Tag Archives: listening

Fresh perspective

11 Aug

Today I return, with slight trepidation, to the blogosphere. My “blogoliday” has rather taken me by surprise – a result of both busyness and intentional time out. I wanted to take a bit of time to reflect on why I am here. Why I put myself out there via this blog. Why I might continue to do so, or not. And (I think) I am back. For now at least.

I’ve been reflecting, of late, on the question: “what really matters?”. The London Olympics has been a wondrous staycation – a fortnight of multiple-hours-in-front-of-TV, a collective joy and pride in our city, amazement at the human spirit, inspiration to “get off the sofa more” (once Olympics is over obviously!) and a sense that “real life” has been suspended for a while. This unexpected, joy-filled time has – I think – helped me to put life into perspective. To remember that work is not always the number one priority. To remember that community and shared experience is often much more fun than “solo viewing”. To remember that, around the world, many athletes overcome extraordinary adversity to represent their country at this global party/competition.

And, in some strange way, this new sense of (forgotten) perspective has helped me as I’ve reflected on blogging too. For a while, number of readers really mattered to me. Now it doesn’t. For a while, I worried too much about what people thought. Now I won’t. For a while, it stopped being fun – a hobby – and became a chore. A pressure.

At times during my blog-break, I have wondered why I would blog at all – after all,  I thought (in my bleaker moments),what do I have to contribute? Why would anyone want to read my words? Is it helping anyone, in any small way, at all?

For now, I sense that I will carry on – until it stops being fun, until it stops being a forum for honesty and transparency, until it becomes a noose rather than a joy.

My hope is that this blog creates a space – for myself and others – to talk openly instead of in whispers. To say the difficult things – rather than pretend they don’t exist. To challenge, provoke, question, encourage and, maybe occasionally, inspire. To come back, again and again, to the question: “what really matters?”.

Writing is, for me, a therapeutic balm. I hope that reading it will, every now and again, be that balm for your soul too.

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Be yourself (or how do you find your words?)

3 Mar

I have just come across this fantastic TED talk by Susan Cain. She extols the virtues of an introverted life in a world that seems to favour extroverts – those outgoing, confident, “I-know-where-I-am-going” people. I fall far more firmly in the “haven’t-a-clue-but-I-like-thinking-about-it” bracket.

I am an introvert. It took me quite a few years to realise this, for I am also pretty sociable and love being around people. I am certain, however, of my introvert tendencies as I crave and cherish time on my own. Time to think, to read, to write, to process. Time to be. Without this time, I feel out of sorts and get a bid moody (as my husband will tell you!).

I am not writing today to claim that “introverts are better”. No, of course not. Rather this talk has made me reflect on the importance of being yourself – wherever you fall on the introvert-extrovert scale. And if being yourself means being on your own – that is ok. In fact, it is more than ok, it is good.

For the world needs you to be yourself – to bring all that you are and have, to live in your “element”, to create and lead in the ways only you can do – in order to make our world a richer and better place.

I sometimes find myself wishing I’d been created a bit differently – a bit less introverted and reflective, a bit less “angsty”, a bit more “normal!”. I look at others and wish I was more like them – a bit thinner, a bit more thoughtful/productive/capable/confident, a bit less “me” and a bit more “you”. I imagine life as “someone else” and think it would surely be better than today. When I feel “up”, these thoughts rarely bother me, and, if they do, I find it easy to brush them aside. When I am down, they can haunt me, follow me round for days, lodging themselves in my sometimes-fragile mind and refusing to go away. Maybe this is the curse of the reflective introvert.

Like Susan Cain, I love words. I have always loved books, always adored reading and getting lost in a book. Like her, I hadn’t seriously considered that I could become a writer until more recently (and my various career attempts until this point have been far less successful than her years as a Wall Street lawyer!). I still have days where I feel it could never happen – who would ever pay me to write? Why would they want to? How can I ever make money out of the randomness of thoughts in my oft-slightly-screwy brain?!! But I know that this is when I feel most alive, most “me”.

I absolutely love writing this blog. I love the people it has brought me into contact with. I love the ways it has challenged me to be more open, vulnerable and transparent (even when it hurts). I love it – this blog might not pay the bills, but it helps me stay connected, creative and much more sane than I would otherwise be! I love the power of words – and spending time on my own helps me to find my words. In the words of Susan Cain – “solitude is often a crucial ingredient for creativity”.

How do you find your words? Make sure you don’t deprive yourself of these experiences – whether you require solitude or crowds, whether on your own or with others. Don’t try to be someone you are not – it doesn’t work (I can tell you that one from experience!). Be yourself. And find your words – for the world needs to hear them.

Dying to tell the truth

22 Feb

Syria. What a mess. The tragedy unfolding on our TV screens is becoming more bloody and horrific every day – each story more horrific than the last. I can hardly bear to watch the latest updates on the news. This is a country desecrated, human lives discarded. Hope is, it seems, being strategically and systematically eliminated.

Marie Colvin died in Syria today. A Western journalist, she worked for the Sunday Times and was completely committed to reporting from the front line of conflicts worldwide. She died so that we could know the truth, so that we could not plead ignorance, so that we could not ignore the horrors of war. She died telling the truth. Only yesterday, she witnessed the death of an two year old child injured in the shelling. Only yesterday, she was alive and telling us all a story. A story we desperately need to hear.

Marie Colvin was incredibly brave. In 2001, she lost an eye, having been hit by shrapnel in Sri Lanka. Yet she stood fast in her determination to tell the truth about brutal regimes, to inform the international community about wartime horror. She knew that someone had to shine light in the darkness, to tell the stories of ordinary lives destroyed by hatred, greed, and pride. Simply stated, in her own words, “our mission is to speak the truth to power”.

Yet what of the other lives lost today in Syria, the ones we will never hear about. The locals. The “unimportant” people. Those with ordinary lives. Lives disrupted forever by carnage and the abuse of power. Is one life ever worth more than another? As Marie herself said,

“For my part, the next war I cover, I’ll be more awed than ever by the quiet bravery of civilians who endure far more than I ever will. They must stay where they are; I can come home to London.”

She knew, I think, that every life is infinitely precious. Is this something the rest of us often forget? Many of us find it far-too-easy to walk past the homeless alcoholic, passed out on the street. We have far less compassion for those we deem the “deserving poor” – the man who gambled away all his money and now has no food to eat, the pregnant teenager in an abusive relationship, the street kid who steals to survive. We seem them as “different” and end up having a sense-of-empathy failure.

We judge, before we know the whole story. We fail to really hear the stories of those different from us, those whose lives are blighted by poverty, pain and bad choices. We see the mistakes, yet fail to understand the brokenness that fuels such choices. We write people off before we have shown them the dignity each human being deserves. We write them off and fail to listen.

Each of us has a story to tell. The West delights in the mundanity of the lives of “celebrities”, stories of the rich, powerful and successful. Yet our shared humanity requires us to truly listen to those whose voices are obscured too. Such a belief led Marie Colvin to incredibly dangerous places, so that she could listen and tell us what she had heard. She died telling the truth. What an extraordinary, brave woman.

Coping strategies

17 Jan

“Depression, anxiety and panic attacks are not a sign of weakness. They are signs of having tried to remain strong for way too long.”

I didn’t used to realise that mental health issues can happen to anyone. Until it happened to me. I went through burnout in 2008. It was a terrible and terrifying time – the end of life as I knew it, the end of a dream, the beginning of something new. A new compassion. A new understanding. A new perspective on life.

I had being trying to cope with a lot of stress, to stay strong, to keep going. I didn’t want to let anyone down. I was under a lot of pressure – much of it self-inflicted. I think that burnout was my body’s way of keeping me alive – letting me stop, slow down, recover and resurrect. At the time, I felt devastated, utterly devastated. Now I look back in gratitude, not only that I was forced to change the way I lived – slowing down, becoming more honest about my weaknesses, learning to be kind to myself – but also that I now “know”  burnout and depression (or anxiety or a panic attack). I know now that these are simply attempts at coping with stress and pain – the body’s way of telling us something is out of kilter, the heart’s way of letting us know that our coping strategies aren’t working. I now know not to judge others, not to make assumptions, not to categorise people as “them” and “us”. 1 in 3 of us will struggle with mental health issues during our lives – it can happen to anyone. Money, “success”, fame, adoration do not insulate someone from depression or anxiety. Nor do loving relationships, solid friendships or a supportive family. It can happen to any of us, at any time.

There is no shame in depression/burnout/prozac/counselling. There is no shame because these are not signs of weakness. Being able to talk about them is a sign of strength. Listening to others talk about them is a sign of love and empathy. Let’s learn to talk, and to listen, more.

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