08 Nov The first thing you must do if you want to change your life.
I was out and about somewhere this week, I forget where, and I could hear a toddler whining.
The child wasn’t very upset, but were obviously struggling to get their point across, to let the parent who was with them know exactly what they wanted. I then heard the Mum who was with this little boy, who must have been about two and a half, say a phrase I have said myself many times. She said,
“Use your words.”
She wanted her son to stop his whining and tell her what it was that was upsetting him, or what it was he wanted. She was encouraging him to use the words he knew to try and communicate without the annoying tone of voice, in a way she would understand.
I smiled with recognition, seeing this Mum’s frustration at her son’s reluctance to talk calmly and clearly, and her son’s frustrations that his Mum could not automatically intuit exactly what he needed through this grunts and noises.
I’ve had toddlers. I’ve been there.
It was a day or so later when I realised this phrase was not just a helpful reminder for toddlers. It took me a long time, a lot longer than two or three years, to really get to grips with this idea for myself.
For a long time I was reluctant to use my words.
There were lots of reasons for this.
Maybe I thought I shouldn’t have to, that my husband shouldn’t have to ask what was wrong he should just know (‘if he knew what my life was like he wouldn’t have to ask!’). Maybe I thought I couldn’t because if I articulated how I felt I would be rejected (‘I’ll just keep up this happy demeanour, better to not let people see the real me’). Maybe I was scared to because if I really was honest about what I wanted from life then I could be disappointed (‘it is easier not to hope, because if I don’t hope, I can’t fail’.) Maybe I didn’t because I was nervous of someone’s reaction (‘who does she think she is?’). Maybe I was paralysed by people pleasing and desperately avoiding conflict (‘If I bring that up they are bound to get angry. I’d rather walk on eggshells and keep the peace’.)
I had created a lot of reasons to keep quiet, but none of them were good enough. None of them helped me. None of them gave me a chance to live the life I wanted. None of them would lead me out of my depression.
To heal, to recover, first you have to acknowledge where you are and where you would like to be.
The first (acknowledging where you are) takes great courage, and the second (acknowledging where you would like to be) takes imagination. This is the winning combination. If you want to change your life you will need courage and imagination.
It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that on occasion I allowed myself to acknowledge I was not living the life I wanted. The life I thought I should have. Every now and again for a moment I saw how unhappy I was. It was there as I made the dinner, or beside me on the school run or nudging me on as I frantically tried to squeeze another thing into my week. Sadness. Loneliness. Anxiety. These thoughts became commonplace but I continued to stuff them down, telling myself I should be grateful for my life and what was I complaining about anyway?
But they wouldn’t go away, the anxiety got worse, and I struggled to cope. I made my life smaller and smaller.
It was only when I started to articulate the pain I was in, and allowed myself to consider the changes I needed to make, that anything happened.
Using your words is difficult if you are out of practice. Maybe disappointment has silenced you, or someone else has told you that you aren’t allowed to say what you want. Maybe you feel inadequate and the shame you might say something wrong has silenced you. Maybe you are scared and the idea of rocking the boat and making life (in the short term at least) more difficult feels overwhelming.
I get it. I am aware this is no small thing. But if you want to change your life you need to start.
How to begin:
- Start with yourself. If you are nervous to talk about your reality and how you would like your life to change, start by practicing on yourself. As you talk you will gain confidence. It may also help you to interrogate and clarify your desires. I am an external processor and usually don’t know exactly what I feel, think or want until I have written it down or said it out loud. Starting with yourself gives you a safe place to begin, away from criticism or questions.
- Start with the present day. If you are not used to talking about how you feel and what you think, start with this moment now. How do you feel? Why? What has happened today that has made you feel good? What has been challenging? What about today has worked for you? What would you like to change? Start with today. Then tomorrow. Then the next day. Then you might start to see patterns about certain areas of your life you are not coping well with, or you would like to try differently.
- If talking to yourself feels odd then try writing it down. There is something hugely helpful about learning to process thoughts and feelings on the written page. It can help you gain clarity and enable you to look back and see how far you have come, or what ideas crop up again and again.
- Then, and only when you are ready, find someone you trust to talk to. Tell them you are practicing talking about how you really feel and that you don’t need them to offer solutions or even advice. Ask them to do you the honour of listening to your heart. If you have chosen someone who loves you they will be supportive and encouraging. You don’t have to talk for hours, small chunks are okay. Maybe you just practice a little honesty at a time and gauge the response. You may be surprised to find that others will meet your vulnerability with their own. Your bravery might help them start this journey.
Don’t think you can keep it all inside. Keeping it inside will give you an ulcer. It will guarantee nothing changes.
We need to use our words, with ourselves and with others. It helps us make sense of the world and our place in it. It brings clarity and perspective. It prompts action.
If you want to change your life, practice using your words.
You got this. Let me know how you get on.
Big love x