted that I am very extreme emotionally and I have accepted that he isn’t all the time. Both are common and respectable.

 

I spoke to a doctor recently that gave a good analogy for how people deal with their feelings. He said that not everyone in concentration camps experienced depression, but most people did. Meaning of course that in one of the most extremely bleak scenarios imaginable, still some people cope mentally, and others don’t even need to be in a severe situation to fall apart. We all have our breaking points and we don’t choose where they are. Conclusively, there is no right or wrong to these feelings, they just are and we should all try to respect what another person might be going through emotionally, even if we don’t understand it.


And when it comes to our children, I think we should do this will bells on. Surely it will help them develop a healthy understanding of their own emotions and a compassionate approach to others. If we can normalise their emotions by acknowledging how they are feeling and allowing them to talk about it  then it will be easier for them to work out how to anticipate these feelings and cope with them. Often, that is all any of us need to feel instantly uplifted. Time, respect and compassion from the people around us.

If I were gay…

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IF I WERE GAY… A friend  of mine came out as ‘bi sexual’ last year.   Did it change anything between us?   Of course not.   Did I see it coming?   I hadn’t thought about it but it didn’t surprise me.   Did it change anything for me?   Yes. Naturally being a self indulged human being, it made me analyse my own sexual existence.   I‘m not going to talk about labels. I don’t care about any of that. I believe anyone should be able to be, do, wear, make love to and call themselves anything they want (obviously as long as no-one is getting hurt). I believe in kindness, compassion and respect for other living creatures and the planet we share. Anyway, now i‘ve made myself sound like a complete self righteous hippy, I will get back to my point. I want to talk about two things:   1) Why it doesn’t matter whether we are attracted to men, or women, or both   2) I’m hoping to clear up any phobias that some people might hold over people being ‘gay’.   I am in a committed, straight relationship. Engaged actually. So obviously I am not looking for a mate. I occasionally meet people where for about five seconds I’m like “ding-dong hello there!” but it never goes further than that for me. As a couple we are happy and secure and we are both stubbornly loyal by nature. That for us means sharing a life together openly and honestly and (of course) monogamous sex. This is a concurrence we made from the beginning- we both chose to live like this which is why we work as a couple. Other people have different standards and in my opinion that is none of our business and should be approved by everyone (as long as both partners are happy and in agreement).   So about my friend. Her name is Lola (she’s not a showgirl). It was a big deal for her to ‘come out’. It is of course for most people. Admitting to your loved ones that you aren’t conventional, and are (or dream of) having sex differently to how society expects is extremely difficult. I think the biggest qualm someone in Lola’s position suffers with is the fear of rejection. No-one wants to be rejected, especially by the people that they are closest to.   Back to me. Like many others, my family contains members that are valuable to me but we clash on most opinions. They are intelligent people but often use the ‘generational’ excuse to be ignorant about things. If everyone did this, there would be no moving forward with anything. At what age exactly do we decide that we are too old to ‘move with the times’? No-one is too old to do that. We should all strive to think openly and be more accepting shouldn’t we? Surely the more we age, the more we have learnt therefore the more understanding we should be?   When I was about 12, I remember saying to a relative, “What if I’m gay?”   Their response was hilarious. She said: “Don’t be silly, of course you’re not, you’re far too feminine.”   OK…   Well what she didn’t actually know was that my first love/crush (whatever you want to call it) was in fact a girl. We were good friends going through puberty together. We were young and sexual and things between us often got heated. It never felt wrong. But it was also never spoken about really. It was entirely animalistic and teenage. However, things did end badly. Rather than parting ways gradually like many friends, we literally had a ‘break-up’. One day she told me that she didn’t want to hang around with me anymore and that was it, we never associated with each other again. I never really got over that.   Whether that experience makes me ‘lesbian’ or not is debatable. But actually, I don’t think it matters. It was what it was.   Since then I have only been in relationships with boys. I have occasionally been attracted to girls but I was never confident enough to explore this. I remember seeing a few girls in my late teens/early 20s that I liked. Once I was really drunk I would sometimes buy them a drink, bring it to them and walk/run away pretending it was just because I was weird. I just wanted them to notice me I suppose. I never thought about this as an ‘attraction to members of the same sex’ but looking back at it, that’s exactly what it was. One of these girls even invited me back to hers and we kissed a bit. We were teenagers and all my friends were experimenting, snogging eachother, drinking, drugs. Some even cutting themselves. So I never thought about my actions as ‘lesbian’, they were just adolescent.   So when Lola spoke to me about her situation, it made me reflect on this.   I think the main reason I wouldn’t have dared venture in a relationship with a woman, at that young age, was because I was very vulnerable anyway. I feared rejection so hugely that I couldn’t face ever being perceived differently by my family. The way I heard some of them speak of people who were homosexual was not kind. So I have decided to try and clear up any confusions or worries that may have occurred to them if I had indeed attempted being in a same sex relationship. Not because I want to run off with a woman or anything, but because I don’t think parents’ should influence their children in that way, or fill them with  judgements or fears of being (or being around) something quite ordinary and harmless. Being homosexual is something I just don’t believe that in this country, at this time should be viewed negatively. So really this isn’t about my family, it’s about all families that would have trouble accepting a fellow family member or friend as being ‘gay’. So, let’s pretend when I met Muzz (my fiance) he was a woman. Let’s call her Muzzina. All the same things… we met, we were hugely attracted to one and other, we soon realised we liked each other for other reasons too, we had the same visions for the future and the same morals. If this happens (which is of course quite rare) it is usually the recipe for falling in love. Once that transpired, it was normal for us to want to start introducing eachother to the other people we love in our life. But if I had said to these people, “I have met someone, I think it’s serious: would you like to meet HER?” Some of them would have freaked out.   I am going to try and guess the things that might run through their heads in this hypothetical scenario that could spur such disapproval.  Here is a list of these thoughts followed by my responses to them.  

  • “No kids for you guys then.”

  Obviously, being in a same-sex relationship complicates the art of having a child. It does not however terminate the dream. All couples that hope to become parents can experience challenges. If the couple are happy, in love and want children, it is perfectly acceptable for them to want to be parents. And of course explore all the options available to them to do so.  

  • “It’s not natural”

  Ok, who decided that? Most wild animals fornicate with members of the same sex. What’s strange about that? If there is a mutual sexual attraction, why not act on it (in most circumstances)? I am not religious, but if I was, I might be asking, why did God design a man to have a g-spot up his arse? Maybe it was to give him a choice. If that’s not natural, I don’t know what is. All consensual sex is natural (that I can think of). Let’s get used to that?  

  • “It’s perverted’”

  Well maybe stop picturing other peoples’ intimacy then. Perhaps that’s the thing that’s perverted.  

  • “Is this my fault?”

  Being in a gay relationship should be as everyday as being in a straight one. It is nothing to be ashamed of. Therefore there is no-one to blame for anything. Also, it’s not something that is decided for a person. It’s an instinctual drive on an imaginary continuous line. One end is gay, the other straight. Everyone is somewhere on that line. No end is right or wrong. One friend said to me recently: “I’d probably go gay in prison, you’d have to wouldn’t you?” I suppose I see the logic in this as the majority of people you would be surrounded by would be of the same sex- so it’s slimmer pickings. However it is not the limited selection that makes you ‘gay’. It’s being attracted to members of the same sex. If you can see this happening to yourself in an extreme situation, why rule out the possibility that it could happen anywhere?  

  • “I thought I knew you”

  My sexuality is not the be all and end all of who I am. I still love the same food, the same tv programmes, the same clothes. I still have the same talents, ideas and preferences. Nothing has changed except your vision of me. This is your problem, not mine.  

  • “Is a phase.”

  Maybe. Who cares? Just invite Muzzina over for dinner and get to know her like you would with anyone else! If we break up, be there for me. Give us a chance as a couple because you want to see me happy. That should be what matters.  

  • “What will our friends think?”

  The good ones will admire your acceptance, modern open-mindedness and unconditional love for your family. Anyone who thinks badly of the situation, or you, is probably not worth a friendship.   And a couple of extra clear-ups for other outsiders looking in:   If you do have children, will they grow up unbalanced? Don’t you worry that they might get picked on?   The only thing dysfunctional about members of the same sex raising a child together, is the harsh and bigoted judgements they may have to receive from people around them. But don’t we all live with those? I have a son with autism and he is judged all the time for his behaviours as am I for my parenting. There is never going to be a set up that everyone approves of. All I can say is if a child is being raised with love and kindness then that is a good start in life. A start that sadly many children aren’t lucky enough to receive. As far as the child being unbalanced, again, that’s nothing to do with their parents being gay. It’s about the child having needs that perhaps the parent’s know nothing about. Look at Billy Elliot! He just needed support and acceptance. His dad did not need to become a ballet expert to make the story have a happy ending. All any of us can do as parents is our best. If there is something that our children feel the need to visit another member of family or a friend to be open about, then so be it. It is better than them bottling everything up and becoming unhappy. Obviously just because people chose to be in a gay relationship, it doesn’t mean they don’t associate with people of the opposite sex. We all grow up aspiring to everyone in our lives, not just our parents. So there will always be people of both sexes for our children to turn to for advice. Also when it comes to bullying, there are continually reasons to make fun of another person. I was bullied for the size of my teeth. I got over it and so did the bullies. If we can teach our children to accept and be proud of who they are and where they come from, and not to judge others, then the bullying will lessen as time goes on. If it doesn’t and it’s time to do something about it, that’s a separate issue. My point being, (once again) it’s not parent’s being gay that causes bullying- kids do it anyway.   Does that mean you fancy everyone? Are all your friends potential lovers now?   All of us can assess our friendships and think, am I attracted to this person? In my opinion, the truth is, if you have to ask then you probably aren’t. If you are and the feeling is mutual, it would be obvious. That’s a connection that most people can observe. If you once were but the feeling wasn’t reciprocated then the chances are you have moved on. But what ever sex we are attracted to, nobody wants to go to bed with everyone. It’s a relation that happens and is bilateral. Just like straight people. So if your friend has ‘come out’ no they probably don’t fancy you, and if they did, they are so over you because you didn’t fancy them. Unless you do, then who knows, maybe there is a romance to come? And what’s wrong with that?!   I can’t think of any more concerns that I have heard cross the minds of people who would rather their associates and relatives be straight. As you can see (I hope), what I am trying to get at is: if everyone accepted that we have the right to shack up with either sex then we would all have a lot less to complain and worry about wouldn’t we? I am lucky enough to live in a country that has a pretty good understanding of homosexuality. I recognise this is not the case everywhere. If we can start the acceptance at home though, in our own circles, no matter where we are from, then that is a wonderful step in the right direction. Let’s all get along and love people for who they are not who they are shagging.