Tuesday, 25 April 2023

Finding Myself In my 40s: How my new understanding of who I am is setting me free

This month marks 10 years since I started this blog, and when I think back to who I was then....I barely recognise her. I'm not the same person I was 10 years ago.
In some ways, it feels like yesterday. I remember it vividly - I was sitting on the bed in my childhood bedroom where I was temporarily living again, this time with my partner. I was due to give birth to my first child, and we'd got ourselves into a bit of a financial pickle with owed rent...so we had moved in with my parents as a temporary measure to help us save. 

I had been ill throughout the pregnancy with hyperemesis and a mystery rash that had me covered in huge itchy hives. I had been forced to finish work early, and by this point the boredom was really setting in. So I started a blog - I had always loved writing and I was excited to have an outlet for my creative urges, as well as a place to document the first years of my motherhood experience.

Around the same time, a brand new social media app called Instagram launched. It was a new Mums dream - a place to share all of those delicious photos of my new-born, and chat to other first time parents. It had a real community vibe to it, and I soon found myself pretty addicted to the dopamine hit of seeing likes rush in every time I posted a new picture.

Nobody was really talking about digital footprints and privacy concerns for children back then, it all felt so innocent and exciting. I was always someone who'd enjoyed making friends online - it appealed to my socially anxious nature, because I could edit myself online - make sure I was always coming across exactly how I wanted to. I felt I had a sense of control over how other people perceived me which I just didn't have in real life. The control freak in me loved that.

But looking back, that probably wasn't a good thing. 

The mummy blogging world quickly became flooded with lots of the same type of person - pretty, middle class white women whose husbands worked well-paying jobs...living in beautifully decorated homes, with healthy disposable incomes, raising perfectly presented Joules-clad children.

I couldn't let them know about my own living situation - bunking in with my parents, desperately trying to save enough for a deposit on a private rent because we weren't eligible for a council house but our credit ratings and lack of savings meant buying a home of our own was well out of reach.

I didn't realise it at the time - but I was in a terrible place emotionally and mentally, and my self-worth was on the floor. I thought that every single Middle Class Mum Blogger who turned her nose up at me at blogging mixers (which, believe me, happened a lot...and still does! Your funny Facebook faves can be fake as fuck...) was well & truly better than me. And that belief ate away at me for many years to come.

I'd finally ended my 7 year long abusive relationship just 2 years earlier and had thrown myself head first into my next relationship immediately after. Looking back, I think my survival instinct had been to keep running forwards at full speed once the abuse ended - never looking back, because allowing myself to stop and take stock of what I'd been through would have overwhelmed me.

The years that followed were incredibly busy and chaotic - I went from cancelling my wedding and moving out of the flat I shared with him in early 2011, to living with someone else, moving home  4 times, and having 3 babies all by early 2016 - and throughout that time, I carried on blogging and somehow managed to turn that blog into a fulltime job.

But it came with a huge downside. Not only did it mean that I was surrounded by people with lives that looked nothing like mine, who I desperately wanted to impress and keep up with - but it also came with a fair bit of publicity and exposure. Which inevitably meant criticism, trolling, constant imposter syndrome and self doubt - and a heavy dose of shame.

Shame at who I am has always been part of my consciousness ever since early childhood. I spent my school years feeling friendless and different, always wishing I could just be like the other kids - be someone else, make myself fit in... the way they so easily seemed to. 

But somehow, despite all of the self-doubt and shame I've carried throughout my life, there's something in me that won't give up. That feels an urge to keep pushing myself to do things outside of my comfort zone - I feel a strong, undeniable desire to keep getting back up every time I'm knocked down and keep shouting louder. About who I am, how I feel and what I believe is important.

It's that inner voice that's encouraged me to do many things that frighten me - like remove my kids from the system to home educate, like support my transgender daughter's right to be exactly who she is and stand up and fight for her, like decide to not only quit dieting and stop living by societies beauty standards but also to talk about it online despite the body-shaming backlash and not allow shame to keep me quiet and compliant. 

Sometimes it doesn't make sense to me, that someone so concerned with fitting in and not attracting negative attention should live a life that's quite outside in the box in many ways, but I think my experiences in life have lead me here.

I know how it feels to be a square peg in a round hole, and I don't want that for my children - or for myself either. 

3 years ago, I started seeing a psychotherapist following my diagnosis of PTSD. The inner child healing work I have done with her has been life changing in more ways than I could ever explain, and I feel that it's only in the these last few years that I've finally begun to understand who I am beneath all of the people-pleasing and the shame.

I've come to understand that I am likely neurodiverse - there are many traits I recognise in myself both now and in my childhood, and I understand that my tendency to watch and mimic how other people act in social situations is actually masking. And while I feel some sadness at how much less shame I may have felt about my differences in my younger years if I'd understood this then, I can look back with empathy and self-kindness now. I can accept who I was instead of feeling angry about it.

My OCD (diagnosed), my anxiety, my rejection sensitive dysphoria, my strong desire to fit in and my lack of feeling that I ever have, my hyper focuses and my lack of ability to focus all at once...all of these things point to a new understanding of who I am. And I'm grateful to feel, finally at 41 years of age, that I truly know myself now.

I'm excited to spend the next portion of my life embracing that person. 

I've finally allowed myself to start doing things that I've wanted to do for years but been afraid to - writing a book and working on a podcast to name just a couple - and who knows where life may take me in the future.

I'm not the same person I was 10 years ago, but I'm not ashamed of her either. She did the best she could with what she knew at the time. 

I hope that in another 10 years, the person I am today feels just as distant a memory. 

Because I'm still a work in progress, and I hope to always be ...because if we're not growing and evolving then surely we're stagnating and wasting our potential, but I feel so much more comfortable with who I am in these last few years than I have ever done before.

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