It’s been a while, I know. I feel like I’ve been trying for so long to put pen to paper but the words never came. And then suddenly, they did. I hope you’ll forgive me the winding and rambling nature of this post and more than anything I hope it will resonate with someone who needs it right now. This is about being someone who has never belonged.
Because I’ve never really belonged anywhere, I don’t think. No, that’s not me getting out my tiny violin, it’s more a statement of fact. Or perhaps more accurate is that I’ve never felt like I belonged anywhere.
We moved around a lot growing up, which I suppose to an extent explains the feeling of never belonging. But, not in its entirety. I have always felt, for like of a better phrase, like a square peg in a round hole. I remember my school days vividly as ones fraught with anxiety and a sense of always being on the outside of things. In my last two years at school I found friendships with two girls and I thought our friendship would last forever. But, one night, and some experimentation with drugs on their part, changed the course of our friendship forever. Slowly, weeks went by and I became more and more excluded from things. I’d call one to find the other at her house, my invite presumably having gotten lost somewhere along the way. And I guess that became something of a pattern in my life from then on. I’d trust deeply, invest everything in friendships and invariably end up hurting when those people moved on.
I suppose as you get older, you realise that many friendships aren’t destined to last forever. For whatever reason, relationships wax and wane. People come into your life and they exit your life. Sometimes their presence in your life can be years and at other times it can be as brief as a chance meeting in a coffee shop or playground (mum life, everyone! Fuelled by coffee and the promise of outings that will tire my little one out…)
I realise that I’m rambling, so please bear with me here. But I guess what I’m getting at is that I’ve never felt at home in my surroundings or even in my own skin. And if I’m totally honest, I think at a point I just stopped trying. I starting to think of myself as just a bit ‘odd’. I even went so far as to convince myself that I was a recluse and someone who preferred spending time alone. But truthfully, I think I felt incredibly lonely. I built a fortress around myself year on year. One in which I spent the majority of my time alone and guarded that time closely. I entered into a vicious cycle of cancelling plans with friends, despite wanting to spend time with them. The anxiety and instant stomach ache at the thought of going out and leaving my comfort zone has, for quite some time now, been a heavy burden to carry.
And despite knowing (or thinking I knew) deep in myself that I’d never belong, I so desperately wanted to. I so desperately wanted to be one of those people who popped out of the house spontaneously for a coffee with a friend.
And then, on the 3rd of September, 2018, came Miss Maddie. And suddenly I belonged. I belonged so much and so instantly it was overwhelming and even at times claustrophobic. Because although I belonged, I hadn’t the foggiest bloody clue what I was doing. In those early days of motherhood I remember feeling like it was absolutely impossible that this tiny perfect little human was one I created and one who only needed us. She belonged with us and we, with her.
I’ve spoken before about having struggled with post natal depression and something I’ve realised over the course of that journey is that I think we all experience a lot of what I was feeling in those early days to greater or lesser extents. Of course we all try to present our best faces to the world around us – we take pride in being the mum that ‘got her body back’ quickly or has joined a gym already. The one who is ‘loving every moment’ – that is a fucking terrible phrase isn’t it? Excuse my French but it riles me every time. We take pride in people telling us we don’t look like we’ve just had a baby but all the while we feel terrified and lonely and isolated and overwhelmed.
But we don’t say that.
And if we do say it, it’s in the confines of a confidential doctors office.
I think people are shocked when I tell them that I struggled with post natal depression. One, because I don’t think I’d ever give off that impression, and two, because I’ll often tell them within the first moments of meeting them. I don’t mean like when I’m at the post office and the assistant asks me what I’d like to post – obviously (although knowing my ability to chronically overshare I wouldn’t be surprised if I have done this in the past) but in the context of meeting a new mum and chatting about the good, the bad and the ugly. I think my sharing sometimes makes people feel uncomfortable because it’s not the ‘norm’ but my hope is that by being painfully honest I might give someone the opening that they need to set themselves free of the blame and the shame and the isolation that they might be feeling.
So here’s where I’m at these days, friends.
I still haven’t the foggiest bloody clue what I’m doing. That was probably quite a let down after all that build up – sorry! But that’s the God honest truth. I take every day as it comes and that in itself fills me with immeasurable anxiety. I am a planner and fortress builder and I feel safe knowing what the day is going to bring. But, Miss Maddie doesn’t give me any forewarning and, I’m learning (very bloody slowly) to be okay with that. I’m doing things I’ve never done before. Some of them are monumentally huge things (for me), like going to my first ever festival and taking Maddie and some of them are so tiny if you blinked you’d miss them but to me are the biggest things of all; like walking into town at a moments notice to get a coffee or take Maddie to the park, and getting up and making a spontaneous plan to visit someone.
I’m learning to juggle becoming and being a mother with being me. Nothing really prepares you for just how hard that can feel sometimes. Or how lonely. But it is so bloody important that you find ways to feel like you. I’m learning to balance working alongside my full-time job as Maddie’s personal assistant / slave – I jest, I meant mom… I’m learning to build friendships without placing undue expectations on the presence that they’ll have in my life or the length of time they’ll be present. I’m learning to let people in again.
I’m very aware at this point that this post is a total explosion of my thoughts on paper and I’m hoping that it has formed some semblance of sense as I’ve gone on. As with most of my posts, the words have taken some time to find me. So I’m going to try and wrap this up now as best that I can (if you know me, you’ll be laughing at this point as I am anything but brief…)
Since Maddie was born, I’ve walked in the graveyard next to our house. Every day. Sometimes twice, three times a day. I’ve walked in the rain, snow and sunshine. To begin with I’d just walk there and home again. And sometimes I’d only be home for half an hour before going out again. Gradually I extended my walk to being through the graveyard and into town. Home again. I walked and I walked and I prayed that at some point I’d feel okay, that I’d feel less afraid. I prayed that I could just be normal. I berated myself and verbally bashed myself. I called myself stupid and weird and broken. And I breathed. I mean really breathed. Like the breathing they teach you in yoga and pilates. The kind that’s really hard and makes you realise that it is possible to be crap at breathing and that you are crap at breathing. I cried. Sobbed. I had panic attacks so overwhelming I thought I was going to vomit or poo (sorry, but sometimes you just have to say it how it is and poo happens to all of us!) And all of this in the same place. In the graveyard next to my house.
And as time has gone on, this walk that I do every day has become home. It’s become the place that I belong. And the paths that I tread daily have become the ones that hold me up and ground me. Because they’re the ones that I’ve walked to find my way back to me. And for the first time, I belong. I belong in the space that I’m in. I belong with the people I’m meeting and the places I’m seeing. I belong as much as anyone else belongs. I am still scared and anxious and overwhelmed and lonely at times. And in those times I belong in spaces where I am able to be a bit kinder to myself; a bit calmer; a bit gentler. And on the days when I feel like I can do it all (they are considerably fewer, let me tell you…) I belong with people that I can be strong for; that I can support and listen to.
Because the truth of it is, friends, that we all belong. There is space for us all on this rotating star we call home. You are beautiful, you are weird, you are brave and you are strong. You are all of those things and you belong.
And as if by magic, this summer the seeds that were sown in the wildlife conservation area in the graveyard have grown into the most beautiful wildflowers. They have blossomed and bloomed and made a place that most people wouldn’t think to walk a beautiful place to get out of your head. A place to belong. They belong next to the gravestones that tell stories of great people; stories of true happiness and great sadness. And they in turn have given bumble bees a place to call home. They belong and in doing so they have given so many other beings a place to belong, too. And I think that’s kind of magical, don’t you? Because by being you, you give others a space to belong. A space to feel safe and call home.
‘Let’s be wildflowers,
Let our souls be scattered by the wind.
Let us grow wild and free,
Tall and brave,
In the places that we dream,
In the places where longings are filled,
Let us grow between the cracks of brokeness,
And we will make everything beautiful’ – Unknown
With all of my love, always,