Updated: Oct 29, 2019
In the lead up to last week I write a Twitter thread about some of the most important things the past decade has taught me. You can read some of them here: https://twitter.com/HeardinLondon/status/1129130847318237185
It has been a strange week, I turned 40 and 3 very precious people unexpectedly asked for my opinion.
A dear friend called me in the middle of an anxiety attack, an incredibly courageous and strong thing to do. He asked if I had any immediate tips in a crisis. I told him something I learnt recently which is that a quick disruption to an anxiety or panic attack can be achieved by researching something trivial you are curious about. The brain simply cannot process panic and learn. I managed to get him giggling about how mice steal eggs (think about it, they only have little arms). Thus my work here was done.
I stood in a chip shop having ordered six bags of chips (I passed my counselling course and wanted to treat the rest of the class, thanks for asking) and a 9 year old stood just about able to peer over the counter turned to me and said: “Excuse me, can I ask you something please?” I said of course and she launched into “Do you think it is better to be famous or normal?” Definitely not what I was expecting, but I replied “Well I guess that depends on what your definition of normal is. I think most people’s idea of normal comes from comparing themselves to others and I have never found much happiness that way.” “Yeah, because famous people have other people looking at them all the time and that must feel really frightening but normal people who aren’t attractive and don’t have friends and aren’t always doing fun things, well I think they can be happy too. Can’t they?” The level of pleading this was said with broke my heart into a thousand pieces. “I think the most important thing in life is to be kind, and that includes to yourself or it doesn’t work. And that is something we could all do with a bit more practice at.” She grinned and nodded, said thanks, grabbed her chips and fled.
Last night I was on my way to buy flowers for my bestie’s birthday (Woman In The Yellow Top for you avid BBCQT followers) when I saw a young woman crumble physically and cry out on the phone. I ran to catch her and she sobbed on my shoulder for 5 minutes as I just stood there holding her with my hand on her back. Eventually she pulled her head back and rasped “My Dad has just died.”. By this point there was another woman with me, we held her one either side and took her to a coffee shop, sat her down, bought her tea and let her sob until the air came. She looked at me with hunger and despair and said “Do you have any advice for me?” I was surprised. I don’t think I would ever ask for advice in this situation. I think I am far more prone to “you can’t possibly know what this feels like” disposition, but I looked her in the eye and said “Yes. Two things. Firstly you need to treat yourself with all of the kindness you would wish upon someone precious to your father, that is the greatest respect you can give him right now. And secondly, your memory is going to go to shit for a while. You’re not losing the plot, your brain is trying to protect you by not allowing you to concentrate on any one thing: so write stuff down. The little stuff down. The big stuff down. The memory stuff down. Write everything down. Write and write so you do not get frightened about forgetting.” After a few hours in the coffee shop, eventually I walked her home, about a 90 minute walk across London, and made sure she was going home to friends and company. And last night I spent most of the night awake, thanking my Mum and her death for enabling me to know how to act in that situation.
It has been an epic decade for me. I lost my Mum, her Mum and my daughter. I survived a violent rape which left me having seizures and with PTSD. As a survivor of sexual violence and a fat person, it is not easy living a life feeling like I am trapped in a body which betrays me.
I’ve been doing work on this. A lot of work. And this past six months I feel like I have fast tracked a lot of stuff I having been trying to chip away at for years.
So I thought I would make a little list of things that have been really helpful on my journey so far, as other people might find them useful too.
Get a counsellor that works for you. Tried it before? Try again. Ask your mates. Ask around. When you find the right one, it is all going to feel like you’re capable of finding your own answers.
I had a lot of support from the wonderful coach Kristin Messegee. I am folding my arms at her for not having her website up and running so I can plug her. But you can find her on facebook (or drop her a line at kristin at kristinmessegee dot com). If you like personal recommendations, I would recommend her.
I have been doing an online coaching course with Jessi Kneeland providing exercises, resources and group support called Authentic Body Confidence. You can see her TEDx talk here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cWESkMNPams You can find out more about her work here (including a free 5 day Be A Body Rebel Course which is great): https://jessikneeland.com/
Kara Lowentheil is one of the most progressive and intersectional feminist body work coaches I have ever come across. Strong, sweary, real and really accessible, she does courses (and has just launches a new online monthly coaching course / group / training called The Clutch which goes deeper with her work): You can find out more about her work here: https://unfuckyourbrain.com
Blog and resources for self love Ev’Yan Whitney www.evyanwhitney.com
Books: The body keeps the score – Bessel van der Kolk Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving – Pete Walker Loving what is – Byron Katie The Invitation – Oriah Mountain Dreamer (I know, but try it anyway) Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge salt. by nayyirah waheed What a Time to Be Alone: The Slumflower’s Guide to Why You Are Already Enough – Chidera Eggerue The Buddha Geoff and Me – Edward Canfur Dunmas Hunger – Roxane Gay
Find the things that link you to a wider sense of self or community. I chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo every day. It’s most simple translation is “I dedicate myself to the reverence of life”. I like to think of chanting as a bit like meditation for people who cannot shut up. It’s more than that of course it is. Try it if you like, to me, it felt like coming home.
Love yourself. Then you really have come home. And once you have managed that, you get to put the kettle on and invite others home too.
I wish you all the very best on our journey home.
PS Part two of this should be on dreaming big, letting go, and how your brain lies to you. I took that picture on a really monumental day for me – I’d love to do more with my photography, that’s one of my big dreams. I am saying that out loud in case any of you want a photoshoot. I am trying to do more shoots for people who don’t feel like they would ever have a photoshoot, for people who are lacking in self esteem, for body confidence, for transitions, for life changes, births, menopause, I would love to start doing divorce photographs… you get the idea. Reach out. Let’s find the beauty in the details together.