A new years resolution that did wonders

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A new years resolution that did wonders

 

So a few years ago my friend Tessa (who seems to be coming up a lot in my posts, probably because she is one of my most thought provoking friends) introduced me to the idea of living without competition. To the possibility of raising our children without teaching them to think in a competitive way. Intriguing…

 

Naturally I got defensive to begin with and said in response:

 

“Well I don’t think there is any harm in gentle competition”

 

But as soon as I uttered the words, I began to doubt that they were true. What I love about Tessa is that she never pushes these things. She plants the seed and leaves it with you. Being a naturally obsessive person I spent a few sleepless nights mulling this concept over. When I thought about it that much, I could not find a single example where being competitive did me any favours. In fact, it brought out my ugliest traits.

 

I suppose my first introduction to the antagonistic drive of needing to win was introduced through good old sibling rivalry. My brother Jim and I were always compared and spent many of our childhood years, fighting for the spotlight when it came to school and home. I remember the intense emotions so clearly. A mixture of pure awe at a person and unshakable jealousy. I don’t think this is a healthy way for anyone to begin their life. Yet so many siblings start off the same way.

 

This feeling whatever it was; this melancholy fervor that made me need to be better than others, remained with me. It never made a ‘fun’ evening of board games end well. I was often compared to Monica from friends. Sticking it to the loser if I did well and raging if I didn’t. Embarassing.

 

There are two sides to being competitive: One where you behave obnoxiously and are desperate to beat everyone (and have that be noticed) to feel good about yourself. The other where you know you have no chance of winning so you give up before you’ve even started. I have definitely experienced both, most of my life so far. And neither bring out the best in me.

 

I honestly think this is why so many kids loathe sport at school. Rather than teaching children the art of the pastime fairly and indeed the true, noble path to competing, schools generally search for kids with ‘potential’. Because they want their cabinets filled with trophies. All the average children are ignored and below average in my experience tend to irritate the teachers.

 

I was never picked for any team, ever. So I hated P.E. It made me feel bad about myself. So naturally I rebelled. Imagine a scenario though where teams were not the important part of school sports though? Where children are all being taught fairly and filled with the spirit of friendly competition. Where they are given the opportunity to take part and develop a passion for a sport even though they aren’t the best. Imagine all children being at ease with losing sometimes. And more importantly being used to that without it being and kind of tragedy or personal failure. Surely that’s a valuable lesson for us all to learn? And where better than the sports field?

 

I’m not going to bang on about educational settings here but i do want to give one more example where they often (I think) encourage children to perceive each other as rivals rather than peers:

 

Placing children in ‘sets’ for classes.

 

In my opinion, most children don’t actually know what they are ‘good’ at. They are told. By their parents and by their teachers. Placing a child in a ‘bottom’ set for anything is code for saying “You are shit at this”. I remember the feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing that came with being placed in one of those lower settings well. Most teenagers are familiar with these emotions. I think this is one of the factors. Again, for me, it made me give up without even trying- my philosophy being “why bother if I’m crap? I’ll just mess around until I enter a class that I’m good at.”

 

I also realise that my reasons for misbehaving in these classes was down to feeling incompetent. Making people laugh made me feel better about myself. So rather than sitting there sadly hating myself for being ‘stupid’ (which is what I thought I was thanks to the set placings), I was ‘naughty’. The looks of hatred and yells of impatience from the teacher confirmed these two things- 1) I was indeed a bad kid 2) And a stupid one. A vicious cycle that did me no favours in those classes, or for my well being as I developed as a person. If people view you as ‘bad’ you start to see yourself that way. Same with intelligence. So I think this idea helps create the kids with low self-esteem and attitude problems and often, it doesn’t change for them.

 

This was the environment that first made me resent learning. And all kids are born with the desire to learn, are they not?

 

In the higher sets I liked the work. But this is where the atmosphere was most competitive. We were all secretly thinking, “We are all great at this cause we are in here, but who is the best?”

 

Who could get the best grades?

 

Who could answer questions first?

 

Who could answer questions the best?

 

Etc etc.

 

The amount of straight A friends I have that suffer with huge anxiety is very interesting. They can’t sleep during exam time. They shake, cry, sweat with panic and work, work, work. And if they don’t get that A, they hate themselves. Completely. They are ashamed! What kind of world are we living in?! Shouldn’t learning go back to being that drive and passion we were all born with? Not a constant strive to do better than last time? Or better than everyone else? It’s not healthy.

 

So after tossing and turning for nights on end. I decided that being competitive for me (and probably most) is a horrible trait engrained by nurture, not nature. Therefore, I could eliminate it from my personality. I could retrain my brain to no longer think that way.

 

You know what? It worked.

 

Obviously the people around me have a lifetime’s worth of evidence to contradict me here, but with any change, it takes time. It’s been three years. In another ten, people will no longer see me as a maniac that needs to win. I am confident of that.

 

The way I did it was by focusing on the feeling after winning when ever I started to feel the gut stab and horrendous desire to ‘outdo’ others. I concentrated on the fact that no-one actually cares. The axiom that I can’t scroll back in my mind and work out who won which game and when? Because ultimately it doesn’t matter, it has never mattered. I realised the people I am drawn to are not people that need to beat others at things but people who want to learn throughout their lives regardless of what others think of them. That is the kind of person I long to be. Someone who is at ease with my intelligence and feeds my intellect at my own pace and relishes it. I strive to grow into someone who admires others without envy. Someone who can laugh at myself if I do a bad job at something. I want my children to possess this qualities too. And I am a main influence to them!

Since this revelation, I am actually growing more secure in my own abilities. I now embrace this strange, relaxed freedom that comes with not needing to be the best, or funniest, or skinniest, or smartest etc etc. I am definitely less judgemental of others which makes me more compelled by people. I genuinely want everyone to succeed! It feels so warm and wonderful. I even have a better body image and expectation for myself and others. All in all, I am a happier, healthier person without competition.

 

Also (I hope this doesn’t sound arrogant) my eldest daughter, she is glowing from these changes already. Susannah is three, so she came just at the right time. If she loses at a game she still enjoys it and wants to play again! I hope I can keep this going for her. I feel so proud when she sings “wah wah wah wah’ with a big smile on her face as she slides her playing counter down a snake rather than up a ladder.

 

Another thought that occured to me is that most things are subjective anyway. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and all that. If we apply this logic to most situations, no-one is bad or great at anything. We are all different and interesting. So next time a friend shows us a painting that we think is terrible, maybe we should try and see it for what it is, a little piece of them, instead of trying to rate whether it is any good. If it makes the person doing it happy then who bloody cares?

 

Anyway, there is a reason that people often die before anyone appreciates their work. Because people are stuck in their ways. So I reckon, what ever we enjoy we should do it with bells on even if the people around us, the critics, our parents or teachers tell us we are terrible at it. They can all go jump. Because we are all entitled to revel in things regardless of other people’s standards.

 

If we could all learn to love what we do and cherish doing it, and feel the same to the people around us, maybe we would all be more confident, laugh more and take bigger leaps. Because honestly, who are we to judge anyway? We might not be right about everything…

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.

Coming to terms with anxiety

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I like to be busy. Well I say that, I’ve only ever known… manic I suppose. I had about of year of utter laziness in my teens and that was great! But apart from that, yep pretty bloody mental.   You may have read my other blog- the autistic diaries which was about my son Oscar. Oscar is now nine and living in the residential part of his school full time. We have had quite the journey. He is flourishing and I couldn’t be prouder. Even if I do live with a permanent rain cloud of guilt, showering over my thoughts; knowing that he is not with me, the way a child should be. Sometimes one has to put pride aside I guess, and do what they believe is best for everyone in their family. That is what I’ve done, I hope.   I have three other children.   Susannah is three on valentines day. Being born into a household that (at that time) was hugely dominated by her brother’s needs, has given her a naturally helpful manner and heart full of compassion. Her understanding of other’s emotions and needs surprise me every day. Don’t be fooled though, the girl has confidence. She is wholly observant, yet also manages somehow, to keep all eyes fixed on her. A winning combination.   Then there are my twin daughters- Rosie and Berry. They are just over a year old. They are identical and fascinate me constantly. Within their first weeks on this Earth, their differences in character were evident. Yet somehow, they are completely and perfectly the same. They are perceptive, dainty and careful. With a cheeky glint of something extra.   I truly am the happiest I have ever been. There is so much love in my life it overwhelms me.   I live in a strange panic about my daily contentment. My children are all so fantastic. I have the most supportive, kind and idiotic (in a good way) partner who I share this glorious life with. My friends and family are so very beautiful, talented, interesting and giving. We have a modest and messy home that is warm and is ours. Yet I can’t shake the reality that it is all temporary. I feel like all the birds of paradise have chosen to live on my roof and sing me the worlds best music everyday, with plans to one day move on forever without looking back- leaving me utterly alone in my silence.   Most new parents will relate to these feelings. When you watch your tiny, innocent and thoroughly vulnerable newborn sleeping, it hits you- nothing else matters now, without this person, life is no longer worth living. And then you check every 30 seconds to make sure they are still breathing. No parent can prepare for this kind of love. It consumes you and alters you in ways that are absolutely out of your control. I think it is the most wonderful thing that can happen to a person. But the underlying angst that comes with it is hard to bear and in my case, impossible to cast aside.   I’ve have been ‘anxious’ since my teens. When I was eighteen it was really bad. I was obsessed with the world ending. I used to imagine Milton Keynes glass shards soaring for miles and chopping everyone in half. My breathing and heart would accelerate so much that I then thought I was going to have a heart attack. Then there was the addition of how odd I was being. I would have to count my footsteps all the way home to deter my thoughts from obsessing on death but when I arrived home to safety, I would then be tormented with the concerns that what I kept doing was abnormal and that maybe I was going mad. This was (and still is) an easy conclusion to jump to as my family has a history of mental health problems of many kinds. That for me is the most terrifying thing that could ever happen. Losing my mind. Losing everything because I’ve lost my mind. Then I discovered alcohol. This took the edge off. I could quite easily have let that deplete me.   I didn’t know about panic attacks at this point. It was thanks to a good friend that I learnt about these. Tessa was staying at my house when she was  awoken by me making a phone call. I was in a hysterical mess on the bathroom floor telling NHS direct that I thought I was dying. I am still always in awe of Tessa’s knowledge and experience. At this young age, she knew exactly what was going on and what to do. After calmly taking the phone from my hand and hanging up, she held my hands, looked into my eyes and told me I was having a panic attack and that everything was going to be OK. Everything was OK after that.   I mostly learnt to anticipate and curb the attacks from thereon.   As an adult I have mastered how to avoid the majority of the scenarios that trigger my anxiety (without out the use of alcohol). Though one cannot control everything. Every few years, something will happen that will set it off to a point where I don’t want to interact with the outside world. During these times, my skin will hurt, my heart will feel offbeat and jumpy, sometimes I shake, I will cry in strange unpredictable outbursts, something large will manifest in my throat and won’t go away and indigestion takes over my insides so I find it hard to eat. I even break out in spots. Then there are the thoughts, the maddening voices that haunt every minute of those times: “You are going to lose everything.” “You are crazy already and soon everyone will leave you.”   I have however trained myself to make music and/or exercise when I’m cemented in this dark place. After a few weeks, it usually subsides. I have not yet needed medication as my life balance has not been too affected at this point. If I thought it was necessary though, I would not say no to giving it a go . Especially if I knew I was making my loved ones miserable.   Strangely, I believe existing with anxiety has many positive attributes to offer to life as well. It fills me with a constant need to  ‘live for today’. People think I’m nuts because I express so much love all the time, because I need them to know, right now how I feel about them. It’s an urge so strong and passionate, I can’t shake it. This love is overpowering and exquisite and I feel so lucky to have it there reminding me how beautiful people are all the time. And without the intention of sounding cheesy, it’s the hideousness in the world that highlights this beauty. Which somehow makes even the most unseemly situations appear alluring. Like the people that make sandwiches for their neighbours after an earthquake. That’s human nature, or part of it. That sort of kindness is hidden in our usual everyday hustle and bustle. It’s the horror of the earthquake that brought these simple but tender actions to the surface. Living with anxiety, makes me feel like an earthquake is always about to occur, so I guess that makes me aspire to be the type of person that would indeed display that sort of kindness regardless of whether the earthquake actually takes place. As well as take pride in the graciousness of anyone I spot doing something extraordinary. These things make me uncontrollably happy! This must be a good thing?   I also think dread should make us give people the benefit of the doubt each and every single time someone screws up. (I am not talking about evil here- that is another topic altogether. I am speaking about unfavourable actions that people take, or even characteristics that they maintain and why it should not define their entirety.) When you know the world is ultimately going to end, it is of course terrifying but at the same time it could help us refrain from seeing only ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ in most daily situations. Fear is a powerful motivator. It can help us put things into perspective. If we viewed everything as a stretch of  very limited time we might be able to evaluate multiple options of outcomes for certain scenarios. When some of the options are positive, we could place all our energy into realising as long as there is hope, it’s not the end for anyone. If we as a majority held on to that, fewer people would give up on themselves I think. We all need people to believe in us. So if someone lies, steals, hurts or falls so low it’s hard to imagine them in a good place, perhaps believing in forgiveness, fresh starts and practising compassion will give the people around us a chance to redeem themselves. The opportunity to reflect, learn and grow, and most importantly, to want to do those things. I certainly would like those chances from people when I fuck up. I don’t want there to be a limit to them. I truly believe we can love anything better. I also believe, within certain circumstances, we are all capable of most wrongdoings. Therefore, no-one is better than anyone else. I conclude from my experiences so far that most people are good and everyone is shit sometimes, sometimes more often than not. But that is not all they are. I think we could all use a constant reminder that loss of any kind trumps (pretty much) anything else when it comes to hardship. Then we might all learn to value the love we share. We could all live a ‘Richard Curtis’ kind of life. That would be the best.   So (in perhaps a rather accidentally self-righteous kind of way- Let me assure you, these are just random thoughts that occurred to me recently and I do not think myself any kind of guru, far from it), I’m just trying to say, with every bad there has to be a good. Every time I think about loss, I am reminded of how much I love. Anxiety fills me with the constant fear of loss, therefore I feel this hugely emphasised and unbelievable pang of love all the time. And love is better than anything. It’s what connects us with others and makes life beautiful. So I am actually grateful for this strange condition.