The crazy ways we can hurt ourselves

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I’m sitting at the bottom of the stairs of my little house with a wildly angry child. Her arms and legs are flailing, the emotions are shooting out of her limbs like fireworks.

My child and I lock eyes. In an effort of desperation, because frankly I don’t know what else to do, I say – let’s take a deep breath. I feel sort of insane saying this. She’s never going to buy this hippy crap! I think. She looks at me, I wait cautiously for more screaming, before she too inhales and we both sort of melt. The end of her pain is coming.

It’s been a week of high emotion. Many things jumped into our lives – and I say to my husband that it’s like some kind of test in the form of a devilish assault course.

The children’s feelings seem often an expression of how the husband and I are feeling. When things are going wrong for them I look at us, and often I find that there is tension or stress or fear – some toxic emotions poisoning us.

As she is breathing, I start to breathe too. And it feels good. Like it is taking a little edge off this stirring undercurrent of discomfort that has come from all the jumping over the obstacles that we encountered (well, actually, I tripped over more than a couple. I still feel bruised).

And it feels so completely nice to just sit with in her and breathe, and then we hug and I feel her body totally relax, as I am holding her.I feel, too, a gratefulness in her that she is over that stress – to be free again. We sit for a while on the quiet of the stairs, in the sudden silence. And I realise that I need more of this. Some quiet air circulating around me, through me.

If I’m really honest, I also want someone to come to me and let me shout and scream and shout, and then wrap their body around me, and whisper, as I am whispering in her ear, everything is Ok sweetie, everything is OK.

Later I am getting into bed, as I have finished the long list of tasks and doings that come with living, thoughts from the day start to swirl. And suddenly that icy creep of fear appears. And I know why – because in times of crisis-like situations – which this week has been – I am not always that calm, understanding mother that I was on the stairs today.  I can be unpleasant, petty, hot-headed, and impetuous. I can be a righteous flame of anger (my husband’s helpful description). And it’s usually fear that lights this bonfire of ungraciousness.

It unnerves me.

But seeing as I am on this new trip of kindness, I can’t allow the torrent of judgment that wants to assault me. I can feel it building up, ready to explode like a dirty bomb. But I won’t let it go off. I seize hold of my mind before it does.

There is a concept in Buddhism called the second arrow. (Yes, I might be a Buddhist, I’m not entirely sure). The idea is that the first arrow is the event that causes you pain – a call from a client telling you they aren’t working with you anymore, a slight from a friend, an argument with your child. These are all things that might cause pain. They hit you like an arrow.

The logical way to process this pain, or this arrow, would be to just deal with it, right? Well, that’s really not how many humans operate. What we like to do is to shoot ourselves with a second arrow of pain, and that’s in the form of a big layer of judgement or guilt or shame about the event. Oh I knew that client was going to drop me because I am just not good enough. Or my friend did that because they just doesn’t like me! Have they ever liked me?!?

You get the idea. So not only does it really suck to have two goddam arrows stuck in you, the second arrow just causes confusion – and it becomes nigh on impossible to heal even the first arrow.

So with my brain captured in a vice-like grip, I lay down in bed. I listen to my favourite sound (aside from the soft purr of my children when they are asleep) and that’s the soft patter of rain on my window. Thinking about everything that has passed, the first thing that I see is shame. Shame about the million ways I didn’t get it right. But then I meet it with kindness. Because that’s my bag now, kindness.

I let it all wash over me, the pains of the day, of the week, of anything else that wants to show its face. And then I wash myself over with kindness. Sometimes I actually say, Poor Di. Or – that’s really tough. Like I’m some kind of deranged person. But you know what, it feels good.  And I would say something like this to my children when I am in good-mother mode, so  why can’t I be my own good care-taker?
And so this combination of accepting the pain and meeting it with kindness seems to shift something. I refuse to judge myself, I refuse to allow more pain into my body in the form of a second arrow. And gradually it starts to pass, like everything passes in life. Like clouds that drift across the sky only to disappear to who knows where. And then something new will drift into my world.

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Being the woman behind the man

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(It’s great being married to a photographer…. if you hate having your photo taken. I actually like having my photo taken, weirdly I feel it’s a bit like having a massage. Someone is paying attention you, and I loved being paid attention to. There I’ve admitted it. But it’s OK. I’ve heard no-one reads the internet. So this photo was taken by my girl.)

Right now, I am a woman, behind a man. I am being so totally old fashioned in my life. My feminist 18 year old self would FREAK the shit out if she knew that my 38 year old self was spending most of her time building a business out of a her husband’s passion – photography.

She would feel anger lashing out of her tongue. She would think of poor Henri Cartier Bresson’s second wife, Martine Franck, who gave up her own promising photography career to help him with his already crazy successful career. History is littered with the wasted talents of millions of other women who have been the support, force, drive or help behind their husbands careers, to the detriment of their own.

Disgusting, I would say!

Regressive, I would scream!

Pathetic, I would mutter.

I will never never never never be like that. Says my 18 year old self. And yet here I am – and I’ve never been so goddam happy. What the….?

Here is why I love being the woman behind the man:

The love I have for being a mother totally slapped me in the face – I was so surprised by it. OK so it didn’t arrive straight away, and at the beginning I was often desperate to get away at times. Like when I went to Paris for the weekend when my son was 3 months old. But you know, I settled into it. And wow I now really super love being a mum. So I don’t want to have a job that demands that I put it first. I want to be able to take the day off to tend to a sick child. Or take them out to a cafe for breakfast on a Monday morning and talk to them about how the brain works. But of course I want good money to do the work I do. And I want it to be crazy interesting. And really the best kind of money I knew I could get with this kind of crazy fun and total flexibility was to help my husband make more money.

PS – it’s so wildly against my nature to be this pragmatic about work. It feels totally exciting that me and pragmatism can do things together at last.

The more cool stuff I create for our business and for my husband to do, the happier he is and the more awesome things he does for the family. I help him be happy, he spreads all that love and joy around all of us. He is a super hands on dad so I win by having an even more involved dad. And we all win from that.

Life is long (hopefully) and childhood is short. My kids won’t be living at home forever. So even if I wanted to breakout on my own and have a different kind of career to what I am doing now – I still have tonnes of time to do whatever I want when they are older/leave home. Now I know lots of people will shout at me and say – being 50 in a job market is impossible! Well to that I say – I shall not give a fuck for these kinds of worries. Determination and bloody mindedness will get you everywhere. Look at the amazing comedian Leslie Jones, who became at 48 the oldest comedian that Saturday Night Live had ever hired (great New Yorker article on her). Or the 68 year old woman who became a DJ or sculptor Louise Bourgeois who made her greatest work after the age of 80.

I am not going to let age get in the way of anything. Because I am only getting older, and quite frankly I am getting much better as each year passes. I won’t let the world miss out on the awesomeness that will be me at 50 just because I’m, well, 50.

And you know what – here is the honest truth – what I secretly believe, deep down, is that someone is going to love my blog so much one day they’ll pay me to write a book. Ha ha, got you feminism! This whole working with my husband is just a ploy to become more successful than him!

I shall have my cake and eat it too.