On the outside looking in...

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Have you ever experienced the feeling of being on the outside looking in?  It could have been at a party, a work meeting, when you were at school or even with your friends or family.  It feels as if you could just about be invisible, that somehow you are separate or different to everyone else.  You may have experienced it on the odd occasion, or it may be something that you feel on a regular basis.

If you say yes, then please know you are not alone.  I have had this feeling all my life but could never clearly articulate it or why I had felt that way for all these years until recently.  People probably look at me and would never guess.  I can make conversation with people I haven’t met.  I am not shy to speak up and address an audience.  I even get on video and feel totally comfortable but somehow, I have always felt different.  Then I stumbled across a concept recently which was like a lightbulb going off inside me - that it isn’t so much about the things that you experienced or that happened to you during childhood, but rather the things that you didn’t experience or receive that that you really, really needed at a formative time in your life.

The time that you were hurt or bullied at school but when you tried to share it with a parent or carer it was brushed aside or you were just told to ignore it or toughen up.   The time you needed guidance with a problem but they were too busy or not interested in what you had to share because their focus was on themselves.  It could have been as simple as wanting a hug or a kind word when you really needed it but showing affection was not something that your family did.

Emotional neglect is not abuse. It is an empty space, not a space filled with hurt, so it's therefore difficult to pinpoint what it is in our past that leaves us feeling lost and empty.  It's the unacknowledged parts of ourselves and our childhood that create the biggest holes within us.  It’s looking back at your past and thinking it wasn’t so horrible or traumatic but yet you still feel different.  It’s looking at other people and feeling separate somehow, not able to connect as easily.  Yes, it’s all about connection. 

So, we carry around this emptiness – this feeling that there is a hole inside us that can never be filled, because we may never have been taught how to feel the feelings that we needed to experience that make us who we are.  This can lead to depression, anxiety, lack of confidence and difficulties in personal relationships.  Don’t get me wrong, this is also not about shaming and blaming our parents and our upbringing.  People live what they learn and they also can’t give what they don’t have.  It’s about recognising why we feel like we do.  If we don’t we tend to carry on the pattern and hand it down to our children and the cycle continues.

I have found this absolutely life-changing as it helps me make sense of how I have felt and lived in the world.  Now I can recognize the things that may have been missing for me and start to give them to myself; start to identify and name what it is that I am feeling and allow myself to feel those feelings … and most of all to be kind to myself along the journey.

 

Empty nest and what it taught me

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I am going to share a little bit about myself in the hopes that this might help someone going through the same or similar experience.   I raised my daughter on my own from 5 weeks of age when DB (deadbeat) dad went to “find himself”, until I met my now husband when she was about 9.  She is now going on 24.  Raising a child whether it is on your own or with two parents is, as those with kids know, a journey fraught with minefields, deep dark holes, flying by the seat of your pants as well as at the other end of the spectrum super proud moments, unconditional love and the highest of highs; I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity and I never take it for granted. 

During that time, all my focus was on working a 9 to 5 “job” to meet the bills, getting my daughter through Grade 12 and then onto college and just the “doing” of everyday life.  Then one day at the age of 19 she got offered a wonderful opportunity to go and work in Sydney at something she was really passionate about; there was no way I wanted her to miss out on this as I had always urged her to follow her dreams.  Everything happened quickly and it was all very exciting for her.  I however had never really thought about life without Miss A, especially her moving to another state.  This is when my wheels fell off - literally.  I had been living my life without any thought to the future.  This experience brought up so many emotions, fear, confusion and questions.  What was my life without my daughter being there in it every day?

I had been so focused on being “mum” and “partner” I didn’t know how to be just “me”.  I hadn’t thought of a life with just my husband and I.  I had been so busy living moment to moment that I had no idea who I was anymore - literally.  It was like I had totally lost my identity, through no fault of anyone but myself, and it was one of the most scariest periods of my life.  I didn’t know what made me happy anymore.  I didn’t know what to do with my life.  I didn’t know what my “purpose” was.  I didn’t really know very much about myself at all and it was nearly like an out of body experience.  I felt flat, stuck, scared and very confused.   Sometime after that I suffered a severe episode of anxiety and depression – it was really quite a frightening time in my life, I just felt numb. 

That is when I started my journey of seeking outside help, trying to find “something” to hold onto and anchor myself to; meditating, reading, listening to others’ wisdom.   Gradually I began to start designing a life for myself that could get me excited about the future again.  It wasn’t something that happened overnight by any stretch of the imagination, but bit by bit, layer by layer the old “me” started to reappear and make choices and decisions about her own life and get “unstuck”. 

It just seems to be an innate characteristic of us as women that we want to care and nurture but somewhere along the line things can go way too far off the spectrum, to the point of forgetting who we used to be before we took on the role of parent and/or partner.  There needs to be balance, it is imperative and it is our responsibility, no-one else’s.  This is where we need to invest time on ourselves, to the things that bring us joy and peace.   At first it can feel very uncomfortable and even selfish to do this, but actually it is selfish not to!  It is a gift to those around us, to be a happy, healthy you and especially modelling healthy behaviours for those of us who have daughters when their time may come to be a mother.    

So I would like to reintroduce myself to myself – I kind of like this new version of her too, she is much more fun even if she is a little bit dotty!