The Attention-Seeking Invisible Woman

Clothes and me have bit of a weird, love/hate relationship.

What I wear each day matters a lot to me, but not at all in a dedicated-follower-of-fashion sense. I’m not now, and never have been, fashionable in my style of dress. But for some deep-seated psychological reason I always need my daily choice of clothes to suit my specific mood at that time or I find I just feel uncomfortably ‘wrong’ and out-of-sorts all day, even if I’m wearing an outfit that worked perfectly well the week before and will no doubt work perfectly well next week, too. When it comes to choosing clothes, I really do wear my heart on my sleeve every day.

Some days I’m in a no-nonsense Plain-Jane jeans-and-hoodie mood, but on other days I maybe want to wear a feminine floaty dress, or feel drawn to wearing cropped stretch leggings with an eye-catching tunic top or… well, whatever other creative style my mood dictates on the day. And I find it’s not just the style of clothes that matters, it’s the combination of colours, too. Some days I feel bright and beautiful and reasonably flamboyant with an artistic flair for adding multiple splashes of colour yet on other days I deliberately hide in comfort-blanket layers of dull, dowdy, unnoticeable obscurity. Most days, though, I probably balance tentatively on the brink of both, inhabiting fully neither one look nor the other, blending the two together in a unique way that’s just ‘me’.

I suppose subconsciously I’m dressing externally for how I want the world to react to me (and interact with me) internally on any given day – do I feel like appearing visible or invisible to others as I walk along the street, from seen to unseen on a continuum of clothing choice, and to what extent do I take that choice and run with it? Because sometimes on my most ‘invisible’ days when I’m being full-on Mrs A. N. Other frumpy middle-aged nobody I feel like screaming inside because no-one even notices me pass on by, not even giving a cursory glance in my direction. It’s as if I’ve taken the wallflower look one step too far and my blending into the background has rendered me completely invisible even to myself?

It feels quite a contradiction to be such an apparent attention-seeking invisible woman. I imagine on most days my sense of dress must give off quite confusing ‘look at me/ don’t look at me’ messages to passers by. Does anyone else have a similar relationship to ongoing clothes-wearing or is this just me flying my freak flag high?

Come on, do tell… I can’t be the only clothes weirdo out there, surely? πŸ™‚

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Combination

Trick Cyclists and Other Balancing Acts

No idea where I’m going with this week’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday post with the prompt word of ‘trick’ other than steering well clear of all things Halloween.

I also have no idea why we Brits use the rather derogatory slang term ‘trick cyclist’ to refer to a Psychiatrist, but we do! I could always look it up on the internet but where’s the fun in that? Anyway, suffice to say I’ve seen a couple of Trick Cyclists in my time and both have been perfectly non-tricky. Nice guys (not being sexist here – both Psychiatrists whose care I have been under were actually male) who clearly acted and advised with concern and my best interests at heart. Definitely much appreciated.

Sadly I can’t say the same for all the Psychotherapists I’ve seen though – the last one clearly had a narrow agenda all of her own and on our last meeting where I sat silent for the entire hour with tears running down my face in sheer frustration because everything I had said previously had been twisted to suit her preferred pathway of thought, I decided enough was enough and I wasn’t ever going back. It still smarts when I think of it, years later, to have felt so disempowered and disenfranchised and tied up in tight knots by someone who was supposed to be helping me loosen and unravel my long-term mental health issues.

Trying to stabilise and level out my own psychological problems does sometimes feel like a bit of a balancing act though – here I am right now feeling caught in the spotlight of my very own personal circus ring, the rest of the world looking on as I struggle to stay upright and show that I really can do this life thing, watching me fly my freak flag high and keep my multiple plates spinning while constantly adjusting my balance on my rickety old unicycle. A collective sharp intake of breath from the front row as the world watches me fall, then exhales in relief as I pick myself up, dust myself off and get straight back on again.

So these days I am basically my own trick cyclist, allowing everyone else to be able to mutter gratefully under their breath ‘Not my circus, not my monkeys’ as they leave the tent reassured that thankfully I have finally found the ability to keep my own show on the road and my melancholic monkey-mind under some semblance of control – for now at least… πŸ™‚

The Never-Ending Not-Good-Enoughs

I struggle a bit with believing in myself, I have life-long issues with never feeling good enough at just about everything and at nearly 57 I’m getting really fed up with constantly questioning my own credibility.

I don’t want to get to the end of my life and regret not doing things at all because I was always too afraid of not being good enough at them. And yet that’s what I do to myself all the time – in order to avoid feeling ‘not good enough’ by failing at something creative, instead I simply don’t try to do the thing in the first place. In my warped brain I have an age-old message telling me that in order for me to feel good enough it has to be total success or nothing, so invariably nothing it is. But ironically that turns out to be a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy – a default not good enough failure by the back door.

Take my latest creative inner battle ‘thing’ – drawing and painting. I really like drawing and painting, always have done since childhood but I haven’t actually done it in years because I know I won’t meet the exacting standard of perfection lodged in my brain, and I’m so afraid of being proved not good enough I avoid even trying to pick it up again. Basically I’m too scared of sucking at it to try. But yesterday I’d had enough of the never-ending not-good-enoughs, so I got out my old art stuff and just started painting. Not to try to be good at it, but to try to have fun with it – and I learned a few things about myself.

I’m generally my own worst critic, but when I finally got that inner voice to shut the fuck up and stop being a nit-picking spoil-sport I found overall I actually quite liked what I painted, imperfections and all.

My drawing and painting skills are understandably a bit rusty after pretty much a full adult lifetime of not using them but to be honest it seems I’m nowhere near as bad as I think I am.

I still have a reasonably good eye for colour and composition, and ok so my perspective needs some fine-tuning but underneath all my fretting and fear the fundamental basics are still there.

I understand that the world appears a certain way as captured in reality by the camera, but in my mind’s eye I may see it or choose to represent it slightly differently and that’s ok – I can change colours or proportions as I want and that’s absolutely fine by me. Everyone else can just take a running jump if they don’t like it.

My artwork, my choice… Oh, and while I’m at it I suppose it’s also my life, my choice, and always has been… Duh! πŸ™‚

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Credibility

The Story of Who I Am

Fandango’s Provocative Question this week asks:

Is the concept of ‘you’ continuous or does the past ‘you’ continually fade into the present and future ‘you’? Considering that your body, your mind, and your memories are changing over time, what part of ‘you’ sticks around?

This is a question, or at least in variations on a theme, that has been on my mind for as far back as I can remember. And having studied questions of identity in depth as part of my degree studies (a blend of psychology and sociology) I may have a more rational, intellectual, academic ‘head’ answer to give, but choose instead to focus my reply on my entirely confusing ‘heart’ emotional response.

Here I am at 56 years old, and however much I understand that our identity inevitably grows and changes along with our life experiences, to me there is an integral part of me that feels much the same as I always have done. In the same way as I look at photographs of me as a child and recognise my external self in that past image, so I can experience a similar core recognition of uninterrupted internal self across the years. In essence I feel that I am who I am, who I always have been, an accumulation, an amalgamation of all the nascent me’s that ever existed.

It’s as if my own memories all layered together make me feel me, my sense of self a kind of constant continuation of my life narrative to date. It is perhaps that ongoing internal life-story that makes me feel most like me – my hopes, my fears, my desires and my disappointments all dissolved and diluted into a complex cocktail of me-ness that remains whatever I do and wherever I go in life. I can look back comfortably and know that I was that person at that time, and now I am this person at this time, and that changing experience feels just fine to me.

So there we go, a pretty confused emotional answer to a pretty confusing question! πŸ™‚

Things I Am Not

I’d love to be one of those people who can look back on life and say – Yup, I’ve absolutely nailed it! But in order to be able to do that, you first have to know clearly what it is you want out of life, have a long-term plan to work towards, and then stick to it. I don’t really have a fixed plan – to be honest I’ve never had a fixed plan.

I’ve always been more of a non-plan plan girl…

When I was really young, I was ill a lot, and I remember thinking I might want to be a nurse. Then as I got a bit older, I thought I might want to be a doctor. And then when it became clear my school grades weren’t going to make medicine an easy possibility, I shifted away from healthcare and towards thinking creatively about studying art instead. I even applied for Art School in my final year, but wasn’t accepted straight away after leaving school.

At that point I just drifted away from the idea of study.

So not long after leaving school at 17, while working locally in retail and still living at home, I started going out with a local boy I used to go to primary school with, and we soon got engaged, planning our wedding for the following summer. I’d discovered sex with a bang, felt grown up in the smug self-important way that overly-hormonal teenagers do, and the thought of studying became a distant memory. I was going to be a wife and that felt fine.

And then not long after I turned 18 I got pregnant and embarked on the trepidatious journey of motherhood.

It wasn’t a happy marriage. I tried so hard to make it work, we had three children together but the honest truth is I know now we should never have got married in the first place. I struggled with depression throughout, as I did before and after. I still struggle on and off with depression today. We separated when I was 24, had a very acrimonious divorce that took four long years to go through, and in the end the children stayed with me.

Over the years I did my best in bringing them up, but sadly I made many mistakes along the way. Messed up some, lost my sense of direction, took more than a few wrong turns.

And so one way or another my ongoing non-plan plan has continued evolving organically ever since. Decades have past. Lots of water has passed under lots of bridges, none of which have been burned beyond repair. I’m not a nurse or a doctor, but for a while I did work in a hospital as a physiotherapy assistant. I’m not an artist, but I am still quite creative. I’m not actually a career girl of any sort in any way, shape or form, full stop. I’m still a mum. I did eventually study though, graduating at 40 with a First Class Honours Degree, and thankfully at 56 – I’ll turn 57 later this year – I’m now happily married with six grandchildren.

Hopefully life is finally mending and healing for all of us.

So I wouldn’t say I’d nailed life, I’d say it was more screwed up than nailed down. But it’s still holding together and at this point I’m not about to quibble over whether I should have used a hammer or a screwdriver to get here – a tool is a tool is a tool. You use what you have to hand, and you get on with it. Stuff is fixed in place, is where it needs to be, and that’s all that matters. It’s my life, and I try not to have too many regrets. I’m not exactly proud of the convoluted path I’ve taken to get here, but I’m no longer as ashamed of it as I used to be.

And I think overall that has to be a good thing… πŸ™‚

Stream of Consciousness Saturday: Nail

Melancholic, that’s Me!

Several thousand years ago Hippocrates, who is considered today to be the father of modern medicine, first developed the theory of each of us having four humours that were required to be equally balanced in our bodies for continuing good health. His four humours were blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm – lovely! These corresponded with the four elements – air, fire, earth, and water – or the seasons – spring, summer, autumn, and winter.

This theory was later expanded further to conclude that if someone naturally has an excess of one of these humours in their bodies, it sets their temperament. These four temperaments were Sanguine (too much blood), Choleric (too much yellow bile), Melancholic (too much black bile), and Phlegmatic (too much phlegm). And this basic categorisation continued to underpin medical understanding for centuries.

So for example when we watch period dramas on TV and someone has a fever and is bled from a cut in their arm into a bowl, or leeches are applied, this was done in the belief that their high temperature was linked to an excess of ‘hot’ blood, and reducing the amount of blood was the prescribed method used to recreate a balance in the humours within the body.

Drastic by today’s standards it may be, and these very non-scientific categories may well have no recognised place in today’s theories of physiological and psychological health, but to be honest I find the idea behind their holistic approach to treating the whole body/ mind continuum together as one entity refreshingly modern in thought.

And I would be the first to recognise myself as being a Melancholic person – I’m sensitive and creative and very much grounded temperamentally in the cold autumnal earth – even though I recognise my normal psychological state has absolutely nothing to do with my internal levels of bodily fluids and so a purgative of any kind is most definitely not a cure for my decidedly melancholic nature! πŸ™‚

JusJoJan 20: Humour

Anomaly


β€œFortunately, some are born with spiritual immune systems that sooner or later give rejection to the illusory worldview grafted upon them from birth through social conditioning. They begin sensing that something is amiss, and start looking for answers. Inner knowledge and anomalous outer experiences show them a side of reality others are oblivious to, and so begins their journey of awakening. Each step of the journey is made by following the heart instead of following the crowd and by choosing knowledge over the veils of ignorance.” ― Henri Bergson

Often I feel that I am the anomaly in life, I am the one who is out of step with the rest of the world, unable or unwilling to fit my firmly square-edged peg into the restrictive round hole alloted to me. But then I read words like these, and feel reassured that perhaps I am, after all, philosophically on the right path for me, and feel glad of my different outlook to the accepted norm… πŸ™‚

Fandango’s one Word Challenge: Anomaly

Stream of Consciousness Saturday: Strain

As well as my undergraduate degree (BA Hons in Psychosocial Studies – a deliberately cross-disciplined blend of psycholgy and sociology) I have also achieved a post-graduate certificate in Applied Positive Psychology. It was actually supposed to be a Masters Degree, but for varying reasons at that time I found studying a real strain so decided to knock it on the head only a third of the way through. The parts of the course I had already passed gave me enough credits to be to be awarded the PG Cert, so here we are.

The thing is, I was both working full time and studying part time (working Monday to Friday with weekend lectures), and after my 92-year-old grandmother died followed a couple of months later by my best friend’s husband (early 50s, cancer), my head was so full of new and unresolved stuff I just couldn’t concentrate properly, so initially took a break for a semester, and simply never went back to my studies. To be honest, I think had the course truly fulfilled the need I had for finding answers in my own life, I would probably have found a way to keep going, but as it was, I gave up.

In diametrical opposition to the intention of me studying Applied Positive Psychology, the whole experience left me feeling completely out of step with most of my classmates. Where they readily embraced many of the ideas fully and with a genuine enthusiasm, I felt resistant to many of the assumptions that were made as they simply didn’t resonate with my own life experience. I felt like the Eeyore of the group, an unintentional grey misery of negativity. The realities of my own disfunctions become glaringly obvious to me and I could see I was becoming depressed again, so withdrawing from the course seemed the best option for me at that time.

And I have no regrets – neither in relation to beginning the course nor ending it when I did. It did for me what I needed it to do, but not quite in the way I’d intended. I learned that I still had a long way to go to heal the psychological hurts of the past, and that Applied Positive Psychology was not going to be the way forward for me in this aim after all. But I still keep on looking for answers, and keep on keeping on – and I’m still here, plugging away at life, so I must be doing something right, mustn’t I? πŸ™‚

Stream of Consciousness Saturday: Strain