I’m struggling with feeling flat, my sparkle is gone and my smile – MY smile – is lost; my usually instant, beaming, deep, radiant smile is sluggish & dimmed.
I feel I’m in a period of emotional, spiritual, relational & physical unpeeling; it feels like life is a sea where some days waves constantly splash salty water in my face…
Some days I’m sitting on the shore with my ankles in the wet sand, stuck, while everyone else is swimming. And some days, the days I’m myself, I’m enjoying gently paddle boarding, floating in the sunshine, my heart JOYED by the beauty of the shimmer on the water.
Today was a salty wave day. It was hard.
BUT as with the days before this… I showed up! I felt great singing & leading praise music at work this morning (yep, Christian places do that-at work!) – then my emotions & brain capacity went up and down like a chapati-rising one moment then flat as a chapati (or a pancake!) the next. Flattened & lifted & flattened more & lifted & flattened (you get the picture!).
This period gives me the choice – of hiding behind pride or of pursuing the path of Radical Vulnerability. I choose the latter. So in today’s greyness I wore my face as a mirror of my inner self-flat, empty, dull. Not ‘my face’- no NLB smile or glow today folks. And that’s OK. I’m being authentic and congruent.
And I’m being open with my beloveds (& now with YOU too!). I reached out to my Husband, Caramel Sister & Work Wife, sharing my flatness & asking for prayer. And WOW-the opportunities to receive grace that being honest gave me!! The kindness of loaned headphones so I could be lifted by music-my heart language & salve-as I worked! The perfectly timed deep hug & tearful chat. The food & homemade fairy-cake set aside for me. The gentle, slow-paced meeting with my manager & help from a kind colleague. And the ping of email to tell me of a ‘delivery’ at reception, bringing my first ME smile of the day when I saw the surprise delivery of flowers from my husband to bring a ‘little spark & smile’ to my day.
I’m not out of the emotionally thick woods yet (to mix my sea & land analogies!).
But my heart is not dull. It is warmed. I am so loved and liked just as I am. I have enough energy & contentment for the evening. And my home smells like flowers.
I regret a lot in life: not persevering with learning a language or instrument; not trying harder in school; saying I Love You back when I didn’t mean it (!!); having cheese and crackers tonight after a day of healthy eating; repeatedly going to bed too late, and lots more!
I think the idea that is oh so popular on inspirational Pinterest posters (ugh), that regrets are bad and we should have none just misses the whole point and deep value of regrets! They can be the best motivator and prod us to grow into the people we aspire to be; to be better friends and lovers etc, to improve at work, to save money, and take better care of our health etcccc.
Regret isn’t shame.
Shame labels us and makes us stuck.
Regret labels behaviour and moves us forward (well, for me it usually takes a few regrets to get the lesson but hey, it counts!).
Anyway, I was mulling on this recently and this short poem came to mind…
The gap between
What you do
Who you are,
And what you want to do
And who you want to be.
The gulf between
What you do,
Who you are,
And what other people want you to do
And who others want you to be.
Neither wallowing in regret,
Nor ignoring its painful lessons,
Rather striving to do and be
What and who you want to be.
And not letting others’ (imagined?) views hinder your quest.
I had *such* a good weekend-hosting another ace LB party, followed by a 36hr mates movie weekend of late nights & being up early enough for McDonalds breakfast (with 2hrs to spare-such is our dedication to fitting in an extra movie!).
The cost of this fabulous exertion for me, however, is increased aches, pain & more tiredness than my non chronic-pain-enduring friends. So instead of doing the few things on the To Do list I diligently wrote up before bed yesterday, to do when my mates had left, I crashed on the sofa & napped instead of going to church this eve (very disappointing as it’s a great talk topic at the mo!); dinner was brought to me on the sofa by my kind husband who knew enough to rouse me to eat tonight when I’d have rather slept but actually needed the energy & enjoyment of the eating more (he’s a keeper!). The weekend’s activities were absoluteeely worth it (!!!) but in hindsight, having the movie weekend off the back of the party was over zealous social planning (I can hear other chronic-pain endurers going ‘duh!’).
OK, I know that describing two days of mooching on the sofa watching (brilliant) films & eating guest-made treats as ‘exerting’ sounds ironic but it’s not. I also know I am FORTUNATE! Yes I wake in pain every day & sometimes cry in pain or, moreso, from the physical & emotional tiredness from it but, hello, I danced, chatted, served, laughed & ate & drank from Friday to Sunday, & had more fabulous fun & conversation than many healthier peeps this weekend! Amidst the hosting, I let my friends/guests wash up each morning while I got my pilates groove-on cos hey, I’ve learned how to receive love & help (well, am learning), & also because I believe that it’s kind to let others show love & appreciation through service if they want to.
The time with mates has been so wonderfully nourishing for me mentally & emotionally as we watched great stories, had fun & scintillating conversation, deepened new friendships & ate & drank heartily. But it’s also been two eves in a row of 5-6hrs sleep for a body that needs-& rarely gets-9+hrs to be rested, but which will still wake in aches & pain every single morning regardless of how many hours sleep it gets, cos, y’know, chronic pain life. Nonetheless, now I’m more & more aware, & ACCEPTING, of the need for chronic pain *self-care* planning, I’m learning to plan better in future. So I’ve written off the To Do list: I’ll just have to suck in choir practice tomorrow as I haven’t the energy to rehearse tonight, & I am cashing in on the on the best perk of my job (well second best after the free coffee!) & am going to work from home tomorrow-a luxury for which I am immeasurably grateful!! So this is me being open. As I write that my face is saying ‘ugh’ as I hate vulnerability & showing any weakness! But, I’ve realised that is colluding with internalised ignorant societal norms which dictate that physical & mental health = strength when, in fact, it takes *real strength* to recognise, accept & acknowledge one’s needs & limitations. So here are some of mine laid bare. And they don’t make me any less (chronically) fabulous!
I was chatting with someone recently about a friend of his who needs therapy. What was interesting about the conversation is that The Myth came up. You know The Myth. The ‘it’s not that serious, others have been through far worse and they don’t need therapy so why should I?’. I HATE this myth; I believe we ALL need, or at the very least would benefit from, counselling.
I know people who’ve endured sexual & other assaults, abusive childhoods & not had any therapy & who are reasonably fully functioning, healthy(ish) people. And I know others who had secure, middle-classed lives in comfortable homes with loving but stressed parents who worked a lot, who have recognised areas in which they need help unpicking emotional issues so have gone to therapy. And I celebrate and applause that choice because we can never be too emotionally healthy.
Some people can endure grief, illness & getting fired with supportive mates, hot baths or long runs, while others would be pushed to the edge by just one of these events. But it’s not a question of one person being tougher or another weaker. Some people have more emotional resilience and often it’s the people who, ironically, had the uncomfortable childhoods because they know it can be harder but that it gets better. And maybe they’re the people who have developed (hopefully healthy) coping mechanisms cos they’ve had longer practice.
The chat with my mate made me think of how you can drop your phone a dozen times on a hard floor and it’s fine. And then it falls 2 inches onto a carpeted surface one time and dies a thousand deaths! That’s what I thought about re resilience and life’s knocks. We can’t see the inner workings or structure of the phone; we can’t see how those minor knocks may have loosened wires and weakened the screen preparing the way for the fateful smash onto a soft, seemingly safe surface. Life can be like that. We can’t see how people’s emotions & thoughts are scratched & made brittle by words & events, but hopefully, we can listen to our own hearts & minds, & actively listen to others’ so that we are all more resilient.
Well, how?? Personally, I love using a simple ‘check-in’ technique to help identify what’s going on inside my head, sometimes just by taking a deep breath for 10 seconds to think of 5 words describing how I feel and then praying or journalling about it. And honest, open chats with emotionally intelligent friends. And reading the kind of books, & watching the kind of short vids, that make me go ‘ahhh, so that’s the word for what I’m feeling’. (Thank you so much School of Life & Alain de Botton!). But when an objective, professional thought & emotion-sifter could be of more help, chatting with a counsellor is a fab idea.
Here’s a little tale about my journey from work one eve, starring my shoe; OK, that intro makes it sound weird but it’s a thrilling tale for anyone who likes, or loathes, shoes, or enjoys laughing at me, or first world problems, or any & all of these…have a read:
We begin our story with our protagonist – some would even say ‘heroine’, Natalia, leaving work a little late having discovered too late that the powerPoint she was editing for her boss had comments with action points on it (damn u Google slides for not showing those!). She leaves the office at 6pm to get the 6.13pm train & does a lil slow jog, cum power-walk to ensure said train is reached so that she will be punctual to meet her friend for dinner. Onlookers would note that, even while rushing, Natalia looks decidedly hot today, & those with a keen eye for sartorial matters may note with appreciation her fabulous Zara heeled boots.
Partway through her speedy walk to the station Natalia feels her heel step in a crack in the pavement…oh then another one… then the dreaded *realisation*: “that’s not a crack, that’s my heel having snapped!” Cue Natalia bopping along the road, endeavouring to stay upright while searching for cobblers online …to find that the only cobblers is closed (oh the disappointment of the ‘recently closed’ function on Google search-just saying ‘closed’ would suffice Google!). Natalia hobbles down the High Street, dejectedly passing closed charity & shoe shops, finally reaching a Tesco which, though 200metres away, feels like a triathlon-level endeavour to reach!
Superglue procured, Natalia takes a seat to apply it-there is hope! While the glue is drying, our heroine frantically WhatsApp messages and calls her friend to apologise & explain the mighty obstacles which have befallen her and curtailed her earnest efforts to be prompt to their dinner engagement. (Said friend is beyond understanding & uses her own telephonic device to call the restaurant & push back the dinner reservation: hope grows!).
A few minutes after acquainting the superglue with her heel Natalia tests the union & connects them closer with her hand to secure their bond: ROOKIE MISTAKE. Cue careful, fear-filled prising of superglue-coated fingers off said heel in *just* the nick of time, before being permanently adhered to the broken heel for life (if the superglue packaging is to be believed!!). While fingers & mood are now not in their best state, the heel seems tentatively secure & Natalia cautiously leaves Tesco to make her way to dinner.
Our heroine manages to walk purposefully, yet carefully, towards the station… THEN a mere 30 metres from station Natalia realises the heel has loosened again!!! Now she could concede defeat & curl into the foetal position to cry herself to sleep on a quiet Teddington bench. But NO, she womans up & boldly stomps on & makes it to the station with 2mins til next train (thanking God & South West trains that the train is not on the platform over the bridge!!).
Upon taking the seat on the train Natalia reapplies superglue & makes contact with her friend who, rather than being frustrated that her & her lovable parasite, aka foetus, are being kept from their dinner, instead ventures to a shop whence she sends Natalia a plethora of photographs of (flat!) shoes from which our heroine can choose. Natalia thus continues her journey with the confidence of a) a re-glued heel b) the knowledge that beautiful, peach-coloured, suede ballet pumps (& Time Out recommended food) await her!
And so this story- of what is possibly, & probably, the mostfirst-world-woman problem ever!– ends with two friends eating delicious Tandoor food in London, enjoying great conversation, & with Natalia’s feet comfortably ensconced in pretty, comfortable, & un-breakable shoes which her friend insisted were received as a gift.
So yes, a HAPPY ENDING to the eve & a tale of womanning up to inspire people across the world or even the universe!
And as for the boots? Well, some women may dispose of them (gasp!); others may try to wear them, trusting that the superglue’s label speaketh truth. Not she. No no. Our heroine packed the fabulous, cherished, £4.99-from-her-local-charity-shop (FOUND in Harrow!!) shoes & took them with her all the way to Ghana, wherein for the sum of £5 the heel was repaired & Natalia got her strut back. (Though she will be keeping a pair of ballet shoes in her bag when she wears them again… just in case.)
Any movie fan or anyone with ears recognises the line ‘You complete me’, those heart-warming words uttered at the end of the movie Jerry Maguire that prompted a collective ‘awwww’ from cinema audiences across the world.
They are, however, bollox.
Ok, I overstated that for attention (gotcha!). But it’s a sentiment with which I’m definitely in conflict. See, in many ways, yes, my husband completes me-I feel ‘home’ when in his arms and all that jazz and if everyone else around me got sucked into an earthquake crater, I’d be ‘OK’ with having just him survive (sorry folks). Obviously, I’d be miserable and distraught but he’s the one human I root for before all others and the one whom I love the most.
But he does not ‘complete’ me (whatever that phrase even means!)… And nor should he. I am a multi-faceted person who enjoys philosophical, intellectual discussions one minute and Bunny Suicide cartoons the next; I love sociological films and also The Avengers; I have enjoyed reading Shakespeare and also Fifty Shades (judge away but there are several similar themes-Juliet and Anastasia are both insipid characters!). So no, my husband, one human being, does not complete me; that is what God made friends for. And music. And books. And TED talks. And work. And colleagues. And films. And travel. And sunshine. And gin. And prayer. And good food. (you get the gist). No one person completes me and nor should they.
And yet we see the myth of Romanticism take hold of so many relationships; the myth that our spouse/partner/other half is supposed to ‘complete us’ and be that one person to whom we turn before all others.
WHY the hell should he be that I ask? Why should the person with whom I share my bed & my life also have to be the one with whom I share my thoughts and feelings if they aren’t the best person for that particular job? Personally, I am blessed with some close friends who share my social joys, intellectual passions and mirror my own emotional intelligence and interests. Some who love watching Grey’s Anatomy and discussing the ‘characters’ as if they’re our friends; others who love discussing sociological, political or relationship ideas, and who allow me to hone and critique my thoughts by listening to their views on issues that are my equivalent of mental/emotional oxygen… and the equivalent of disposable scented razors to David (yes, they are ACTUALLY a thing, ugh).
So no, my beloved, wonderful partner does not ‘complete me’. And for me, THIS is the splendidly ingenious recipe of being ‘completed’… My husband gives me the support and confidence to think (& use him as a sounding board when like-minded & interested friends are unavailable) and the loving space to actively seek & invest in relationships with people who will nurture & stimulate me in the interests & areas where we diverge (and I do the same for him).
And in THIS gracious, creative way we go some way to completing each other far more than we ever could in and of ourselves. By supporting me in finding my people, reading the books, listening to the talks, dancing to the music, preaching the sermons, travelling to the places (without him), laughing at different comedy & socialising with friends he doesn’t wanna spend an evening with (& those he does!) my husband does help to complete me.
So let’s please discard the deceitful myth of a partner’s role being to complete us. And breathe life into the truth that a partner’s role is instead to nurture us to seek out & find the beautiful variation of people, ideas, and ways of life which, along with our partner’s deep love & faithful support, pour life into us-not to ever be ‘complete’… but to be grown.
One night last week I just couldn’t sleep, because words to a poem were swirling in my head and I was forced out of bed to capture them and write them down… and so for my birthday party a few days later, instead of making an impromptu speech (to avoid last year’s unplanned but hilarious reference to blow jobs!) I recited this poem for my dear ones:
WITH YOU, I stand warmly blanketed by the rich, thick tapestry of you all,
coloured brightly with different characters and ideas,
different views and learnings…
With You, I laugh at different pitches;
the full musical range of NLB dirty laugh to Natalia giggles,
In your company finding both home and release,
each of your unique lights illuminating a different side of my multi-faceted natalianess.
With You I am both punished and forgiven,
I am made weak and thereby made strong. Because with you I am exposed,
not possibly just by one, but by an all,
I am seen, I am heard,
I am endured, I am adored.
With You, my smile is stretched,
My intellect is fed; my soul is nourished,
my ideas are chiselled, and my being is flourished.
Your friendship tapestry is rich, & reflective,
you hold a mirror to my face and point out my character lines, so they can be refined,
and my beauty, so I can be admired.
With You, I am both humbled, and edified.
With you, I am given the gift of…S.P.A.C.E.
For, though small, I am big.
With You I am given space- to flounder, and flap,
and spread my big Natalia wings…
and with you pushing me … I (fucking) fly.
Except for in a Hipster office, working on the floor is widely seen as unseemly, lowly, or even dirty-in our culture it’s servant work. And yet as I think back to this day seven years ago what comes to mind is how many of my beloveds *literally* got on their hands & knees to serve & help me. This time seven years ago I was to be married in 24hours and still had 101 small but important things to do. And so my friends and beloveds held us up and got us to the Finish (well the Start!) Line; there was Katie on the floor with her paintbrushes making unique paintings of Ghanaian symbols in our ‘wedding colours’ for decoration; there was Sweet P not only driving me around for my final errands but who had been on the floor while I was laid up unable to walk, helping me wrap gift-bags of hand-decorated Thank You cups to thank our helpful friends; there were Payal & Dilanie on the floor laboriously tacking not one but two layers of cream cloth to make the beautiful aisle for our entrance a few hours away. And all of this floor-work after the dayssss of shopping & faffing & rehearsing! (& I expect lots of private swearing!!😉)
These girls physically *got on the floor* in devoted love & service and so many others did so figuratively-Rachel who designed invitations, became my PA, checked my emails to protect me from unnecessary stress when I had so much of my own, and who listened & comforted as I prayerfully sweared upon receipt of some sad family news; my big brother who flew across the world & then graciously hoovered my house the morning of my wedding, humbly transforming from Brother of the Bride to Janitor (i.e. life saver!) in seconds! There were Nick & Jonny, Rob & Mike, Phil & Alice & James variously catching planes, driving cars & rehearsing songs…and everrrryone carrying tables & chairs, laying tablecloths & petals all before The Day itself! And yet others joined the servant-hearted throng on our Marriage Day, decorating, getting me ready and to church, directing cars, ushering guests, serving Pimms, lighting candles, cutting cake, filming & photoing, doing speeches, doing flips, setting off fireworks, tidying up etc etc etccccccc all in the name of *Love* love LOVE for us.
So today I reflect on our seven year medley of joyous experiences; of daily-grind made easier by companionship & support; of challenges faced & survived by carrying the burden on two sets of shoulders; of triumphs achieved growth with mutual support & sacrifice; of personal growth continued & of so much fun had! And yet…today I thank not my unparalleled, *exceptional* husband but our range of generous, considerate friends & family who whether then or now, have served us without (much😉) complaint & who have shown us in various ways what it is to ‘love patiently, kindly & without self-seeking‘.