The year just past really challenged me to start taking some personal responsibility for the state of my life. I realised just how much of a big difference there is between knowing something and actually putting it into practice. Putting things into practice requires self-awareness, a willingness to let go of current ways, a healthy dose of courage to take action and determination to keep trying. It’s not a easy thing to do and it often isn’t until things fall apart that we’re forced to stop and look at how we’re living.
These are my big lessons for the year:
In a class recently I was reading out a poem I’ve read many times before but this time one passage resonated with me more than ever.
As I began to love myself I understood how much it can offend somebody as I try to force my desires on this person, even though I knew the time was not right and the person was not ready for it, and even though this person was me. Today I call it “RESPECT”.
My first though was my god Clare what have you been doing to yourself and to one of the most important people in your life. I’d been walking around for the last few months with zero respect for where I was at in my own journey and where my partner was at in his. I had all these ideas about what our relationship should be like and who we should be within our relationship. My expectations put a huge amount of pressure on both of us and caused a lot of damage.
I always had good intentions but I’ve come to realise that even the best of intentions are no excuse for not respecting who someone is and where they’re at. You can’t simply ask someone to be ready and expect them to step up accordingly. In fact, trying to hand someone one of your lessons is essentially stealing from their experience and saying to them I don’t trust you to figure this out on your own. True growth and change come naturally when the time is right and the person is ready. Needing people (yourself or others) to be different so that you can then be happy is setting yourself up to suffer.
Accepting someone else really starts with completely accepting yourself. For me accepting myself means reminding myself every day that I am enough just as I am and there is no set of circumstances that will make me more complete.
This year for the first time I was challenged about my use of Instagram. When I was asked why I posted all my yoga photos I began to realise that I didn’t really have a great reason. I was quick to defend my daily habit saying that it makes me happy and a lot of people have told me that they like reading the quotes. To that I got the response so you like the attention. And that struck a definite sore spot with me.
The likes, the comments, the shares I loved it all. The instant little hits of gratification really had become addictive without me even realising. My life had become so focused on my Instagram. I would spend entire days thinking about what I was going to post for the day and looking for the perfect quote. Whenever I would go somewhere new I was always looking for the perfect photo opportunity.
At first I went into heavy denial. People like the quotes I share, I enjoy taking all the photos and so what if I like the attention. But there was now a sense of guilt with each post. I was now stopping and asking myself why you are actually doing this. From there I started to get pretty depressed about it. Something that used to make me feel so happy with now making me feel pretty miserable.
I felt miserable and struggled with this sense of guilt for months. It just didn’t bring me the happiness it used to and I felt like I’d lost a huge part of who I am. That then started to make me feel awful; that a social media account felt like such a huge part of my identity and it became a pretty negative spiral from there. It wasn’t until I really hit rock bottom that I started to get some perspective.
I decided it was time to do away with the negative frame of mind and time to think creatively. Which brings me to the opportunity cost (the accountant in me comes out). The things you choose not to do, the stuff you miss out on. Basically I began to ask myself what are the alternatives, what can I now do with my time. What does less time on Instagram give me? It gave me a lot more than I expected but the most precious thing it gave me was more space to tune into life and be mindful. Mindfulness has always been important to me but I had lost touch with what it meant to actually live it.
While it was hugely confronting initially and I was quite angry, I now see this as one of the greatest gifts I could have been given. It’s balanced me out and helped me to realise what’s actually important to me.
One of the biggest things that brought me undone this year was a fear of uncertainty and change. After having lost my dad this fear got a lot bigger and more real. Having to confront the fact that life is always in flux and the only certain thing is that things will change…well I just wasn’t ready for that. I invested a huge amount of time and energy trying to control things and focusing on what I thought I needed to be happy and secure. In that pursuit I started to lose perspective on the bigger picture and the smallest things became huge issues.
Things that I knew would help me felt too hard and out of reach. I didn’t want to accept that I was the only one who could calm myself down and refocus my perspective. I thought that the answer sat with getting certain things in life. Thinking if I just move in with my partner and get a cat then I’ll be happy….really seriously that is what I thought. I need the house, I need the cat and then everything will clam down and I would be happy. I got so stuck obsessing about these life conditions that I stopped being able to see the good things in my life.
In the very narrow world I created for myself I began to get super anxious whenever I felt like things were out of my control and my needs were under threat. In fact I began to get super anxious about everything, my mind always went to the worst possible scenario, everything was a threat, the smallest things made me stressed off my head and I felt like I had no control over my reactions.
As it got worse I started to get really overwhelmed. I wasn’t sure what I should do anymore, I just wanted it to stop. I was desperate for some sort of quick fix so that I could get control of my life again. I investigated every possible reason for why it has gotten so bad. I tired changing the pill, quitting coffee, reading self-help books, doing online courses… you name it I was looking into it. I briefly tired a few yoga classes and meditated a few mornings in a row but when there was no instant fix from these things I dropped them again.
I was impatient as impatient could be, it had been months of things building up to this point and I wanted to find something that would make me better in a day. I wanted there to be one simple answer. In the end it took things falling apart and losing what I was trying to protect for me to see the root of my anxiety. As is the case with most emotions there was never just one simple thing, there was a complex web of things that contributed to my anxiety and while I hated the place it took me to I value what it has shown me.
It showed me how trying to control things in order to create a sense of security was actually driving me insane. From there I was able to loosen my grip on trying to control things and ever since then I’ve relaxed my need for certainty and have been able to enjoy life a lot more. Accepting that life will change and I won’t know how or when has made me a lot more engaged in everyday moments. I now feel more able to simply to appreciate life and all it has to offer without expectation or promise.
It’s been a big year and the biggest lesson of all has been to compassionately accept that I am imperfect and there will be times that I will fall back into old habits, there will be times that things don’t work out and there will be times where I am not my best self. Letting all of that be okay is hard but amazingly liberating. Accepting that I will stumble and it won’t be perfect helps me to cultivate the courage to show up just as I am and keep trying in the face of uncertainty.