How to let go of the past

I don’t quite know how to word the things I have to say. Upon entering the next stage of life, one that we’ve imagined and anticipated, there can be multiple emotions in parallel with one another.

it is OK to be worried, and afraid for myself, alongside exquisite happiness.

The liminality I am in the midst of comes with the anticipation of the second anniversary of our baby’s death. That is when things really changed, in March 2015. My husband left his job, I started a new one, and we cut away from the people who caused us the most pain whilst we grieved. After a year, my husband was better, in a great office, and we moved to a quiet, peaceful town where, six months later we had our bouncing baby boy, who is asleep next to me as I write this.

So this is my next stage of life. I had counselling through the pregnancy and in the period afterwards, which helped immensely. I had anxiety over my credentials as a mother, but with lots of swimming classes and sleep, my moods slowly changed, and I love my life now.

Swimming is what has always carried me through difficult times: loneliness when I first moved to a small town, stress during my postgraduate, and now early motherhood, it helps me trust my instincts, learn to re- balance in an unfamiliar environment and keep my head above water. There is something more tangible in exercise than simply moving, we are sensory creatures after all, we crave sensation, in our spirit, mind and body.

Going to mum and baby yoga, reading about baby-led weaning and changing nappies is the order of the day. It is wonderful, better than I imagined, but I am also trying to let go of the bitterness of the past. I no longer want to confront the people who let me down, although I am not experiencing hot, white anger as I used to, I haven’t forgiven yet, it has come down to a more gentle dislike, and the knowledge that life is too short to waste on doomed relationships.

Our friends are our companions. I was unfortunate enough to choose quit selfish people to be my friends, who thought only of themselves when I suffered my loss, and I promised myself to do better, to be enriched by a sisterhood around me, not hurt by it. I think I have accomplished that.

 

 

How to make a fresh start

We, my husband and I, moved into a cottage. The cottage is on a road where no one knows us, and in a town where neither of us work. Today I took the train from the train station, and arrived at the office, bypassing new, green landscapes.

cottage

I have moved house many times. It is something apparent in the generations that were before me. I lived in six homes before I was 17 years old, a testament to the social housing problem in Britain which meant every home I had was temporary, and we never knew when we would have to move on to another Local Authority.

Marrying David took me to Surrey, then to Alexandria in Egypt, then Damascus in Syria, back to London and then to Surrey again. Now we are in Hampshire. Why is it different to any other move? Because this one doesn’t start with ‘It’s close to my parents/university/office and will do for a while.’

When you live in multiple interiors for short bursts of time and on a budget, especially in different countries and continents, you get used to things not quite working, or illogical layouts, bad plumbing, pests, damp and long-term problems that will need work and time that you don’t have, because you are only investing a year, or less, of your life in that property.

Case in point: whilst spending a month in Alexandria to study Arabic, David and I didn’t have the money, time or inclination to move from the flat we found by word-of-mouth. It was on the 17th floor, dusty and filled with mouse droppings. The bathroom window had smashed glass and the kitchen had cockroaches. We also had a nightly visit from a rat, until David killed it. We kept telling ourselves, it is only a month, then we are moving on.

It turned out, our next rental property was pretty awful too. It was cheap, dirty, and in a noisy street, but was in the right location, in Central Cairo.

So we  were living as impoverished students for so long that we got used to modest conditions. I sewed my own curtains, we rode bikes instead of having a car and went to charity shops for clothes.

Marrying in your early 20s and being part of Generation Y means this: that you start with nothing. That is, nothing materially, but bursting with all the good humour and naivety to yoke your lives together.  Now, seven years since our wedding, having lost our daughter, I vowed to customise our life, and work towards better quality in everything: in our home, our purchases, our friends and our time. Life, family and love is precious. They require investment and effort.

So, the first step to making a fresh start, reader, is to take time in researching where you are going to go, and what exactly you are looking for.

I took time selecting the neighbourhood. Spending more doesn’t necessarily mean better quality of life, you need to weigh up many factors. A nice house with bad neighbours is a disaster waiting to happen. As the Arab saying goes:

الجار ثم الدار

the neighbour, then the house

In other words, the area has to be your priority before falling in love with all the storage space. What kind of community would you like around you? If you enjoy intellectual stimulation, live in a university town, if you love hustle and bustle, move closer to a market town. Your neighbours are affected by the environment and surrounding resources.

Going deeper in the countryside meant more square footage for our money, so more space for our family to visit and stay, but more distance from the capital. What we needed was warmth and functional facilities. I wanted a garden, and quiet, two things that can’t be gained in a city, for love nor money.

And my health is worth it. My habitat, the place I eat and sleep in, the place I share my life with my husband, has vastly improved compared to anything I’ve lived in before, and it matters that the cottage is well structured, and that I can hear birds singing.

Step two is subject to the amount of distance you want from your old life. It entails taking a break from social media. I quit Facebook altogether, and felt better for it. If there are people in your life that you have an unbalanced relationship with, you will realise it.

Your time is better spent nurturing relationships with those that you respect and who share your values. Even a short break from WhatsApp/Instagram will help un-cloud the fog of confusion around who is supportive in you life and who isn’t.

It isn’t easy to break up with bad friends, it takes guts. But every time you do, you revive your soul a little, and bow to peer pressure a little less. Your self-reliance muscles strengthen and you realise that the approval and acceptance you once looked for was there all along in your life, held by people that reveal themselves in the most difficult moments.

The third step is the space and time to explore the occupation and pursuits that make you happy. This part takes longer than you may think.

After I graduated, I thought I would settle into a career smoothly. Some opportunity would fall into my lap. In fact, trying to identify a career path was hard. I listed my skills, and my interests, I went to career fairs and finally chose academic publishing. That time thinking about what suited me was worth it, better than being in a dead-end position that I would dread every day forever. And I am happy now, earning money for doing what I enjoy.

Your happiness is worth it. It is worth every ounce of effort, and every clear moment you say ‘no’ to unreasonable requests, and every clear moment you pursue the best for yourself.  And what is it you are sacrificing? Possibly the expectations of others? They don’t have to live with the consequences of your poor decisions, but you do.

 

 

 

Vainglory

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I like this word.

Several of my friendships have been unbalanced because of the vainglory that mushrooms inside humanity. It is as nauseating as it is pitiable to witness the romance of one, narcissistic person with their narcissistc selves. A fascinating insight into the massage of ones ego is this hilarious piece written by Jill O’Rourke:

If you’ve ever watched America’s Next Top Model, you know that it’s a passionate love story between Tyra Banks and Tyra Banks, set against the backdrop of a modeling competition. So imagine what a love affair Tyra can have with herself on social media, a technology that was invented for people to talk about themselves.

Read more: http://www.crushable.com/2013/08/02/entertainment/tyra-banks-twitter-best-funniest-tweets/#ixzz3plto4Xbt

Ah, the love story that permeates most of ones life. The glossy-magazine sheen of facebook selfies and makeup-pouts allow the crying child inside feel as if one is the cover star of Hello magazine, finally.

I love what comment-leaver Darcie says on an article for the Telegraph magazine:

I’ve begun evaluating my motivations when it comes to taking photos with friends and then whether or not to post those photos. Am I trying to capture memories of a special moment so I can revisit them and remember? Or am I thinking about what would look cool on Instagram and prove to others that I’m loved? http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/21/t-magazine/female-bffs-power-couples.html?_r=0

Don’t misunderstand me, there a many forms to manifest ones vainglorious avatar, to spill out as deeply self-involved and annoy others with constant updates of ones self-labelled achievements like an irritating pop-up message onscreen that won’t let you get on with your own work.

Yet the particular brand of self-involvement required to actively create a personality online, an alternate, magazine self, with other virtual, magazine friends, means that less thought, attention and investment is made in the world one lives in.

I’ve found that a major impetus of the vainglory is to simply feel wanted and appreciated:

The desire for fame has its roots in the experience of neglect, in injury. No one would want to be famous who hadn’t also, somewhere in the past, been made to feel extremely insignificant. http://www.thebookoflife.org/your-desire-to-be-famous-and-the-problems-it-will-bring-you/

And so this moving, very honest and pathetic confession by Rachel Vorona Cote below, brings together all the elements of vanity that cause our imbalanced moments. The insignificance and neglect once experienced haven’t been fully examined, understood and accepted, so the only solution is to blame oneself:

“I can’t recall the details of the fight that prompted me to self-harm. I only know that I had angered one of my girlfriends and wanted to punish myself. This wasn’t unusual for me. I have never fought gracefully with women. From the earliest, I felt any misstep on my part carried an elephantine weight. Both shame and pride would burn in my stomach. I was a wretched friend, I would think to myself. No, I was obviously misunderstood. Regardless, I was going to lose her.

I was going to lose her—that was always my fear. My trespass didn’t matter. It was less what I’d done wrong than my paranoia and neediness that would inevitably weary my friend. I would take her departure as a bitter loss, but also as a personal failure. In my adolescence, when my heart thumped to the rhythms of social acceptance, foundering in friendship seemed like the biggest of all recipes for disaster.

…I know that I tend to need my friends in a more urgent way than they typically need me, and this friendship was no different. Her conversation and emails helped make my world more coherent. I had hoped that my company was similarly meaningful to her, and that she missed me too.

…My apologies were like clumsy origami. I hid the shame of my self-punishment inside expansive apologies. I was always apologizing not only for what I had done to injure my friend, but also for my own narcissistic masochism.

As I became more self-aware, I grew a little out of this intensity and myopic narcissism, but not all of it. At 30, I still worry that I’ve wronged or even mildly aggravated someone I love. My sometimes-disproportionate reaction to minor gaffes betrays my fragile sense of self, which I have based too much on the opinions of others.”

I have seen the deer-in-the-headlights expression of women that are as self-involved as this, especially since I lost you and my friendship lists underwent a mass-culling. I have realised the imbalance in my relationships, and confronted those that were far too needy around me. They were just my virtual friends, my facebook-magazine friends. Vainglory threatens to remove us from our human connection to each other and live in a superficial, airbrushed, CV-orientated, botoxed shell of a world.

What it means, I have realised, is that behind the photo-ready fun of a group of girls having coffee, a far more nuanced set of emotions threaten to spill out. Women don’t talk about the pressures of being around each other since individualism became central to our collective philosophy.

Durkheim’s critique on the number of decisions we are weighted with helps us understand how difficult this pressure, this ‘status anxiety’ (as Alain de Botton terms it) can get amongst people with whom you seem, on the surface, to have a great deal in common.

All the time spent around their friends, or posing for pictures together, what is happening is a lot of sizing up, mental arithmetic on numbers (age, weight, height), storing up details, carrying resentments and, eventually, before the friendships die a sudden death, sitting around a table pretending to still like each other.