When my girls were little I was always trying harder.
Every few months I would come up with a new concept I believed would enable me to be the person I felt I ought to be.
Through reading the latest Christian book, or hearing the latest talk on how to live a successful life (spiritual or otherwise) I would arm myself with a list of top 5 ways to improve myself and set to work. If only I could get hold of this idea, if only I could press in for the breakthrough, if only I could be put into practise these disciplines, then I knew I would become the me I felt I should be.
The new me would be organised. I would plan for all of my families practical needs. I would not be caught off guard by a rogue World Book Day or Christmas Concert, because I would use my diary and always know what lay ahead. Efficiency would be my middle-name.
The new me would shop for food for my family in a way that would make us healthier and me thinner, all the while saving us money and preferably saving the planet too. I would make home-cooked meals. I would be inventive. It would be effortless.
The new me would be well turned out. I would look better and feel better about myself. I wouldn’t feel like the ugly duckling when I was around my sisters. I would iron more.
The new me would invest in my marriage. I would see date night as a fun idea rather than just another thing I had to do. I would listen and we would communicate more. Our purposes would be aligned and we wouldn’t find ourselves constantly having competitive conversations about whose life was harder.
The new me would read the Godly parenting books and have a thought-through approach as to how to discipline the kids. I wouldn’t fly off the handle or lose my temper. The children would learn Godly principles and be emotionally well adjusted. I would spend time in prayer for them everyday, and not in a ‘Help, Now!’ capacity.
The new me would become focussed around my work. I would be confident and self-assured, committing to the right work at the right time. I would build my portfolio of work until I was offered my dream role. I would juggle work and home life like a pro, anticipating needs and keeping everyone happy.
Every time I came up with a new plan, I would give myself a strong talking to: this time would be different, this time I would manage it, this time I would succeed.
And for about a day or two I would feel I could do it.
For a couple of hours I might feel I had it together and wasn’t a total disappointment.
But then real life would happen. And I would realise I was still the same person. That I hadn’t morphed into super-capable, super-wife, super-christian, super-Mum after all.
I was still me.
And I would be back to feeling like a failure.
I am so grateful I am no longer that person. That my mind has been and is being transformed.
A lot had to happen to me to enable me to realise I didn’t need to live this way. I have been through a lot of painful times. But I have come out the other side knowing I am loved. And it isn’t my activity, or capacity, or capability that determines this.
Even when I am totally inactive I am completely loved.
I am enough.
And I hope it doesn’t have to be the same for you. If I can spare you some suffering by letting you know right now you are doing great, I would love that.
Because you are.
You are doing great.
It is really hard sometimes, being alive. And you are still going. Still moving forward. Still working. Still trying. Still getting up in the morning.
If I can give you one piece of advice – and this one has to come first – it would be this: be kind to yourself.
You are precious and you belong. Remember that.
You are worthy of kindness.
Caitlin Moran wrote a letter in the book Dear Stranger* in which she said this;
You must treat yourself as a loved one, or team-mate. Or pet. Imagine how you would treat a pet – how you talk to it in a gentle voice; make sure it’s warm; delight in giving it treats, or taking it for a walk.
We are so often self-critical. We berate ourselves and replay our mistakes over and over again. When what we really need is kindness.
We need to treat ourselves with kindness.
At the busiest seasons we develop our skill of self-compassion in the tiniest, almost imperceptible of ways.
Sometimes it just looks like sitting down and having a cup of tea instead of getting on with that pile of ironing, or accepting an offer of help – letting your friend pick your child up from school or nursery – and gaining half an hour to sit down.
It looks like having a nap when you are tired even though there is so much else you could be doing.
It looks like reading a novel or watching a film, buying the food you like – not just what everyone else wants, enjoying a bath, or planning a night out.
These things are not frivolous or expendable. You must look after yourself too.
Because when you prioritise yourself you remind yourself you are worthy of love and respect. When you treat yourself with self-compassion you remember you are valuable.
I know some reading this will think they are too busy, it is too hard, there is no one to help and they have to keep going.keep going.keep going.
And I am not going to give you another thing to do. I am not going to sit here and tell you that you need to find a way to treat yourself, that you need to find a way to prioritise.
I am not going to tell you to do this because I have been you, and I know it feels impossible.
So for now, here, today, just hear this:
You matter. You are loved. You belong. You are enough.
I know you are fighting with this idea. I know it feels too difficult. I know you think you aren’t worthy because of all the ways you feel you are getting it wrong and messing it up.
I get it. Trust me, I get it.
But it is still true.
You matter. You are loved. You belong. You are enough.
And maybe gradually, as you repeat those words and they start to take up space in your heart you will allow yourself the gift of loving yourself too.
*Dear Stranger is a collection of inspirational, honest and heartfelt letters from authors, bloggers and Mind ambassadors to an imagined stranger, and was published by Penguin Books in July.