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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

 

 

 

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

The Secret is…..

…There is NO secret.  Honestly.  There is no answer that will be revealed when you’ve learned enough, or suffered enough.  There is no Secret to happiness, success or lasting contentment.  AND THATS GREAT NEWS!

Great news for all of us; there is no secret to any of the things we all strive for – happiness, success in love work business relationships parenthood…The list goes on.  There are plenty of opportunities, new things to learn, choices to be made and some of them may be painful.  These things will all be in your control and you are capable of deciding which ones you want to put effort into, which ones will lead you where you want to go.

The idea that you can read a book, take part in a programme or work with a Coach and suddenly you’re going to have all the answers is a myth.  I’m not sure where it started, and I know the idea of a secret was around long before people started to talk about “the universe delivering” or even “What goes around comes around.”  I have to say that, in my opinion, these are two of the other great myths of our time.

The one truth that does apply to all the really happy, successful people I know is a simple one:  they’ve all worked really, really hard to get where they are.  Did they all believe they were going to succeed?  No, not always.  Did each of them have amazing support behind them? Again, no; neither financial or moral support were particularly relevant to their success.  Each of them has a very different journey, a unique story of their life.  And not one of them believes there is a Secret to their success.

I had a client a few years ago, who spent the best part of 20 years going from training programme to retreat, to mentor, to coach and most recently, back to University (in her 50s).  While I’m all for personal growth and learning, there is a time when you have to actually put what you’ve learned into practice.  So what’s keeping her so engaged in learning?  She’s searching for that promised Secret, and she’s not quitting until she finds it!

Let’s learn from her experience and from the truly successful people around us (however we choose to measure that) and spend less time looking for “the answer” and instead, start creating our own results, which we can take credit for.  It’s no secret that’s got to feel good!

Have an excellent day

Dinah

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

According to whom?

I watch with my head in my hands when the adverts come on the television.  The cause of this despair is quite simple really, it’s the idea that women are failing if they don’t “match up” to the perfection that is personified in stick-thin, teen-age models with “perfect” lifestyles and the skin, hair and figure to match.  Apparently, it’s what we all want.

 

I’d like to know, According to whom?

 

I saw an ad for skin cream that claimed “80% of women said they’d consider delaying surgery after using it”

 

Delaying? As if, surgery was inevitable once we took a good look in the mirror and realised how wrinkled we were.

 

Another shows a husband, claiming “we’ve been through three pregnancies…. and she still looks like Kate”

 

Let’s get this straight – the model still looks 30 because she is 30 and has probably never borne a child, let alone three.  Your wife still looks like your wife because you love her and we see only what we want to in people we love. And by the way, despite the grey hair you seem to despair of, she finds that sexy and exciting.  Don’t knock it!

 

My point is, who is it that sets these expectations, these apparent standards we must strive to achieve with diets, creams, procedures and prodding?  And what is it that makes us buy into them?  Is it a crowd thing, that sense that “everyone else does it so if I don’t then I’ll stand out for the wrong reasons?”  Is it that we’ve been so convinced the message is true, we’ve started to believe it ourselves?

 

I looked at my husband this morning; really looked at him.  His lines around his eyes, from working out-doors and no doubt added to by stress over the years. His grey hairs, now a good 30% of his head is covered in greys and whites.  I love them, I think they show his experience and maturity and yes, if I’m totally honest, they just look incredible with his tan!  I looked at his hands, with scars that show a life-time of crafting, creating, working hard for a living. Oh yes, I looked at other bits too – but that’s between us 😉

 

I asked myself “Do I see these changes in him as imperfections?  Do they stand out and become the things I notice?”  The answer for me was no.  I see these as the signs that we are growing old – together.  That makes me emotional.  We did not anticipate this.  It’s exciting and new.    I love the lines that tell his story, the rugged look that highlights his features, the grey hair that makes his blue eyes even more intense.

 

And I wonder, does he notice my lines, my creases and wrinkles?  Does he see the grey mixing in with the blonde or notice the lines on my hips and arms which tell of my history?  Does he love me because of them or despite them?  I believe I know.  I believe he’s with me on this one.

 

According to him I’m beautiful.  According to him I can stop fixating over the ageing process and continue to celebrate my years and my lines.  According to him, I’m perfect just as I am.

 

Dinah x

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