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One Size is never, ever, going to fit all

I remember the total sense of self-loathing, mixed with a sad if slightly sneery ‘I told you so’ that swirled round my head as the sleeve ripped as I pulled it over my head. I was stuck completely now, unable to pull the top off without ripping it the rest of the way down. I would have to buy it; I would have to buy this ‘One Size Fits ALL’ bright pink top that proclaimed, in all its fuchsia glory “Well, all except YOU”.

 

I was 29 years old and in a store in New York. I felt so disgusted with myself that I spent the next five (or more) years wearing black, eating in secret and constantly reminding myself that I was not one of the ‘all’. It took many years to get past that language of self-hate and the message that I’d seen was ‘you are not as you should be. You are different – but not in a good way.’

 

Now in my fifties, I often remind myself of the years of conversations I had on this topic with friends and the energy it consumed in us all.  And it wasn’t just about size.  We seem to live in a society where we are all put in boxes that have been built based on the concept of ‘one size fits all’ from education to healthcare, from parenting to sexuality, if you don’t find your place in these boxes, the message is that you are the odd one out. One Size Fits All – except YOU.

 

I have always been very aware of language and the impact it has on our mind-set.  I knew that working with my ‘Heart Failure Nurse’ was never going to be an option for me, and that’s why I worked hard to get her name badge changed to ‘Heart Specialist Nurse’.  One Size Fits All, is language that is created for a label, without thought for human vulnerabilities.

 

I wonder how many times we’ve applied the ‘one size fits all’ approach to people without thinking about it; I think the word ‘should’ does this for us and we apply it to others and ourselves daily. ‘I should have done that by now’ or ‘I should be over this by now’ or ‘she should understand how I feel’ are all words I’ve heard often and used myself.

 

‘Should’ is one of those words that rarely encourages positives, it tends to be a stick we beat ourselves with rather than a way of supporting positive change or behaviour. And what ‘should’ is really saying is ‘one size fits all except you’.  The next time you’re tempted to tell yourself you ‘should’ be something, ask yourself ‘according to whom?’ You might find the answer enlightening.

 

I hope this thinking is useful for you and that you can start celebrating not being in the ‘one size fits all’ box, but instead being the perfectly-imperfect you that you are.

 

Dinah x

 

 

 

Not everyone’s comfortable with PDAs (Public Displays of Accountability)

When a client I was working with a few years ago told me he was finally ready to start writing the book he’d been talking about writing for almost 20 years, I suggested he make a Public Display of Accountability (PDA) to give him an incentive to stick with his commitment.  I suggested that by telling his peers of his plans he would achieve several things to support him on this journey; his supporters would encourage him and congratulate him for each milestone reached, his inner voice would tell him that he had to do it now because he’d look like a quitter if he didn’t and his potential publisher and readers might see his plans and he’d be marketing the book before he’d even written it.

 

I am pleased to report that this approach worked well for him and his book was written in less than four months and published within twelve. The fact that he’d never put accountability in place before was a key reason he’d never taken action and by not taking action he told his own self-belief (of lack of it) that he was failing to write his book for yet another year and this was proof of his continuing failure to take action. Writing the book has allowed him to discard this un-helpful pattern and create a new, positive habit with accountability built in as a key support mechanism.

 

It can feel uncomfortable when we decide to share an idea and our intentions around it, even with people we trust. Often, there is a historical situation in which we were rejected, either on a personal level, or in a work situation that felt like it was about something we were lacking (whether that was experience or talent, it will have knocked our  confidence) and so the very suggestion that telling people what we are planning can feel fraught with danger and we’ll come up with a thousand and one reasons to talk ourselves out of it. And of course the result is we don’t take action.

 

I look at PDAs as a commitment to myself and to the belief that the idea or project is worth the effort. The commitment to myself is to give the idea / goal / product (this can be anything from running a marathon to launching a blog to building a house)  its best possible chance of success; I know that I stick to a plan better when I am sharing the steps along the path with others, so by putting this accountability in place I am more likely to dedicate the time and energy required.

I also see PDAs as a way to see how people react to my intention; if nobody is interested in my blog about chocolate (seriously, could that happen?) then I may decide to do some market research to identify whether it’s my message or my demographic that needs re-thinking. Being public about my idea, my progress and even my challenges and failures along the way, will all help me connect with my potential audience, and create a loyal support base who I can turn to for honest feedback.

 

And by the way, yes, I do know that these Public Displays of Accountability can come back to haunt people. I believe however, that if your intentions are good and you find part way through that you’re going down the wrong path, it’s okay to say ‘this commitment is changing. I discovered this wasn’t the right choice / goal / project / company for me.  The great thing is, if you’ve taken people on the journey of this discovery, you’ll now find you have indeed got people around you who are ready to offer help, support, opinions (some may be hard to hear) and most of all, their time – for you.

 

What have you been promising yourself you’ll start for a long time that a PDA could help you get done?  I’d love to be one of your supporters if you’ll share your journey.

 

Dinah

Massive change requires reinvention of Brand-You

Massive Change; an event that has such a huge impact on your life, every moment of it, how you live it and how you define yourself, that you are a different person than the one you were previously.  It can happen to anyone at any time and is not because of karma, or due to some terrible thing they have done to “deserve it”. What goes around very rarely comes around, and accepting this is often the first stage in coming to terms with the person you are becoming.  Accepting that you need to re-invent yourself allows you to start to create a new future, a new picture of positivity and a reason to continue that can, initially, seem impossible.

When I was twenty six, I had a bad car accident which resulted in me being a wheelchair user for more than a decade.  I couldn’t possibly have predicted or prepared in advance for such a massive change.  I had to re-invent everything I had assumed would be my life and re-invent who I was going to be if my life was to continue in a positive and worth-while (in my view) way that I could be proud of and happy in.

It took every ounce of courage, support and a massive learning curve of ups and downs to get out of that wheelchair; I achieved it only because I decided to embrace the situation, make a new life for us as a family and re-invent myself.  I took a promotion at work of seven grades – no small steps up a ladder for me now, I was flying up the ramp!  I travelled all around the world, organising conferences and looking after important clients.  It was a job I adored and it proved I could DO so much, despite my dis-ability.  It taught me I could be this new, re-invented Dinah, a woman who overcame the restrictions of a wheelchair by taking on a job that required her to travel thousands of miles a year, without buying into limiting beliefs.

When I had my series of heart attacks in my mid forties, the same re-invention of self was required.  I had reached a place where I was confident and credible in my work,  I had established a reputation and was in the position where I could choose whom I worked with.  And then another massive change decided to shake things up again.  I had to stop. Not just rest a bit and take a short break. Stop completely for two years.  No work, no stress, just getting well and giving my heart a chance to recover from surgery.  Massive Change.

This June is was four years since my surgery; the physical scars healed much faster than the emotional ones. The emotional pain can still come to the surface if I give it the space.  I am not a fan of regrets or looking back, and this can be one of the great challenges of massive change.

Here are my top tips for getting through the first twelve months after massive change:

1) Give yourself time.  More time than you think “everyone else” would take.

2) Comparing yourself to others, or to the You before your massive change is not helpful and this is a great time to stop this habit.  I know it’s not easy, nothing is easy when you’re going through something this huge, so suck-it up and just drop the self-deprecating “I’m not good enough” crap,  it won’t help, ever. You need to be disciplined about this one. More than anything else, when you repeat a negative message to yourself, you won’t be able to make the step forward required to actually believe in the change yourself.  All the positive outward “I am fine” stuff is pointless if you’re telling yourself it’s not true.

3) Anger is hugely negative when you bottle it up, particularly when the person you are angry with in these situations is often yourself.  You have every right to feel anger and, in a society where we’re taught anger is a negative thing, something we have to control at all costs, it can be hard to let it go.  I used to go somewhere that I could have a good, loud shout when I was first in my wheelchair.  I was spotted more than once in Richmond Park on a cold morning shouting at the ducks!  It worked though, and allowed me to release what might otherwise have consumed me.  Holding in your anger is dangerous and, while appreciate letting it out can be too, I’m suggesting you look for a SAFE way to express it, without that impacting anyone’s wellbeing.  Including your own.

4) Stop looking for the answers.  “Why did this happen to me?” “What did I do to deserve this?” and “If I had/hadn’t done …. do you think this wouldn’t have happened?”  There is no positive answer to any of these questions, and looking for reasons will often leave you more negative and self-absorbed.  What matters when massive change impacts us is not so much why it happened as what we do about it when it has.  When our daughter was very small, we knew it was important to let her express how much our massive change had impacted our lives;  we had one day a month where the whole family talked about how unfair it was that I was in a wheelchair.  We talked about the fact that I was the only mum who couldn’t take part at Sports Day, and that it was really hard to go shopping together because I couldn’t get my chair into some of her favourite stores.  We called it our “Why me day” and it allowed all of us to express our frustrations at living with the impacts of massive change.

5) Let yourself change. I sounds simple enough, but accepting a new “you” is a huge challenge for most of us.  We may believe we avoid labelling others, but there are many labels we give ourselves to define who we are.  Often leaving a job we’ve held for a long time can be an example of that feeling of not knowing who we are anymore; when I couldn’t wear my corporate “badge” anymore, I was lost about how to introduce myself.  It can feel frightening to see that you are a new person, that perhaps you’re going to be seen differently by others.  Once you allow yourself to change and start to feel comfortable with the new person you’re becoming, you’ll find the changes become easier.

Have you had massive changes in your life that have required you to re-invent the person you thought you were?  I’d love to hear your techniques for re-inventing your life after massive change.

Dinah

My body and me, a love/hate relationship

my body’s been through a tough time. It’s lived with ehlers danlos syndrome all it’s life, causing dislocations in every joint from hips to fingers, tears in skin from the bottoms of feet to gums, pain from ankles to neck and complications including a ruptured womb and recurrently dislocating neck. In recent years, it’s also had Chronic heart disease, angina, POTs, vascular degeneration, Pomphyx eczema and Raynards disease to add to the daily challenges. You could say it’s been through the mill. You could say it’s amazing, strong, determined and remarkable.

you could also say it’s a huge disappointment; imagine being given something to travel through life in only to discover it’s broken, over and over again.  Imagine wanting to do so many things with your life only to discover that you have to stop half way through and acknowledge, “I won’t be physically able to do that.”  Think about the frustration of spending a large proportion of your daily life asking people to do things for you that should be simple, like putting on shoes, brushing your hair, lifting your baking out of the oven. After a while, you’d be incredibly strong if you didn’t stop doing some things simply because you’re tired of asking for help.

My body is also curvy and ‘larger than life’; I think the last time I fit into a size 12, I was about 12 years old! The fact that I have large hips, curves and wobbly bits and a fairly impressive bust, are the very things that attracted my husband to me when we first met, back in our teens. He has a true love of my body to this day; he appreciates everything about it that makes it, in his words, “voluptuous-yummyness”;  “I want to cuddle someone soft, not take an eye out” he assures me when I comment that I should probably work on my core.

And there’s my dilemma. In a society where our bodies are meant to conform to a certain size, shape and proportion, my remarkable body doesn’t fit. It’s curvy and wobbly, I have large hips and as once described in Bridget Jones, I have a bottom you could “rest your pint on and park your bike in”!  (That always makes me chuckle).

How am I meant to love my body when I’m bombarded with the constant message that ‘fat’ is evil, an indication that I live a lazy life, eat too much, have no self-control? How can I be in awe of this amazing, tough, miraculous body, that has got me through so much, achieved it’s own miracles by walking and surviving everything my illnesses have thrown at it. How can I be proud and celebrate when all the messages tell me I should feel shame?

So, I find myself skipping over pages in magazines that show stick-thin, under-fed models, I ignore the adverts for weight loss clubs where you’re made to feel guilt at a whole new level and I listen to my husband; well, in truth, I’m still learning to listen, it’s an effort some days more than others. I’ve reached the point where I know it is true for him when he tells me I’m gorgeous and sexy, and that’s good enough for now. Me? I’m learning to believe it, learning that I can love my body. It doesn’t have to be a love-hate relationship.

how are you getting on in your relationship with your body? Have you got any tips that helped you?

dinah x

I don’t know what to say

When someone dies, we often find it difficult to know what to say to the people they’ve left behind.  Strangely, rather than overcoming this sense of embarrassment, we often avoid having a conversation at a time when, by just being there to listen, we could make such a huge difference.

As an Independent Celebrant, I often meet with loved ones very soon after their loss and it is my job to talk to them about the person who has died, to help us prepare a service to celebrate their life.  It is a huge privilege to be with families at this time and to hear their stories and share their memories.  I love helping them open up their box of happy memories, finding comfort in the joyful moments they all spent together is a wonderful way to start the process of grieving.  And most of what I do at our first meeting is listen.

It is hard to know what to say.  Nobody finds it easy, or comfortable to start a conversation about death, especially when it seems there are no words that are “enough”.  And there really are no words that will ever feel like the right ones, so you have to be yourself and use the kind of language you normally do.  We tend to over-think what to say and this becomes our excuse to say nothing.  “better to say nothing than the wrong thing”, we tell ourselves, but in truth, it is better to say something simple and show you are thinking of them.

Before the age of facebook messages, we used to write to people when they lost a family member or loved-one.  Sympathy cards, which so often seem ‘old-fashioned’ now, are exactly that – a lovely, kind old-fashioned way of showing that you are thinking about what that person and their family are going through.  They cost very little (even less if you make one yourself, or use writing paper) but mean a great deal to the recipient.  I recently spent time with a client looking through more than 130 cards from her husband’s work colleagues and friends.  She was overwhelmed by their kindness and by how many lives her husband had touched.  She told me that their words meant more to her that she knew how to express, and that they were giving her great comfort.

One of the wonderful things about being a Celebrant in a small community, is that you also hear about the way people support each other at a time of loss.  Food arrives regularly, cooked with love and care and with no thanks expected.  Lifts to appointments and offers of filling in forms and informing locals of funeral arrangements are common place and every time I visit a family, there are neighbours popping in to make tea, do washing or collect the kids for an hour’s relief.  I am constantly reminded that life goes on and it is the people around us who ensure we’re able to get back on board as we start to recover.

And as time passes, after funerals and wakes and celebrations of life are over and the family has to return to ‘normal’ life, comes the time when being there is even more important.  Once the initial shock and support has subsided, and everyone has had to return to their own lives, it can be a very isolating time for the family.  Once the organising and preparing for the remembrance has ended, family can feel at a loss and the reality of finality hits home.  This takes a different amount of time and a different form for everyone.  We all grieve at our own pace, and one of the most important things you can do is reassure them that there is no need to rush the process.  Reassuring them that you’re there for as long as they want to talk, whenever that might be, is very supportive.  Don’t be disappointed if they don’t take you up on this offer, and don’t hesitate to keep offering; when they’re ready they’ll hear you.

Most of all, don’t stop talking to them about the person who has died.  We tend to feel like we should avoid mentioning them, in case we upset their loved one.  I like to think of this in a different way  – when we talk to them about the person who has died, we help them remember the memories they created together, their shared stories and the good times they enjoyed.  We give them a chance to reconnect with their happiness at a time when they are feeling sad, and to see that the memories will always be with them to enable them to experience those emotions again.  It’s a gift we can give them which might make them cry as they smile.

I think we talk too little about death in our society, and this is a key reason why we hesitate to engage with those who are experiencing it within their family group.  We don’t know what to say, because we’ve rarely heard our parents talking about it and it’s highly unlikely it has been discussed at school unless a tragedy has impacted the school directly.  When we look at cultures where death is more widely discussed and made part of life, we discover the challenges in talking about it are less frequent.  In Mexico, for example, every child has experienced the Day of the Dead celebrations, by the time they reach school age.  Death is part of the culture from art to music to tourism, so offering words of support is second nature.

I’d love to know if you were supported by people listening when you lost someone you loved.  How do you think we can make it easier for people to feel they can offer a hug or words of support?

With love

Dinah

Choosing to accept

Written the night before I came home from my heart surgery in 2013. I now felt ready to share this here.

 

 

Ok, so here’s the thing…..

Of course I’m grateful. Grateful for the new lease of life I’ve been given; for the amazing care at the hospital; the wonderful messages from friends; the visitors who’ve come to cheer me up; the constant, un-ending support from John.

So why am I feeling so down? What is really keeping me awake tonight, the night before I finally get to go home after 33 nights in hospital?

I looked in the full length mirror they have in the shower room here yesterday. I was horrified by what I saw. A body covered in bruises, some so big and dark that they look fake, others tiny and already going green at the edges.

My Body covered in scars, with a new one standing out in the middle of it’s chest; clean incision, well closed (glue not stitches!), neat yet long scar.

I notice the surgeon has lifted my left breast – around four inches, maybe five, as he has closed my rib cage and sealed it with his careful stitching and gluing.

I only notice because my right breast now hangs lower, the nipple pointing straight ahead while the left seems to point slightly to the right. Can you have a lazy nipple, like a lazy eye?

And then I look at my leg. My poor left leg, dominated by a bruise across the whole thigh, that wraps itself around from front to back – or perhaps back to front, I’m not sure.

And on the inside of this bruised, swollen thigh, nine small incisions. Proof that they worked hard to harvest enough veins for the by-pass surgery.

Thanks to the swelling, each incision looks angry & ready to burst open, causing the whole leg to look strangely shaped and to rub against my right leg with each step.

“The swelling will go down soon” they tell me. “Keep it elevated and walk a little each day and it will soon be back to normal” (what is normal anyway?)

So when, at 4am the nurse asks me “can’t you sleep Dinah” and I try to explain and she offers me the advice that “you need to be strong Dinah” I really do want to scream!!

I need to be strong!? Have I not been strong enough for a lifetime yet?

Perhaps what she really means is “I don’t know what to say.” Because what is there to say?

John tells me I look gorgeous; I know he means that. Love sees things differently. Love is blind. Love is amazing. I joked with him tonight “it’s a good job you love me already babe, because I wouldn’t have a hope of you taking me home otherwise”

And so, I’ve had a sleepless night, worrying about going home instead of being excited. Worrying about how I will cope with this new body; I had only learnt to love my old one in the last few years and now, well, okay so here’s the thing….

Dinah x