Tuesday, 15 August 2017


“If you have made mistakes, even serious mistakes, you may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call "failure" is not the falling down, but the staying down.” ~Mary Pickford

I needed to go circuit training. I needed to be in that room, with people who were mostly half my age, and struggle to keep up with them. I needed to sink to my hands and knees, gasping for breath, and to get back up again and keep running. Maybe they questioned why I was there, when I was running at half the speed they were running, and it was obvious that I was finding it difficult. The answer is, I was there because I found it difficult.

I was there to remind myself of a fundamental aspect of my character.

A few years ago, I did something that would usually be unthinkable for me: I started to open up about what was happening in my life, and how I felt about it. I can't tell you that it was a conscious decision, though. With the benefit of hindsight, I can see that I was carrying more emotional baggage with me than I could have been reasonably expected to hold.

What's important is that, when I started to open up, I wasn't seen as weak. The friends I chose to confide in painted a very different picture of me than the one I was expecting. What I heard was that they realised I was closing off a lot of myself, but they were okay with it, because they realised there must be a good reason for it. Importantly, they recognised that opening up was a sign that I'd reached a point where I was finding it impossible to cope. Then, one friend said something that took me by surprise:

"I admire how strong you are. Life keeps knocking you down, but you keep getting back up again."

Those may not have been her exact words. In truth, a few people expressed the same sentiment around the same time, so it's difficult to be sure who said what, but she was the first to say it.

When I started learning to dance, I thought I'd never get it right. It didn't matter how many people told me I was making good progress; what mattered was my own view of my progress. I stuck with it, though, because I wanted to dance, and I was determined to get it right.

It was the same thing that pushed me to keep going during circuit training. It didn't matter that I had to stop and catch my breath; it didn't matter that I ran at a slower speed than the others. It was embarrassing, maybe even a little humiliating, but I wasn't going to let it beat me.

Recently, I've been feeling the need to disconnect for a while. I've not been my usual self for a long time, and the main thought behind shutting myself away is that it can't be pleasant for other people to see me like this. I'd stacked everything I'd been dealing with into a neat pile, you see, and then the death of my sister, a few months ago, brought it all crashing down. I don't honestly know whether isolating myself will be good for me, but there's still that sense of protecting others from the effects of my grief.

Add the above to me being massively, massively introverted by nature, and you can see how much I feel the need to not be around people, as much as that's possible.

A popular self-help book says that, when the thought of something scares us, we should feel the fear and do it anyway. Some fears are rational, and some just hold us back.

I told friends that I'd be withdrawing for a while. I suppose I have to ask myself how long I'm prepared to stay down, before I get back up again.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

A crisis

The words "mid-life crisis" have sprung to mind a few times. Apparently, I should be buying a sports car or a motorcycle right now. Instead, I'm in the process of becoming a counsellor and learning to dance. It feels less like a crisis and more like a continuing exploration of identity: in person-centred counselling terms, it's a time where we're aiming for greater congruence, and moving ever closer to our organismic selves. Yeah, you have to be careful how you say that last one.

It's likely that I always had a love for dance, and a desire to help others. The thing is, we bury so much of who we are, due to a misguided sense of who we should be, must be, or have to be. Our search for identity can feel like trying to paint with watercolours in the rain, or that we're forever pushing against a door marked "pull". Are we being our true selves, or the person we think we have to be?

It's particularly difficult if we were given the message, early on in our lives, that we weren't good enough, and that nothing we did would ever be good enough. This is damaging, as it leads to us setting impossibly high standards for ourselves, and labelling ourselves as deficient in some way, should we fail to meet those standards. At its worst, we may feel that we will get everything wrong anyway, so our motivation to try in the first place is affected. We might fear failure, because the consequences of past failures have been the disapproval or judgement of people who were important in our lives, which in turn affected our view of ourselves.

Maybe this isn't just about finding our true selves. Maybe this is just as much about throwing off the shackles of the expectations of others.