Self-compassion – it can be a difficult thing to extend to yourself at the best of times and even harder in the worst of times.
I was chatting with a friend a while back and as a fly-away comment I said, “Don’t be fooled by my smile.” My friend smiled, pointed at themselves and replied, “Don’t be fooled by mine either.” We both laughed the hysterical laugh of ‘the slightly unhinged’. It was oddly releasing. It got me thinking about how many of us may actually be going as we move through this year.
With mental-health struggles in mind, I wanted to take a moment and have a quick chat with you. You see there is something that you need to hear from someone who might know how you feel…
you are being too hard on yourself.
If you have found this year and parts of this year or are still finding this year difficult, come sit with me and you’ll feel less alone. You are amongst family. Life can be full of tough moments and we are bound to take a few mental hits; maybe many of them. When they come, let me encourage you to extend yourself an extra load of self-compassion and not judge yourself for struggling. Big breath in, it’s all good, you are not the only one.
Today WordPress notified me that I/we have been blogging for seven years today. Seven years is a significant amount of time (and money) to invest into sharing your thoughts with others, so I’ll take a moment to stop and acknowledge it.
When Tim and I went overseas with our oldest daughter, we started this blog keep our large social circle in touch with what we were doing on our travels. I never thought I’d still be uploading content all these years later.
I want to take a moment to thank those of you who know me in real life. Thanks you for all your likes, comments, personal messages and shares via FB, in person, email or sms. I’m always surprised by what speaks to people and what any one individual needs to hear on a particularly day. If I have helped you at all during this time, it is my pleasure and not something I take lightly. I am particularly humbled and honoured when you take time to share your own personal stories and/or pains with me.
And now a thank you for my WP friends. When I look at the other bloggers who have been around as long as me, I know that my ‘follow numbers’ don’t reflect my output. I was almost completely ignorant about the rich community here until I got the app on my phone. It makes me laugh. I know that I could have/should have invested more time into promoting my page within the WordPress community, but even to this day, I’m more interested in having genuine connections over numbers. That’s not to say I can’t make genuine online connections, I just haven’t worried about ‘building followers’. To those of you who are following me… I’m sending you lots of blogging love and cheering you on (even if I’m quiet sometimes).
I’m uncertain about how long I will continue doing this… I guess until it no longer brings me joy or I lack the time. For now though, I still plan on writing little pieces whenever I can and I appreciate the time you take to read them.
Last night my cat was stalking a spot on a white wall. There was nothing there, but in his imagining it was worthy of his notice and all his energy. He sat there for a long time intent on fighting his fictional foe. I will be honest, it was highly amusing.
This is not my photo, but the picture is perfect
This did however lead me to wonder if humans are often like that too. What things do we notice which really mean nothing at all? What things do we fixate on, which are entirely imagined? I’m sure there are many and for the anxious mind there are many more.
In my own journey with anxiety I can identify with my crazy cat, I know what it’s like to be consumed with something that’s not there. Although in my case, I would be staring at an invisible spot on the wall which would suddenly multiply to a hundred invisible spots and I would want to chase them all.
In my worst moments, I honestly did believe every thought that came into my mind. It was like handing myself a hundred negative prophesies all at once and believing they were true, instead of something to be tested.
I have learnt a lot since being in my twenties and I’m glad to say that I don’t do this any more. I have moments, but I am more aware when it’s happening and can catch myself before I spend days staring at or giving my attention to something that isn’t real.
What has helped me? Many, many things: quotes, specific bible verses, books, songs, discussions with wise people, seeing a psychologist, medication, improving my gut health and more.
Allow me to give you a few questions to ask yourself before you sit staring at your negative thoughts.
Should I put energy into chasing this thought?
Is this real or a self-made negative prophecy?
Is this helpful?
And my favourite mantra for stopping my anxious imaginings:
Thoughts are not facts
If you are struggling by fixating on unhelpful and negative thoughts or dreamed up catastrophes, let me encourage you to remember this story of my cat. If you can let go of even one fictional foe this week, I will give you a standing ovation.
I just want to address your toxic side and I know that during COVID so many of us have been using you more. Alone in our houses, sometimes we can get caught up in that toxic side and drown in our feelings of insignificance or lack. It’s the side of you that carries a heaviness and a touch of ‘high school’ popularity contests.
No, it’s not all of you, just certain parts of you and that’s the part that drives us mad. It’s that part that tells me that if I’m not a big success than I am nothing. Well, I don’t buy into that. Your forced comparison seems highly suspicious. It sounds a lot like you are trying to pit us against each other and there is no community in that. There is no joy in that, only pain, comparison and resentment.
I have the advantage of being around before you were an integral part of our lives, so I know that our value runs deeper than what you are preaching.
You are in fact a liar.
A ‘like’ does not equal approval and a ‘follow’ doesn’t equal belonging. Neither does a re-tweet, wink, friend, swipe, share, pin and so on. These are surface things and although they are nice, they are meaningless when we turn off our devices. I cannot bring any of them into my living room and share a meal. They may make us feel good, but they aren’t there to help us when we face a problem. Let’s just keep you and your madness in it’s proper place.
I will admit, you do bring some joy into my life, of course you do. I get to make connections, see, read and experience things that I never would have without you, but you are not my gauge for someone’s importance or influence. I’ll determine that on my own thanks. The friendships I have made online are because of the people, not because of stats on a screen.
Numbers don’t determine a person’s value and I think that’s where your lies are the most toxic. That is where you start to poison our minds. You tell us that numbers equal value and that numbers mean we count in this world. You try to tell us that only having high numbers means we matter.
I call you out and say nope, that’s not real, my worth is not found on a screen. I won’t buy into that and others don’t have to either. We can use Social Media without the toxic part and that’s what we’ll do.
So thanks for your ideas about being a ‘big hit’ or an ‘influencer’, but I’ll pass thanks.
Love Jess xxoo
PS – Dear Reader, sometimes we just need a reminder 🙂
I can be alone without being lonely.
In fact, those times of solitude are necessary respite for a beleaguered soul,
set upon by the pressures of life.
I need to take whatever moments I can to just be still. – Steve Goodier
Once a year I like to go away by myself. The extroverts are already confused 🙂 The introverts were on board as soon as they saw ‘by myself’.
When I do personality tests, I often come out as exactly in the middle of extroverted and introverted. I would say that the more kids I have had, the more introverted I have become. Apparently, they take a lot of my energy… who knew kids could do that? 😉
For me, a moment of quiet solitude is rare and precious. Add in a ‘giving profession’ and I find myself constantly looking after or considering others; always giving out. To ensure I don’t burn out, sometimes I have to stop and take a night or two away by myself. For me. it’s like a blissful turbo-charged refresh.
Wandering west in the wild I pack my bags and my notebook
Heading out on my own
Write some words I can take home
To be able to pack my bags and my notebook…
It is usually what I request for my birthday; a night away. Time away. There are three things that I try to do with the moments by myself and I thought I’d share them with you.
Lamentations 2:19a (NIV) Arise, cry out in the night, as the watches of the night begin; pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord.
The full context of this verse is so powerful (check it out sometime), but what has always captivated me since age 13 is the imagery of water and communing with God; letting Him see our transparent hearts. I love the idea that it should be poured all, all of it, clear and exposed. I have always approached my relationship to God like that. There is nothing I don’t open up to Him and when I go away by myself, I am clearly not really alone as I pour about my thoughts, emotions, fears and hopes.
I do this by journalling, sifting through my thoughts and my heart; asking questions about things I have done and seen while listening for growth areas.
This one is similar to reflection, but it’s more about positioning myself for what’s to come.
Unlike my stunning sister-in-law, I am not the type of person who writes five-year plans, or even five-weeks plans. However, I still look to the future to ensure that my life’s trajectory continues to aligning with my personal values. Sometimes I will uncover dreams and desires when I take time to do this, but more often than not I am looking at core values that I want to live my life by (regardless of where I am or what I’m doing).
To those who have/love/embrace long-term plans, I take my hat off to you and cheer you on.
Slow mornings are my favourite, because when you have small kids there is no such thing. At. All. In fact, there are rarely slow moments in the day. They do happen, but they are not always consistent (you take them when you can). So when I’m by myself I do the things I truly love whenever I want. It is a sweet, sweet luxury.
I sit by the water and write. I eat good healthy food and drink quality coffee. I listen to music, colour-in, enjoy sunshine and salty sea air. I watch the sky change, watch a beloved movie, enjoy deep sleep, maybe a massage if funds allow. It is Bliss. I leave behind the daily routine and enjoy quiet and freedom to do whatever I want.
Even setting aside Australia’s COVID shut-down, I will acknowledge that it’s been some time since I’ve been away by myself. For my family, it takes planning and budgeting, but I will prioritise this as something I want to do this year.
I wonder what you do to help you reflect, realign and refresh? Do you make deliberate plans or do you rely more on chance for it to happen? A psychologist once told me:
it’s not always what we start doing
that negatively impacts our mental health,
it can also be the things we stop doing.
If we stop doing the positive things we enjoy, that can have just as much impact on our health.
Dear reader, your ‘ultimate self-care’ might not be going away by yourself, but I’m sure there is something you have in mind. I would encourage you (and me) to not forget about it. Make some plans if you can or at least add a reminder in your diary to look into it later. In a year that has been full of global fear and turmoil, remember to look after yourself deliberately, purposefully and regularly.
Love Jess xxoo
PS – I want to acknowledge that there are millions of people in the world for whom a holiday is unreachable. For this reason, I call it a luxury. However I live in Australia, in this crazy country and in my privileged socio-economic class. I live my life in the context of my culture and the pressures that it brings… but I don’t take it for granted or forget those who are less fortunate than me. 🙂
I have been debating if I should post something given all that is happening in the USA since the murder of George Floyd. What can and should a white, mid-thirties female in Australia say? Should I say anything at all?
And so now…
I want to make sure that the Black community in the USA feels a global outpouring of love.
We have heard your voice across the sea. To honour and support you, I turn my attention to see where racism lies in my own culture. I will admit that I am often blind to the difficulties others face because of their skin colour or ethnicity. I pledge to learn and educate myself further. It is not enough to say I am not a racist, I need to develop a deeper understanding and awareness of the injustices that people face every day.
I have decided to provide links to a few articles, resources and ways to get involved that can help us find our way. These are only a few, but they also point to other places to become educated.
UUUUGGGHHHH! I can hear it in you already. Your friend just shared something with you and all the alarm bells are going off in your head. They have either told you about something you have already warned them not to do or they are making the same mistakes anew. It’s incredibly frustrating.
You are allowed to be frustrated.
I almost feel like creating a secret space for you to let it all out. A place where you don’t feel as though you are betraying your friend. Maybe you could call me up anonymously, vent to me and I’d nod my head and say “Yep, they are crazy” and then we’d hang up and you’ll feel better. 🙂
It’s so hard when you see friends making bad decisions, because you want to be there for them and let them know that they are making a huge mistake. What is a friend to do in those moments? Let’s look at the options.
Two options: Say something or say nothing.
Both of these options have positives and negatives and your preference will mostly depend on how you view your role and responsibility in friendships. Some of you will always say something, while others will always keep silent; whatever you chose is fine with me.
I find for my own personal sanity, my preference is to lead people through questions which challenge their thinking or motivations rather than pointing out obvious blunders. I’ve always felt that if people find the answers themselves, they are more likely to take it onboard. Honestly, no-one really likes to be told what to do. I’m probably more gentle than I should be at times, but that’s how I function best. I have tried it other ways and it usually didn’t turn out how I wanted it to.
No matter the style we adopt, we should always remember that whatever our friends go through, their decision to listen to us is not about us. We can’t control and never should control others – even if it would be easier at times. 🙂 I’m joking… I am not responsible for other people’s choices and I refuse to be. I have carried the imagined burden of responsibility and I ended up with heart palpitations, so I stay far away from that one now.
Regardless of what happens, remember that now is the time when you will demonstrate exactly what love looks like. You can love someone and disagree with their choices. You can also love someone and place a boundary around what you are willing to discuss with them. So how do you love them well and keep your own sanity?
Two Options: Stay close or love from afar
Let’s pretend you (or others) have spoken to your friend and they didn’t listen and it’s so very frustrating. Why do they keep you around if they don’t value what you say? It might actually hurt too much to see them blindly or willingly walk into a bad decision.
You can choose to keep the door open, keep the communication flowing so that if and when they fall, they know you are a safe place. This will take time, patience and a loose grip. You won’t be the one to say “I told you so”. If you get the urge, just call that frustrated friend line I mentioned before and tell it to me 😉 I’d nod and say “Yep, you were right”. I will then encourage you to hold onto you empathy and know your limitations.
As upbeat as the song above is, there can be certain friendships which push you beyond your limits. May I suggest, if you can no longer stand it anymore, that you can actually love someone from afar. You don’t have to stay up-close to witness the mess of their life. It doesn’t mean you have stopped loving them, it’s ok to step back… it really is. You may need to start the slow pull back because it’s too hard to watch as they blindly walk into more seemingly obvious pain. It is totally fine to step back and it can be very wise.
Sometimes to love a friend and look after yourself you need to stay, and sometimes you need to leave.
At the end of the day I know that your heart is good and you want the best for your friend (seriously, you are reading about friendship). Hold onto your love no matter what you do. Hit me up for an imaginary phone call and I’ll validate all your frustrations while you navigate the best way forward in your friendships. Trust your instincts on how to move forward. You’ve got this.
I thought I would write to you and let you know that I’ve been thinking of you this week. You see I know what it’s like to feel the way you do; I have been there. Of course our stories won’t be the same, but our hearts will have known the same sense of exclusion. That feeling you get of being alone in a room (or chat-room) full of people, I have felt this many times over too. I understand the sinking feeling of isolation and wondering if there is anyone who truly understands you. It is intimacy in friendship that you long for, not just surface conversation, but to have someone really ‘get you’ and be in your corner.
My own story stretches over the first three years of being a Pastor’s Wife and Youth leader, surrounded by people yet dying on the inside. I doubt many people outside of Tim and maybe my Mum would have known about it at the time. On the outside, I was connected and extroverted, on the inside it was a whole other story.
Take it from me, leadership can be very, very lonely; those people you see on the stage, they want authentic friendship too. The irony was that Tim and I were cultivating community on a weekly basis, trying to create a place where every teen could be known and belong. I loved connecting with the teens who most would consider on the ‘outer’, because I understood them; I never quite fit either.
Lonely heart, I know you are in your story right now. I know the crushing feeling, the ache in the heart that won’t go away; the desire to know and to be known is strong. To have people love you for your thoughts, not just your edited actions is so releasing.
I know what it’s like to have these heartfelt desires. Oh, how I know it. Ironically, you are not alone in your loneliness. It’s something that many people, regardless of their age, stage or location experience. It is surprisingly more common than we think.
I cannot walk your journey for you and the truth is that for many of you, I won’t even be able to walk it with you. I can’t not give you those relationships that you desire, but I will give you three thoughts from my ‘lonely years’ which might be helpful:
Persevere Lonely Soul
I had two people tell me this during my own three years of loneliness. Any time I felt the desperation overwhelming my soul, I would remind myself to persevere. I have a love/hate relationship with the word, because perseverance is not enjoyable or ‘sexy’, it is necessary. May it be your source of strength as it was mine.
Ask for a friend
The second thing I learnt was to ask for and keep looking for friends. I asked God over and over for friends whom I could be my true self with. It took a while for them to come, two years in fact from when I first asked, but eventually He brought me a Liz, and a Jess and a Bec. The perfect friends for that season. They become my life-line and I am still grateful for them to this day. Bizarrely I had already known these ladies for years, but it just seemed to be the right time for our friendship to change and become closer. I didn’t even realise they were there until God opened my eyes and I opened my heart. So if you currently believe in God or not I would encourage you ask Him, ask Him for friends today and I will ask for you as well.
You are not forgotten
One of the big lies is that you are invisible – both humankind and God have forgotten about you. Well that is not true, you are still seen even in this season. This post may be the very sign you need right now.
Lonely heart, God won’t stop talking to me about you, prompting me to pray for you, asking me to reach you through the screen and through your tears and say that YOU ARE SEEN. He wants you to know that He hasn’t forgotten about you and that he cares so much about your soul. There is nothing wrong with you, it’s ok to be different. Your ‘people’ are coming. Persevere.
Psalm 34:18 (NIV)
18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
It is a difficult place you find yourself in and I can’t bring myself to offer empty platitudes as they won’t fill your heart. However, as someone who has been there I can offer you hope instead. In your loneliness today, you happened to read these words and I trust you realised that you are not alone. God (the universe or whatever) is reaching for you right now to lift your heart. I am praying for you and believing that God will bring people your way or open your eyes to undeveloped friendships. Persevere Lonely Soul as I did, this moment in time is not the sum of your whole life.
Love Jess xxoo
PS – This song (although old now) was one I used to sob to on repeat – it was God’s promise to me.
One of my biggest personal struggles is against perfectionism, or perhaps more accurately, comparison to my Ideal self. Ideal Jess is wonderful on paper, so I do understand why I have held onto her for so long. She is gorgeous, very funny, never says the wrong thing, is highly intelligent and articulate but is also still very relatable. Ideal Jess makes everyone else feel at ease as she is at ease within herself. She can also sing, paint and write effortlessly, in fact she is naturally talented at everything. You name it and Ideal Jess can do it, be it, face it and overcome it.
I desperately want to be her at times. Other times I know I wouldn’t like her at all, she would intimidate the hell out of me.
I have this perfect version of who I should my head and I often punish myself for not being her.
I was holding myself hostage to the impossible. I was trying to be someone I was not—but even worse, someone I could never be.
– J. S. Park
I was recently given the opportunity to review a book before its release and the timing couldn’t have been better. Have you ever had those? It was the right book, with the right words, at the right time. In his book The Voices We Carry, author J.S. Park unpacks eight types of voices that we hear in our heads and one of them was self-condemnation. By giving examples from his own life, I recognised myself in his words and I’ve gotta say, I really was seriously impacted and changed. I realised I was still (after all this time) in a toxic relationship with my Ideal Self, continually comparing myself to her. I was in love with the idea of her far too much.
All those demands and expectations and absurd parameters needed to be laid down. I needed to mourn my “best self.”
– J. S. Park
Yes, improvement and growth are important to me, but I was measuring my own progress against Ideal Jess, not against who I really am. I was Eve in the book of Genesis holding the forbidden fruit, desperately reaching for equality with God and trying to be perfect like He is. The main problem was that my reality was far away from Ideal Jess and realising that constantly left me feeling like an ashamed failure.
… If I could lay down my idealized self and embrace my limitations, I could learn to like the person I really was and figure out where I needed help. Maybe then I could fail without it crushing me. Maybe then I’d feel like less of an impostor, because I wasn’t trying to be everybody’s idea of what I should be. Maybe then I could quit running myself ragged up the side of a cliff called perfection. I could even enjoy my own success once in a while.
– J. S. Park
I love how growth comes when you least expect it. Reading J. S. Park’s book was a catalyst for me to experience a deeper level of understanding and breakthrough in perfectionism. I love how God in his kindness and gentleness, uncovers things when I’m ready. I felt free when I worked through this stuff with Him, not condemned (which I would have in the past). I was ready to breakup with Ideal Jess.
And so, we broke up.
Perhaps sometimes I will be tempted to reach out and compare myself to her, but now I’m aware that it’s a toxic relationship that I definitely don’t want to let back in.
Since ‘the break-up’ I have experienced subtle but beautiful changes in my thoughts and actions. I have allowed my mind to be at ease when I ponder things like purpose and legacy. Instead of feeling disappointed, I feel inspired. Instead of feeling like a failure, I feel secure in where I am on my journey. I am settled in my skin.
I share all this with you dear reader because it can be encouraging and enlightening to see someone else’s journey. The decision and willingness to challenge long-held ideas can be uncomfortable, but absolutely worth it. Feel free to be inspired by my imperfections. 🙂
Plus let’s be honest, everyone loves a dramatic break-up story, as long as it’s someone else’s. 😉
Love Jess xxoo
PS – I originally stumbled across J.S Park through the WordPress Reader and man, I thank God that I did.
I have been thinking about courage recently. How do we encourage people when they most need it and what words, thoughts and actions rouse that fighting response within us? What words could I say that would lift your spirit and cause you to realise that you can face what you are facing? As you look at big changes or a difficult situation, is there some arrangement of words that will cause you to believe that you can do this? I really feel like there is someone who needs an injection of courage today – don’t we all.
Today dear reader, if you will allow me… I’m going to change your name to Courage. Today, your very identity (the name that you will be known by), is the very word you so need in this session. Today, you ARE “the ability to control fear in the face of difficult situations”. It is who you will be today and I will join you and also be called Courage. Together we will remind ourselves that courage is in our very human nature and is fused into our DNA. If you don’t feel it right now let me call out of you, it’s a part of you and it is there. If you need to, visualise wrapping it around you like a blanket or donning it like a cape.
Dear reader-in-need, you can do this. Whatever you are facing, there is courage in you yet and with gritted teeth you will get there, one step at a time. Courage is the big breath in and the realisation that you can and will take the next step. You are courage today. I know I have written about bravery and similar topics before, but I know you need to see these words today. Heck, sometimes I need to see them hourly! So, I am on your side right now in this moment; the little cheer squad in your corner 🙂 I treasure you. I see you. Today, your name is Courage.