Vulnerability

If you follow my Facebook you will have noticed I have been posting about being vulnerable and what might prevent us from taking a risk (making us vulnerable). As you may have guessed I am reading a new book. I discovered Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, and what a revelation it has been. I have been embracing my vulnerability and examining my shame ever since. I have found myself shoehorning shame and vulnerability into nearly every conversation I have at work.

If you have not read it, I implore you to do so, it has definitely changed they way I view my life.

To give you a taster of whether this is up your street, I will explain to you the biggest impact this book has had on me.

First lets explain what Brene means when she talks about being vulnerable. We make ourselves vulnerable when we do things that are not guaranteed to end in success. Being vulnerable is when we put ourselves in situations where we might be criticised, attacked, rejected, or just ignored. What prevents us from being vulnerable is shame. Shame is when we attach what we do to our self-worth. So if we fail it is that we where not worthy of success. Shame is shaped from external cultural influences, such as our family, work, religion, or wider society. Brene suggests that men and women can experience shame differently. She describes women shame as web, as it is complex and often contradictory potentially trapping women in a web of shame. Men she says experience a box of shame, where their shame keeps us inside a box of conformity.

Now let me explain this a little further. In her book she describes research in to feminine norms and conformity carried out in the US. This research compiled a list of attributes associated with being feminine:

  • Being nice
  • Pursuing a thin body ideal
  • Showing modesty, by not calling attention to ones talents or abilities
  • Being domestic
  • Caring for children
  • Investing in a romantic relationship
  • Keeping sexual intimacy contained within one committed relationship
  • Using their resources to invest in their appearance

I know at first read you think those Americans, they are so backward. If you think that, read it again and think about your life and the women around you, and the attitudes of the media we are exposed to. These attitudes are still prevalent, if not overtly, they are still prevalent in peoples heads. Add to this attributes that are required professionally for women, to be strong minded, driven, the best you can be, be bold and decisive, and you can see that complex web of shame can develop.

The same research listed masculine attributes:

  • Winning
  • Emotional control
  • Risk-taking
  • Violence
  • Dominance
  • Playboy
  • Self-reliance
  • Primacy of work
  • Power over women
  • Disdain for homosexuality
  • Pursuit of status

When I first read this I objected strongly to a number of these statements, and then I thought about growing up as a young man and the conversations I have in the company of men (mostly men that I do not know well) and the majority of these attributes are very evident. I remember in my youth feeling uncomfortable with the fact that I did not share these attributes with men and would often feel shame when in the company of men. For a British man I would add being a pack member (something again I did not partake in comfortably as a young man, causing me shame). The most important message given to men is not to be weak. Never show weakness. On top of that modern man has to listen, be sensitive, and be kind, but if you show weakness whilst doing this you have had it. So men can end up trapping themselves in a box to prevent them from feeling shame

After reading this section of the book, my life fell into place. I have been experiencing shame all my life, along with all my friends. When my old teacher told me I was culturally deprived she was describing my shame for not possessing masculine attributes. I now completely understand Foggy (my negative self talk) as a manifestation of my shame for not being strong and masculine.

I am beginning to understand what triggers my shame. These things that I do that trigger my shame do not define my self-worth. What defines my self-worth is that I can make myself vulnerable. The fact that I can be sensitive, and show emotion, means that I can show empathy to others and care for people that are feeling shame.  I am enough and I am worthy of everything I receive (good or bad).

Writing this blog makes me vulnerable, and I know that I will beat myself up about it after I have published it. Up until 5 minutes before I started writing it, I was telling myself that no one would read it or like it. In fact that is the risk I am taking, but this blog is not attached to myself worth. If no one reads it or likes it, I will be disappointed but it does not make me useless and worthless as Foggy would have me believe.

If you want to do something because you enjoy it, do it (as long as it does not result in hurting others). Do it because you can, because you are worthy, and you are enough.

Brown, Brene. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love and Lead. UK: Penguin Life, 2015.

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Music on my commute to and from work

It’s been a while since I shared a playlist.

I am not sure if anyone listens to them, but I really enjoy putting them together.

With it being Mental Health Awareness week it is important to remind ourselves to give some attention to our mental health. One suggestion is to do something everyday that you enjoy, if you can it is best to spend an hour doing something that makes you happy. Now putting together this playlist took slightly less than an hour. So I have another 45 minutes left to fill today. Now that is fairly easy on a sunny Saturday. However during the week that can be a little more challenging. Trying to fit a an hour in our busy days can feel a little indulgent. Trust me, it isn’t, it is vital, vital for your health and well-being.

So if it is we have to be a little more imaginative about how we fit that time in. Firstly though we all need to examine our days, and think about those activities we do in a day where we derive enjoyment, that could be spending time with our children, taking the dog for a walk or cooking. Create an inventory of enjoyable activities, once you start you will realise how happy you can be simply by appreciating the things you already do. When you add them up you may be halfway there. Now cherish those activities, and if you need to move them up your importance order.

Once you have created your inventory, then look at those redundant parts of the day, such as your commute to work. My commute is about an hour a day, 30 minutes there and 30 minutes back. To fill that time I know put my music library on my phone on shuffle and sit back and listen. Now I have a couple of playlists that automatically update with new music that is downloaded onto my phone, so when engage the shuffle option I can listen to a song for the first time. Therefore that anticipation of not knowing whether I am going to listen next, it could be an old favourite or a new classic is so exciting.

My boring 30 minute commute is transformed and flies by. So why not in the car, on the bus or train put your music on shuffle sit back and see what happens. For me I have nailed in hour of happiness.

Because I like to share here is a playlist made of a shuffle I did this morning, not on a commute but sat on my sofa. Have a listen if you like, if you don’t that’s ok too, I have had my fun.

My commute shuffle

A walk up Snowdon

Last weekend , I met up with a few of my old school friends, and we went for a walk up Snowdon, as you do!

Now normally we meet up in a pub in Chester, have a meal, reminisce and get hammered. Not all of us manage to get to these sessions and even when most of us are there we don’t always get the chance to speak to everyone before we all go our separate ways.

Well back in December most of the lads, not me however, met up in Chester, and the idea of spending the weekend together, and hiking up a mountain was formed. All the best ideas are born in a drunken stupor, don’t you think!

Luckily the idea did not fade with the hangover, but actually grew and by late January early February had become a thing, a thing we had all become committed to, both financially and philosophically. Many of us in the group (when I say many, I actually mean myself and possibly Lee) had no idea what the reality of walking up Snowdon was. Thousands of people young and old walk, run and even cycle up Snowdon every year. Colin even did it over Christmas when it was -15 (I will get back to Colin later). So how hard could it be.

So the day came to travel to Chester to meet up with my friends and travel on to the farmhouse we had hired for the weekend (their was 8 of us and it was quite reasonably priced before you think of us as flash gits). I was so excited, it was like Christmas Eve when I was 5.

We stopped off on the way to collect supplies in Colwyn Bay. My advice would be if visiting Colwyn Bay, do your shopping before you get there. This shopping experience however did not dampen my excitement.

When we arrived Colin and Rich Turner (there are 2 Rich’s) decided to test out a route before the main ascent the next day. Like 2 demented fools myself and Lee gleefully volunteered to join them. My glee soon soured as we clambered up a hillside through muddy fields and over styles. I thought my legs were going to fall off and my lungs explode. Rich informed us that this was a trial to see if we could cut across to the trail we would use tomorrow to prevent us from walking along the road for half a mile. When we reached the said trail, I thought to myself how the fuck am I going to walk all the way to the top tomorrow. What had I committed myself too. I had seriously over estimated my level of fitness and ability to walk on slopes. It was like waking up on Christmas morning and discovering that Christmas was in fact just a really long Maths exam. I didn’t want to show myself up too much, however the few of us that had taken on this mini adventure had witnessed my distinct lack of ability on slopes.

Fuck it! I thought, give it a go, and see what happens, I said to myself.

Ian had stayed behind during our recce to cook tea, and what a fantastic tea it was, veggie chilli, and tequila! The rest of the party except Rich J arrived later that evening, and much merriment and laughter ensued.

Throughout the evening and into the night, I grappled with my self 1 telling me to bow out, fake an injury or illness, anything just don’t do it, because at best you will look fat and useless and at worst you might die, self 2 saying, just do it, think of the views, the sense of achievement.

I went with self 2 clearly but resolved that I would go at my own pace, just to keep self 1 happy.

Rich J arrived just after breakfast and we set off. We walked along the road to the Ranger trail, we had decided that was a sensible option.

When we got to the trail, I struggled from the off, and had to stop regularly to release the tension in my back or get my breath. My fitter, and thinner friends were all very understanding and regularly waited for me or walked with me. Colin being super fit, went off ahead (he had already run 7 Miles before we set off). At times the others were grateful to take to wait for me and have a breather. I was determined to finish, to reach the top. To do that I had to go at my slow pace. This walk up Snowdon had turned into a personal battle. My self 1, the cautious me, wanted to stop and go back, my self 2, the spontaneous me, the achieving me wanted to carry on. Throughout my life when it came to physical achievement, and pushing myself, self 1 would nearly always win. This time self 2 was going to win. I used Colin as a focus, to me Colin always appears to let his self 2 take the lead, so during that walk up Snowdon I was allowing Colin to inspire and motivate me. He didn’t know he was doing it, he was doing something he enjoyed. I needed something or someone to focus on and Colin fit the bill. I imagined him waiting for me at the top and that thought pulled me up. Every time I wanted to stop, Colin said to me give it another 5 minutes then see how you are. (Colin never said that Colin was too far ahead to notice me) That got me to the top.

When the summit came into view I cried, in fact I wanted to break down and sob. I didn’t, I managed to hold myself together. I had done it, I had managed to prevent my self 1 from getting me to give up, my self 2 had one. This personally was a landmark moment in my life. That is why I wanted to breakdown and cry, I was so relieved.

Anyway enough sloppiness. When we arrived at the top, it was packed, there was a queue to the summit! Worse still the cafe didn’t open for another week, and it was snowing!

After some food when started our descent, via another trail, this trail was partly along a ridge that Rich T said was nice and safe. He might have thought that! I was terrified! Looking at some of the pictures the views from the ridge were incredible, I couldn’t see them, I had lost my peripheral vision by this point.

This was harder than the ascent, most of the time we were scrambling down rocks, trying not to slip. Again my athletic prowess meant that I brought up the rear. I was cold, wet and mentally and physically exhausted when I arrived in the pub nearly 6 hours after we set off.

That first pint was the nicest pint I ever had. After another we all went back to the farmhouse for showers and food this time cooked by Rob. We had a selection of curries, That frankly were wonderful.

That evening was a little more subdued, than the evening before and a little less alcohol was drunk, but still a wonderful evening was had nonetheless.

After a fitful sleep and a hearty breakfast we said our goodbyes, with a promise of doing something else in the autumn, perhaps a little less challenging than Snowdon.

After coming back I have felt strange a little subdued, and a little unsure of myself. Whilst writing this I have realised why. That weekend I did something I rarely do, I pushed myself beyond the limits I set myself. I realised that I am really unfit, and I need to do something about that. More importantly I have learned that I can go beyond what I think is my limit, all I have to do is listen to self 2 more. It is easy said in coaching sessions, but doing it is different, now I understand how I can turn my self 1 down. I know I can achieve far more than I think I can.

Being able to use this experience in my coaching will be invaluable. Giving the client the space to explore what their self 1 and self 2 are saying to them, will help them determine who has the stronger voice and who needs to have the stronger voice.

A bit of escapism

I Love to daydream. It takes me to a happy place, when I am feeling a little fed up.

Most days foggy makes an appearance as I have mentioned before. That on the whole is fine, I have come to accept him and his negativity, he is me after all. Some days the things he says are more painful than others, and I find it a little harder to be passive and not try to suppress what he is saying. This is normally when he is highlighting my shortcomings. Paradoxically in the long run him shining a light and exaggerating these failings is useful as it spurs me into action, to at least go some way to addressing them. That is no doubt why they are more painful.

To help me handle the discomfort I will often reach for my music to help distract me, to take me to another world. If I am feeling sad a melancholic I might go through my back catalogue of sad songs to allow me to wallow and enjoy the misery of self pity. Now self pity is a comfortable state to be in as it requires no action. The thing is I want action, I don’t want these shortcomings to be shortcomings I want to turn them into actions. I need to be forward thinking.

I still reach for my music, music creates emotions and changes the way I feel. When I want to be positive and forward thinking I listen to new music, music I have never heard before, sometimes it is brilliant, sometimes it is ok and sometimes it is awful. It is always exciting and creative and optimistic. It makes me feel creative, optimistic and forward thinking.

Now I will not address all my shortcomings because I listened to Father John Misty’s latest song but I might just start working towards some of those neglected goals and remind myself of all the things I have achieved over the last week.

We all find our ways to pull us out of our funk, just remember do the thing that makes you happy and creates optimism, not what you think you should do, or what makes other people happy.

Writing this blog always makes me happy. Sharing playlists makes me happy.

So here’s both my blog, and below is a playlist. An Apple Music one this time. If you want it on Spotify let me know otherwise enjoy my little bit of escapism this month.

My New Music Escapism Playlist

If you want to discuss how you can create an optimistic future for yourself get in touch via Facebook, Twitter or this blog.

Have a great rest of the week and remember we have a rough times, it’s what we do with them that counts.

Growing up in Gosport

Today I thought I would add some more to my story. I decided to write some more about my early life in Gosport. Now this will not necessarily be accurate as I left Gosport 37 years ago on Saturday. Saying that it is my version of events so is true to me. I found it quite entertaining to write. I also found it quite revealing about where I put myself in the scheme of things. Enjoy.

Grove Road

I was 6 when i started St Johns (Grove Road) Primary School, so I had only been at school for a year when I got there.

It was a primary school so had children from 5 yrs to 11 as opposed to Brockhurst Infants who only had children until they were 7.

It was a much older building than Brockhurst Primary. the 2 last teachers I had at St Johns were both men and both ex Royal Marines therefore hard as nails. I can’t imagine ex Marine commandos being primary school teachers nowadays. There wasn’t much messing about in their classes. Saying that I don’t remember them being really scary in fact other than one of them being scottish and in 42 commando and the other one being in the Royal Marine band I have very little memory of them.

For the first year I remember we still got free milk in the morning. Up until the late 70s all school children got free milk at school. This was a throwback from post war Britain when most children were not getting enough calcium in their diet. By the mid to late 70s most people could afford and get hold of dairy products. Also the economy was in a bit of a mess therefore Margaret Thatcher when she was a minister stopped free milk in schools. Another reason why my generation hated her so much (Margaret Thatcher the Milk Snatcher). When we did get free milk, it came in small individual glass milk bottles. In the winter it was fine as the milk came to you cold, when the weather was warmer the milk was a little sour. The milk monitor (the well behaved boy or girl who was chosen to hand the milk out) would give you the small bottle with a straw. The bottle had a foil cap which most of us pierced with the straw. thinking about it now, parents would have a fit if this happened now. Giving children warm sour milk, encouraging them to pierce a dirty foil cap with a straw to drink this slightly off milk, can you imagine the outrage. I wonder how many of us poor hapless milk drinkers died of dehydration due to severe food poisoning.

When you were in the older years (the junior side of the school, rather than the infants) you were allowed to buy sweets and crisps in the tuck shop, such delights as blue bird toffees, mojos, and small packets of snacks (normally beef or tomato flavour) along with tip top sugary drinks, could be purchased during break time. my favourite was blue bird toffees. Little did I know,that I would eventually live in the city where they were made.

The class I was in had a pet guinea pig, that we could look after at weekends and half term holidays. I duly put my name down to care for this pet. We looked after it once, my mum had misgivings which in hindsight were correct. We only had it for a weekend, but never again. They are smelly, noisey and shit a lot. We kept it inside, that is why we noticed the smell. No one told us you could put it outside! I only found that out as an adult when Lisa insisted we have 2 as pets. To be fair they are no bother when they are not in your bedroom!

Just after the guinea pig debacle, I embarked on another ill conceived activity. I took up the violin, much to the joy of my big brother. It lasted about 2 months. Saying I was shit is a bit harsh, I was only 9, and I can tell you playing the violin is fucking hard, our teacher said so (well not using those words obviously). You have to memorise where to put you fingers to create the correct notes! So you really have to want to do it and have an understanding non-aggressive big brother to stand any chance at succeeding. Luckily the school had an instrument loan system so mum and dad didn’t have to fork out for a violin.

Playing Out With Mates

The estate where we lived was very child friendly, with the vast majority of the space being car free. There was also at least 5 play areas, and then just across the road was the rec, which went right up to the hard.

At weekends and during the holidays us kids had the run of the estate.

We would ride up and down the paths on our bikes. The popular TV programme of the time was CHiPs. A drama about the exploits of 2 motorcycle policemen from the California Highway Patrol. To recreate the motorcycle noise, we would attach football cards to the spokes of our rear wheels, thus generating a buzzing noise, that to an 7-8 year old sounded just like motorbike (of course it sounded like a piece of card had got caught in the wheel, and nothing like the engine of a motorcycle). All the kids on the estate either had Grifters (the coolest bike in the world ever) or choppers (more old school, and fucking dangerous). Now I had asked for a Grifter for Christmas, I understood they were expensive, but I thought Santa could stretch to it. Santa clearly was having a difficult time in the late 70s, and for some reason had got me mixed up with a middle aged woman. This is the only explanation I could come up with. I imagined there was a middle aged woman somewhere in southern England looking puzzled at a green Rayleigh Grifter and wondering how she was going to carry the shopping back from the High Street on it. Meanwhile I was stood in our dining rooming staring at a Rayleigh Mayfair. A fucking Rayleigh Mayfair, the bike of choice for district nurses and women that like to keep active by going to the shops on a bike, not, I repeat not for 7 year old boys to re-imagine the exploits of the California Highway Patrol. “It’s a girl’s bike!” “It’s unisex, anyway that is all that Santa had”. Fortunately I did not have any impressive swear words in my vocabulary, otherwise I think I may have been eating soap for quite some time. Gutted would have been an understatement. So started a childhood of humiliation. “oi Smithy why have you got a girls bike?” “Are you a girl?” “No its unisex!” This was always met with fits of laughter. The word sex is and always has been hilarious to boys under 10 (any age really).

So anyway I ended up loving my girls bike and everyone got used to it in the end. Look here comes Smithy on his girls bike.

One of our other favourite games we played as did most children in the 70s was War. All boys (and girls too for that matter) played war in various different forms. We all had toy soldiers (the airfix ones were the most popular) so we all recreated battles in our bedrooms. When we played out we would organise ourselves into the allies and the germans, and having running battles through the estate. We all had toy guns, but we often preferred to fashion guns out of windfall branches (once you found one the right shape you would keep it for weeks). I was fatter and slower than the rest of my friends and they would shout at me to catch up on a regular basis. This time we were running from the Germans when we got to a wall on the edge of a playing area. The other boys had climbed the wall and jumped over the other side when I had got there. I hated climbing, they were shouting for me to climb over and join them. They implored me not to be such a girl. The wall my side was chest height so about 3 foot. I managed to clamber up and sat on the wall. Without looking I swung my legs round and pushed myself off the top, fully expecting the same drop on the other side. This however was not the case, I plummeted 6 feet through shrubbery and nettles coming to rest on my ample backside in a bed of nettles. Upon hearing my screams and cries for help my friends promptly ran away in fits of laughter exclaiming that i would have to be a POW for the rest of the game and that the mission was more important than the individual.

The Stag Beetle Incident

As mentioned previously I nearly always the good guy. Most kids liked me because I was just nice. There was once whilst living at Pipet Close where I was unintentionally mean to a girl. I have felt bad about it ever since, so I am satisfied that I have paid penance for this heinous act. I will in my defence say that it was not all me and the said girl was a gobby cow, and probably had it coming, just not that.

We we playing in the alleyway at the back of my house where there was the shell of pigeon coop (i think that was what it was. It was a raised up structure running alongside the alley that had 3 walls and no roof). There were 3 of us boys and this girl, who frankly was being a pain in the arse. As we were playing this huge beetle flew in and landed on the ground next me. The girl gave out a shriek. Someone shouted, that is a stag beetle, put it in her hair. So without thinking I picked it up and did what I was told (I am not sure but I think it may have been me who gave the instruction). She started screaming really loudly, informing me it was hurting her and pulling her hair and asking me to remove it. So I pulled at the beetle, the more I pulled it the tighter it gripped onto the girls hair. This was not going well. The beetle attempted to fly away, no doubt scared witless. No matter what we did (which to be honest was limited to pulling the beetle away from her hair) the beetle did not move. The girl ran off screaming something abusive. I legged it along with my friends. We never spoke of that moment again.

Delving into my childhood whilst writing my story

As you will remember I have been writing my story, to help me make sense of myself as I get older and leave a legacy for my children.

Regular readers will also remember that over recent weeks I have been struggling with January blues. In fact according to the media this week is the week where people feel their lowest, and Monday was labelled Blue Monday. As you will remember exercise has helped chase away those blues, but this week those blues have been harder to chase away, so I decided to jump back into my story.

I have been delving into my memory banks, bank to when I was a toddler, like my memories of making Christmas decorations, going cockle picking with dad and my uncle George and auntie Sheila. That made me smile, in fact it gave me warm feeling. A feeling of love and happiness. Now my childhood was by no means perfect but there was a lot of love. That love has helped me chase those blues a little further away.

Restorative powers of exercise

Since completing the 50km challenge in Movember I have done very little exercise.

I have noticed that this has had a detrimental effect on my mental health. My resilience had been much reduced. Foggy has become a regular companion on my commute to work and he has hung about filling my heads with negative thoughts.

Now couple that with the self imposed need to appear positive and happy to everyone. This had been exacerbated during December with starting a new role and it being Christmas. To me that meant that I must be positive at all costs and not show any frailty. Trying to be unerringly optimistic when you actually think you are a useless piece of shit is quite exhausting. I had a couple brief runs but never really sustained it.

Trying to break the viscous cycle is not always easy, and it is all too easy to find reasons why you can’t break that cycle of self pity and feeling so low. The thing is when you find the right excuse, you start to feel guilty which confirms your self-loathing.

This weekend I decided to give it a go again. I went for a short 1 mile run on Saturday. The feeling it produced was quite profound. As I started to plan how I was going to return to running up to 5km again. I could now see that the feelings I was experiencing are transient. I went for another 1 mile run today with a plan to run a further 5 miles over the next week, then slowly increase the distance I run in one go. I started giving myself the opportunity to succeed rather than fail. I feel so much more positive.

Now during the runs I felt like my lungs were going to explode, and Christmas really had taken its toll. But very soon after the runs I felt incredible. The feelings exercise evoke are quite amazing. I feel so much more positive, the anxiety in the pit of my stomach is going and so is the tension in my jaw. I feel happy again.

If you are feeling blue, or useless, or cannot see anything positive in your life, then consider exercise, it is remarkable. I know that all I have to do to pick up my mood is go for a run. It makes me feel safe again.