Monday, 28 December 2015

Comparison is the Thief of Joy ...

Yesterday I shared a meme on my Facebook page.  I had stolen it from someone else but it rang very true for me.  It said "the life you see here on social media isn't reality.  It's everyone's highlight reel."

After I posted it and gave my reasons for doing so I received a lot of feedback both in the form of comments and private messages which led me to believe that I am not the only person who struggles with the lives portrayed on social media.

Unfortunately, comparison is something that I have always struggled with.  In my late teens and early twenties I had an eating disorder. Although this grew out of a need to regain some control in my life rather than out of comparing myself to slimmer girls, it did lead me to a point of comparison.  At the time, I was never fully aware of how thin I was but during my time of recovery (in which I include now; as with other addictive behaviours I don't feel that eating disorders ever fully go away, but instead need to be managed) I began to become much more aware of my size.  Naturally, I needed to be a much more healthy weight and began to compare myself to other women of different shapes and sizes.  For the first time I became grossly aware of my appearance and was not happy with this. Friends would look different to me. In my eyes they had a better figure, better hair, better teeth, nicer clothes and better fashion sense. They had better lives - and I often based this purely on how they looked and what they wore.

Social media did not exist (as it does now) when I was in my late teens and early twenties and I am hugely thankful for this.    I based my views, and built my insecurities, on those I could see around me, on how they looked and on unrealistic images of women in magazines. Had I had social media to add to the equation I can only imagine where my insecurities and issues with comparison would have led me.  I have younger sisters who grew up with social media being the norm and I am aware of how difficult it must be for them and for teenage girls to see unrealistic images popping up on their news feeds all day.  For me this would have hugely fired my need to compare myself to others.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not slating Facebook, not really, anyway.  I have tried a number of times to come off Facebook - to remove the comparison to other people's lives in this way from my own.  But I have friends all over the world.  I enjoy being able to keep in touch with them and see how they are getting on.  I enjoy being able to see how their children are growing when I'm unable to see this in person.  It is an amazing tool for keeping in touch with people.  However, who ever REALLY posts the whole truth and nothing but the truth on their Facebook page.  I know I don't!

I'll give an example - and I don't mean to offend anyone by doing so.

As an adoptive parent (read more here I have two separate privacy settings on my Facebook page.  Those for people who I may not know especially well in 'real life' but still want to be able to keep in touch with and those for people who I 'do life with' and see on a regular basis and have a deeper relationship with.  With the latter I share more personal anecdotes, photographs and information.  My reasons for this are not to exclude people from my life, rather as I feel that not everyone would want to know the nitty gritty stuff.  I also do not fully trust privacy settings and would not share information about my daughter widely for fear of it somehow reaching her birth family.  In all honesty, unless I've had a particularly horrendous day, I share my best bits to both privacy settings.  Even if I've had a horrendous day I don't think I'd ever really say EXACTLY how I was feeling on my Facebook.

I like to post boast about my running on my Facebook. Did I mention that my half marathon personal best is 1 hour, 46 minutes and 55 seconds? No?! Well now I have.  I was delighted. However, two months later I was injured and couldn't train.  I began to compare myself unfavourably to other people's run times and before I knew it I had lost my joy.  Running is a big thing for me.  I do a long run every Saturday and if I am happy with my time I will post this on Facebook.  If I am not happy with my time I will either remain quiet or simply post a map of my distance and keep the rest to myself.  Maybe it is a bit proud and boastful.  I would certainly think so if I read it on a friend's timeline.  However, what I don't post is the tears I will have cried the day before.  The fact that I broke down, once again, on the way home from the school run because my daughter, who has learning difficulties and sensory processing needs, has once again sat down in the middle of the pavement in a puddle and refused to move ... and I'm not strong enough to carry her the 1.5 km home myself so have had to call my husband to come and rescue us.   I do not post that she has, once again, lost her sense of danger at a level crossing and has stepped out onto a busy dual carriage way only to have me tug on her hood/arm/reins/hair to stop her stepping into the line of a car and that this has caused her to have a meltdown leading me to handing my son over to a neighbour to take to school and calling my husband to come and rescue me and my daughter.  I do not post, alongside my running photograph, map and time, an anecdote about running being what keeps me sane; what stops me from lashing out and busting into tears of frustration.  That I look forward to my runs ALL WEEK and my husband and I both realise how important it is for me to fit them in.  I post my best bits.

I blogged a few months ago about returning to work and what a big step it had been for me. I helped to set up a nursery which is something I've always wanted to do.  However, I have recently had to take a step back from my role as it wasn't working for my family.  Everyone was getting half measures.  My daughter took a turn for the worse and struggled to settle into pre school.  Her sleep disorder worsened.  My son realised that my attention was further split and, as he's only 6, began to act up too.  He has an intermittent stammer which worsened dramatically and his behaviour massively deteriorated.  Our marriage received whatever scraps were left. I felt relief at making the very difficult decision to step down until I saw on Facebook the number of my friends who manage to juggle children, marriage, life and amazing jobs and still have time to paint their nails!  And my relief and joy was stolen and I became a failure.  The rational side of me knows that these friends will also have their struggles and, like me, will not share them all on Facebook.  But when I'm feeling less rational, that's when the feelings of failure creep in and everything I had accomplished in helping to set up the nursery becomes diminished.  I post my best bits - and so do they.

During the summer we were planning on having some work done on our house.  However, the planning permission fell through.  I began to lose contentment in what we had and began to covet all of the amazing houses I was seeing flying round the internet.  It was at this time that I was listening to a podcast entitled 'Comparison is the Thief of Joy'.  I felt like the podcast was speaking straight at me and God was saying 'this is for you'.  As a response I deleted the Rightmove app off of my phone and tried to focus more on what we had rather than what we didn't have.  At this time, we won the appeal for planning permission and the work started shortly after.  And, of course, I began posting photographs of the work on Facebook.  I did not post that a matter of months earlier that refusal of planning permission had made me feel so sorry for myself that I began to question why 'nothing ever went my way'.  I added the refused planning permission to a long line of tragedies including our daughter's death and the infertility we later suffered.  Talk about losing perspective! Funnily enough, this did not make it to my Facebook feed (although I did mention it to some trusted friends who smiled, patted my arm and remained as patient as ever with me).  I post my best bits.

So this brings me back to my original point: "the life you see here on social media isn't reality.  It's everyone's highlight reel ..." And once again stealing someone else's words - "We use social media to plaster the highlights of our lives because why share the ugly parts if we don’t have to? We don’t get to see the unattractive pictures. We don’t get to hear about the fighting that goes on. We don’t know that they are charging all of their luxuries on a credit card and they’re in debt. WE DON’T KNOW. Instead, we post the things that make our lives look f****** fantastic…even when it’s far from it." (, I'm calling to mind a scripture.

As we move into a New Year (following a very difficult year) I plan to try and focus more on what I have, what I have been given and what I've achieved rather than comparing myself to others ... or at least I will try and take what I see on Facebook with a pinch of salt! ;-)

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

4 Years ...

4 years ago I was sat at a friend's house enjoying a little tea party with our children. I was 32 weeks pregnant and John was away with work. I had been feeling exhausted all week and had been resting as much as I could. I remember my stomach was starting to tighten but nothing that I hadn't experienced in my pregnancy with Sam 2 years previously. I wasn't exactly blooming - I was puffy and bloated and looked just as tired as I felt. Samuel had been born prematurely 2 years earlier and was significantly growth restricted. This pregnancy was very high risk and I wasn't expecting to feel wonderful. I was starting to brew a headache and a slightly upset stomach and felt a bit fed up. On returning home with Samuel I gave him a ridiculously early night, ordered myself a take away and curled up on the sofa. John was home the following day ...

Today I have been at hospital with Samuel. A very small and routine operation that we have been putting off for a couple of years. As soon as he found out he was going to be in Alder Hey for the day he groaned. You see, Sam spent much of the first year of his life in Alder Hey for various appointments; to see paediatricians, dieticians and gastrentriologists. This was following a month long stay in special care when he was born prematurely and months of feeding difficulties following this. Samuel does not really make a fuss but he was not happy at the prospect of returning to his least favourite place. And neither was I. 

The Doctors talked through the procedure with him and he begged for no needles - another phobia. As a result of this they used gas to put him to sleep and only put his canula in after this. His precious toy, Wotsit, also had her hand bandaged up which caused giggles when Sam came round and realised.

Watching him drift off to sleep was awful and brought back so many memories of seeing him weak and poorly in his incubator, hooked up to umpteen wires. As bereaved parents nothing is without stress.  The innocence attached to such small procedures was taken away 4 years ago and was replaced with a huge sense of anxiety; with a fear that something will go wrong. Waiting to hear those dreaded words again ... 'I'm so sorry Claire, but your child has died'. As I write it I appreciate the drama but for other parents who've experienced grief, loss, illness and trauma they will understand where I come from.

I watched him drift off to sleep and tried not to show my panic, my dread. The staff, knowing our history, were very supportive and careful to reassure me. 'We will look after him,' I was told by the anaesthetist as I left the room. I was led through to the parent's room and given a cup of coffee as I waited. A wait that seemed anxiously long. I sat thinking about the other children throughout the hospital who were 'really' ill.  Who were having life saving procedures and who, in some cases, we're experiencing terminal illnesses and felt embarrassed at my anxiety for such a small operation.  And then I remembered I have been 'that' parent twice. I have been the parent who sits next to the incubator that houses their child's tiny body whilst machines monitor every pulse, every gas and every breath throughout the body; whilst tubes sustain them and the smallest and most taken for granted reflexes like sucking, swallowing and breathing don't happen as they should so the baby is tube fed, causing untold later feeding problems and oral trauma.


I have also been the parent who sits in a room in shock having been delivered devastating, life changing news. I have been the parent who sits cradling their dead baby not wanting to let go and knowing that, when that happens, it will be forever.  That there will be no more photographs, no more cuddles, no more kisses and no growing up.

And ... I have been the parent who has had to accept,  through devastating circumstances, that they can't have any more biological children.  That the risks to mother and baby are too high. 

The innocence has been snatched away. I know what loss is and I know what death is.  I know what it feels like to mourn the loss of your own child. That feeling that parents can't bear to think about; that is too painful to verbalise or even consider - I know how that feels and I know that life is never the same afterwards. 

Yet Samuel returned. He is dozing next to me with a very sore head but no adverse side effects. The whole experience feels like a huge anti climax and I feel my stress levels lower.

4 years ago I was 32 weeks pregnant ...

This weekend marks 4 years since Emilie's birth. Since her death. 

Emilie - Rose

I can't comprehend where those 4 years have gone and know that 4 years ago I  would never have imagined that life could have regained this sense of normality. A new normal, yes, but still normality. 
I get up each day and care for my children. I work when I can and in 2 weeks time will be returning to regular work 2 days a week. I cook tea; I bake cakes; I bake bread. I like to run and enjoy anything crafty. 

And I adore my children.

4 years ago our world came crumbling down around us. Everything echoed with the deafening sound of grief and emptiness. Everything felt surreal. Unreal. 

Emilie - Rose

This anniversary season is hard.  Filled with so many memories - the anticipation and excitement followed by the panic, disorientation and grief. And yet we still stand, with Sam nearly 7 years old and just awaiting the final court date that tells us our adopted daughter is legally OURS.

I did not expect to have come this far. I never thought I would work again and I never thought I would live day to day knowing I can have no more biological children and yet still being able to function.   An old friend said to me last week 'life has a way of doing what it wants rather than what you have planned for it'. This reminded me of something I had read a couple of years ago about life being like a complex tapestry.  That when viewed from behind it is incomprehensibly messy with arrays of complicated threads weaving in and out and being cut off at strange angles. Yet when viewed from the front it is perfect, weaving a beautiful and rich picture that tells a story.

4 years on I still don't understand why God allowed us to go trough what we did and yes, I still get angry from time to time. But I am looking forward to a time when I can view the whole tapestry from the front and see it's beauty, see how it makes sense and comes together. 

And already I can begin to see the sense and the meaning form.