Doing what you want may seem like an inherently selfish and possibly potentially reckless or damaging action to encourage, but I am not suggesting that you forget about your responsibilities and ignore your worldly limitations by any means. By investing more time on your goals, wants and needs and working on changing the words that you commonly use to think, it can have a powerfully positive affect on your life and the people around you. By being more content by feeding who you are at your centre, it will help you to face those areas of life that you find you lack motivation for, or that you avoid to the point where it becomes overwhelming. I would like to share with you how making these changes in my life has meant that although I am in situated in the same place, with no material changes, my outlook on life has improved drastically – I have more to give, feel less resentful, less selfish and I feel more enjoyment, hope and appreciation.
I became a mother at nineteen, and I have always struggled with my identity. Before even knowing who I was, I was raising a highly spirited child, determined to put one hundred percent into the role. I had many fleeting interests but lacked the confidence to follow through with them, and my aspirations seemed unattainable to me. With no confidence or tools to set goals for the future, I concentrated on what I could do in the present, working part-time jobs and concentrating on parenting, but I was extremely unhappy. I could never be the Mother that I felt I should be. Sixteen years later; I have three children with my partner Rhys and have dealt with a variety of mental health issues. About six months ago, with a one year old daughter, a fourteen year old son and a sixteen year old daughter who was having major problems, my relationship fell into crisis and I decided that something needed to change, in myself. I desperately threw myself into self-development to help give me the strength I needed to get through. I was thoroughly depleted and unable to cope with my life events; shaky, tearful and hanging on by a thread. I reached out to my local family centre for help and worked with an understanding support worker. She encouraged me to attend a self-esteem course, counselling, and life-coaching sessions. I have also been taking medication to help with my depression and anxiety (not for the first time). There has been a great deal to process, but the main thing that I’ve taken from it is that I am responsible for my own happiness and that I have needed to find myself again. Under all of the labels of my identity, mother, partner, daughter, sister, granddaughter, friend (I felt like I was a disappointment in all departments), there was something missing – me! How could I give anything to others when I didn’t even feel like a proper person?
Although the situation of an individual is of course a huge factor in how they experience life, I think happiness is mainly determined by the way that we think. My mind had become thick with tangled webs of thought and not a lot of the threads were my own. They were the voices and words that I had picked up throughout my childhood and early adulthood. The voices of my parents, partner, extended family and other people that mean a lot to me. I have been shaped by the people around me, as are we all, but over the years, my perpetually low self-esteem had meant that I had learnt to value their voices above my own, burying my own unimportant thoughts and opinions so far down that my own identity was hidden beneath this web in a muted whisper. I had all but disappeared and I was over-eating to fill the emptiness, bingeing on television as a way to get the time for myself that I needed (read How I Found More Hours in the Day by Cutting Back the Screen-time for more on this), or overspending on clothes to mask myself with a temporary sense of self-confidence. I think this was my soul crying out for recognition! Frustration, despair and hopelessness were at the forefront of my consciousness and stress was having a mental and physical effect on my body. My life was getting through the next hurdle and these selfish behaviours were my coping mechanism.
The realisation that I have been living to please others and meet their expectations instead of my own has been a turning point for me. The way that I have begun to free myself from these sticky strings is by asking myself repeatedly, ‘what do I want? What do I want to do today for me? What makes me happy? What do I want right now?’ Eventually this has led to new thoughts like, “I want to do something for Rhys, to show him that I appreciate how hard he works for us” or “I want to make our home a place to enjoy.” To find the courage to carry this out, you need to increase your self-esteem and work towards self-acceptance. The courage to make decisions and to be aware that perhaps not everyone will like or understand your choices (say nay to those naysayers) can be difficult to find at first, but the more that you do what you choose for yourself, the more that your confidence in your own choices will grow and you will start to gain respect from the people that have doubted you. The more that you do little pieces of what you want, taking time out of your day to devote to a goal or interest, the easier it will become to face your other responsibilities. I have found that by making myself a top priority, the ‘chores’ that were making my life unbearable are becoming background noise and things are less overwhelming and more manageable.
In my case, I am at home looking after my almost two year old, with two teenagers dealing with the strains of teenage life and education, and with a partner that works long hours. I was spending my days thinking that to play my part in the family and ‘earn my keep’ I had to provide for my family perfectly. I had a perfect picture in my head of what a mother should be. She should have a spotless house, be tidy and organised, have everyone on schedule, have stimulated, socialised and never bored and unhappy children and a delicious balanced meal promptly on the table (not too early, for Rhys, and not too late, for the children). Not to mention the child coordination taken care of efficiently and family-time constructed to help keep our family bonded together. Whoever I was trying to be it was far from my feminist values. These are only a few of the internal pressures I was putting on myself, and from the moment I woke up in the morning, I was generally already facing failure and feeling guilty for not fulfilling my role in the way that I should be. I could never keep up, always behind on something and becoming overwhelmed, stressed and depressed. So, a great deal of my time was spent procrastinating, avoiding the things that I should be doing, because I would never get on top of things anyway. I despaired that I would never be the person I was supposed to be, because I wasn’t good enough! The problem I think now, is that I was over-identifying with the role of mother. Yes, I am a mother, and I will be forevermore, but this is only one facet of me. I am also, creative, slightly spiritual, and with so many thoughts spilling out of my head that I need to get them out in writing. I have neglected these parts of myself and that has taken its toll on my happiness.
“You cannot pour from an empty cup.” – unknown
Always putting others first may seem like a selfless, honourable action, but if your heart is not in it, it cannot truly bring others joy and it will leave us depleted. We must fill our own cups first in order to pour our love onto others. In unlocking my wants and needs and placing them as a well-balanced priority, I have been feeding my soul. This gives me more desire to embrace everything else. Instead of building resentment towards others for the time I devote to them and not feeling appreciated, I no longer feel that I have to do something, but that I choose to do it. For the most part, by satisfying my needs as an individual with her own dreams and desires, I have found it easier to fulfil the important responsibilities I have as a Mother, letting go of unimportant things and thinking more frequently of others and wanting to give more to them. My general daily life hasn’t significantly changed in the material sense, but because I am thinking for myself and doing more of what I want to do, I feel more contented and appreciative of who and what I have in my life.
So, please, give yourself the gift of doing what you want to do, not the things you think you should do. I hope it helps you to find a happier life too!