why i am proud of my scars and my story

Most people don’t know this but…

I’ve been stung by a jellyfish.

I was just looking myself over in the mirror, as one does from time to time (squeezing spots, checking if my moustache has re-grown, etc.) and the light fell in such a way across my shoulder that it highlighted my tiny scar. I had three torturous strips but sadly I don’t have a striking three-striped scar to flaunt in the summer months.

 

I never even saw the perpetrator…. Translucent beast. Apparently they were teeny little sprogs my Dad casually batted away with his hand. Why was I oblivious to the danger floating on the surface of the deep? I was probably too busy worrying about what was deeper down in the deep…

Here’s the story:

I was 14. We were on a family holiday in Ibiza. Unconventional family destination, you might say. We were in the most beautiful villa out in the sticks, away from all the clubs and 18-30 depravity. My strongest memory was bickering constantly with my siblings. Aged 16, 14 and eleven, we were. A volatile combination. My brother was the youngest and most often the target. Naturally, we felt it was OK – nay, enjoyed by all – if we pulled down his trunks by the pool and then ran off. However, when he returned the favour it was completely and unspeakably inappropriate, to say the least.

For some reason, my parents didn’t find our antics relaxing.

Anyway, we went to this gorgeous little beach and I was rather enjoying myself lounging on a sun bed, taking the occasional dip, when a shadow appeared over me. It was Dad.

Let’s go snorkelling, Jen!

No, Dad. Just, no.

Oh, come on!!

No. I don’t like to know what’s swimming beneath me, Dad. Why do you? Please explain.

It’s amazing!

I really don’t want to.

Come on.

OK.

(My Dad didn’t give up easy when it came to us experiencing things)

Besides, I did spend every Tuesday evening for six months of my middle-school existence going to ‘Snorkelling Club’ at a local pool. That was alright though because there were no fish. I figured I needed to make having my head held under water whilst I tried to breathe through a snorkel a worthwhile experience (not just the stuff of sweaty nightmares).

I grabbed the gear and followed him down the beach to the water. I can’t even remember what I saw but I know that I know that I know –

It wasn’t worth it.

We were floating along, holding hands, when I felt the sting on my shoulder. I shot upright and Dad came up too.

What’s wrong?

Something stung me!

It’s just the salt water, it stings a bit.

No!

At that moment I felt a less intense sting on my upper arm and became slightly frantic. I bolted for the shore as fast as my flippers could flip. It was rather unfortunate that the pain had removed access to my rational brain because I drew rather a lot of attention trying to move across the sand, hysterically crying, whilst still wearing the flippers.

It hurt, a lot. The rumours are true. For an introvert, I was surprisingly content with being stared out by the patrons of the beach cafe not too far from us as I bawled my eyes out. I’m not sure I was that expressive in labour.

Just in case you were wondering, no one urinated on me. We used western medicine in the form of antihistamine cream. Or something for stings. You know, wasp stings… nettle stings. I don’t think it was cut out for JELLYFISH stings.

So, this is where I say I shouldn’t have ‘given in’. I should have stuck to my guns and not done something I really didn’t want to do. Well, maybe. Sometimes in life you take a punt. This one went awfully wide. Yet you don’t know you won’t enjoy it unless you try it and sometimes it’s ok to make someone else happy at your own expense.

What strikes me most about this event is my sense of pride over my scar and my story. You can bank on it that in a room of about a dozen people in my little town on the south coast of England where the most offensive thing in the sea is seaweed, no one else will have been stung by a jelly duuuude.

There is something fascinating about ‘war wounds’. They are impressive and, at times, awe-inspiring. Wow, you really went through that and you’re still here? Your body put itself back together? Incredible. Some scars can even become a thing of beauty.

Here’s the thing though, what has hurt me the most has left scars on the inside.

It’s hard to see those. What you might see is my anger. What you might see is anxiety or depression. They aren’t all that impressive or awe-inspiring. My body can heal itself, perhaps with a little help. But my heart needs love, empathy and connection to heal in a way that leaves the smallest scar.

Perhaps, next time you’re hit with someone’s anger, blame or rejection, consider what scars they have that you can’t see.

I know I need to learn to have pride in my scars and in my story – instead of shame.

Perhaps you do, too.

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grief: coping with endings and transitions

We are moving from Worthing to Bromley in a month’s time and this week involves a lot of endings. I find myself feeling exhausted, easily upset and just unable to get a handle of my thoughts and feelings. It is all exacerbated by the fact that I have to help my kids deal with their endings and manage the emotional fallout.

Something we had to reflect on during my counselling course was how we feel about endings. For one exercise we had to choose a “good” ending and consider why it was positive. I chose leaving work to go on maternity leave with my first child. I was ready to finish for a start as I was carrying what would turn out to be a 10-pounder (yep, it’s no surprise that sneezing whilst walking when I have a full bladder doesn’t go well these days).  I was also well prepared for the ending; I had about seven months warning. Thirdly, I was excited about the next step. It was a step I had chosen and I couldn’t wait to crack on with motherhood and all it involved.

However, as I reflected on this I realised something…

It wasn’t really an ending.

Even though I had a fairly good idea I wouldn’t go back to the same role and would have another child fairly soon after the first. The organisation was run by my Dad and I knew I’d always have connections to it and would probably work for them again at some point in some capacity. I was right.

It led me to question, do I actually only deal well with endings that aren’t really endings?

How has experiencing a major bereavement at the age of 20 and then another at 29 impacted the way I view endings? I came up with a few things:

i expect endings to be bad

I can’t really help it. Well, I can but it’s taking some CBT effort and perseverance. I am trying to notice the negative thoughts and counter them with positive ones. I am also attempting to focus on today and be mindful about the present moment.

I very much need to be kind to myself and this is where I can often get in turmoil. My incredibly noisy self-critic tells me I can’t cope, won’t cope, but should cope. My thoughts tell me that it’s inevitable that I won’t manage and that in itself equals failure.

This morning, I had an awful dream in which three people died and in the dream I was feeling waves of stomach clenching pain. I woke up completely immersed in those feelings. It was horrible. My subconscious associates any goodbye with the worst kind of goodbye I have experienced and therefore, self-compassion is due (but rarely given, in all honesty).

endings = anxiety

It’s very hard to control the sense of panic that seemingly comes out of nowhere when approaching a major change or transition. You may have felt that the day before your driving test, or appraisal, or exam. Perhaps not though over moving house.

The anxiety feeds itself because as I feel anxious I then feel less able to cope and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

i feel the impact of other endings

During the past week I have felt similar to how I felt in the throes of grieving for my Dad. Fragile, tearful, lonely. At the time of this transition I wish he were here to support and also encourage me in the unique, Dad-way that he did. I wish he could help us with decisions. I wish he simply knew.

As I start to grieve over leaving the life we have here I am experiencing a fresh wave of grief for my Dad, which leaves me feeling as though this ending is going to be worse than it really is.

I was in this state at the beginning of the week and anticipating saying goodbye to the toddler group I have been attending for five and a half years, yesterday. Yet, it wasn’t all that bad. I didn’t shed a tear. That could sound like I don’t care, which isn’t the case. It’s that the reality was nowhere near as painful as the scenario my grief gave rise to. In fact, in some way, my grief for my Dad overshadowed it and therefore you might say I am more resilient to goodbyes now. That’s just not what my anxious thoughts and my wounded heart believe right now (nor my self-critic).

After yesterday’s experience, I no longer feel anxious about other impending goodbyes. Though I know some will be #totesemosh. That’s one of the challenges of recovering from grief: it is a journey and part of that is simply bearing with yourself as you gradually experience more events that prove to your battered psyche that not everything regarding loss involves intense pain.

How do you find endings? Have you considered it before?

ending quote

does resilience produce creativity or is it the other way around?

I haven’t blogged for a while and reflecting on why has helped me to face up to how I approach writing and all forms of creativity. It’s too much effort sometimes. I’m not sure why. Actually, I know why. I don’t often just let loose, write and then edit later. It must be right the first time around and so what do I mostly end up writing? NOTHING.

As I write, my daughter is doing her own “writing”, not limited by rules of grammar and spelling – she doesn’t know them yet, you see. It’s not even bound by basic letter formation – she doesn’t know that either.

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Her doodles look like hieroglyphics and I found myself having excitable thoughts; it’s as if she’s creating her own language!

What an idea! And why couldn’t she be? Our creative potential is far greater than we perceive or portray, at times. She could be the next Tolkien… Getting carried away now.