Reframing success (and the universe always has a plan)

Yesterday, I happened upon an old journal dated 2007 in which I had entries written from mid December of the previous year onwards. It’s odd that I should have so synchronistically come across a dairy from that particular era, tucked away in a “secret” hidy hole that I often rummage through looking for things yet had never come across this particular journal before. When I opened it, saw the date, and read the rather grandiose opening entry on 15th December 2006 – a title “Prologue” followed by “(or is that too pretentious”) – it made me smile and I was pulling on my glasses, perching on the bed to read on, in no time.

As the journal recounts, “something in me” had “just made me want to start a journal again, picked up from Waterstones” where I’d gone on an urge to buy books because I had “a reading mood coming over me”. Why was this interesting? Because, once the avid reader since early childhood, the timeframe from late 90s to, well, about 2007 was a lean reading phase for me…a sign of how messed up I had become, I never seemed to have the time, or the urge, to read or write anymore, as though that part of me had shut down. Clearly that was about to change, not least because (akin to now) I had suddenly found myself with much more time on my hands, especially time spent at home, exactly like now, and was looking for ways to occupy myself…and oh how many great things did those heart-occupations (reading, writing and yes painting) lead to in the years that followed, making the hectic yet barren years prior to that seem like a wide dessert I had trudged across wearing heavy boots. However, the time frame of late 2006 into 2007 is interesting to me, mostly, because it was when everything dramatically altered direction in my life, feeling decidedly unsteady as those changes took effect, and I had no means of predicting how this would look in a few months or how to navigate the territory…entirely comparable with where we all are now, you could say.

So to find a coherent account of the very era of my life when everything last felt so unsure and yes, to a degree “broken” out of its familiar routines is very interesting to me. The very structures, routines, priorities of my life were so altered that year that it was as though it all swizzled on a hair pin and I was now facing a completely different way…a way that lead into some of the most auspicious (if unconventional) years of my life, during which I became an artist, had my spiritual awakening, changed the way I ate, how we lived, the way we raised our kids and the order of priority we gave to everything. Auspicious times indeed; ones that shifted the whole trajectory of life…subtly at first, but with massively positive long-term consequences. In my own personal way, it marked an entire paradigm shift.

Because, at the end of 2006, I had been forced to leave my job and also to give up plans to open an interior design business due, primarily, to ill health but also (I can’t deny it) a strong feeling that I was in the wrong places facing the wrong way and that to spring from the corporate job to an all-consuming retail business (even though that had been a dream of mine a decade of more earlier) was only to jump out of the frying pan straight back into the fire.

For what felt like the whole of my adult life, and in fact upper school years, I had never stopped moving in some direction or other yet, also, never really felt convinced I was on the right path…though the fear-induced “necessity” to keep going always seemed to be chasing my coat-tails, nipping at the back of my legs too relentlessly for me to stop and reconsider.

However, 2006 had been a “crash” year and a breakdown of sorts. When my health began to slide most badly, around Spring of that year, with symptoms I could hardly describe let alone give name to, it felt like a free-fall and all I could think about was getting out of that corporate office whatever way I could. From ingrained habit, I assumed I “had” to have something ready to jump into if I left and, having decided I was unemployable (having spent years being self-employed before this one corporate job that tipped me over the edge) I decided on the interiors project; an undertaking that was as ambitious as it was foolhardy in hindsight but I poured myself into it for months, leasing premises, ordering stock, until a major logistical snag regarding those premises foiled the entire project at the eleventh hour. So, by the end of 2006, I was out of a job, my project had just flopped, I was also not particularly well still and thus utterly without traction for the first time in my life since starting school. It was a void that should have been welcoming but was really quite terrifying; not unlike these times, because I had no idea what was next; all the old premises I had built decisions on felt like quick sand to me, I could hardly gain momentum with anything.

Meanwhile, at least while I took a break, I had hoped to concentrate more on becoming a full-time parent to my 7 year-old daughter after years of feeling like I was making her a very poor second to my “career” and the need to survive. My finances were a mess and, though my partner had moved in with me early that year, we were barely managing to make the mortgage and all the other payments and yet I was now without an income and being told by him to take my time to sort myself out (what a rock he was, and is) so we were living on a shoestring. Yet I hoped, at the very least, to make some friends locally and become a more integrated parent at the school and in her life, not least because my daughter had not been thriving in class and seemed to be locked up into herself, not wanting to take part in lessons and, for reasons I had yet to get to the bottom of, quite unhappy at the school I had fought tooth and nail to keep her in when I went through my divorce two years earlier. To be honest, the way she was responding to school reminded me all too much of myself at that age; when I was the misfit in class and went very inner, often the brunt of bullies and not even, really, understood by teachers, for all I was bright, because my kind of brightness did not fit the mould (it was to take another 50 years for me to realise I was on the spectrum).

As it turned out, she was being manipulated and bullied, though I wasn’t to find that out in full detail until she opened up more, many months later. I could just feel there was something amiss and wanted to get to the root of her lack of confidence, also why teachers seemed to give up on her (I went to a performance by her class and was told she wasn’t in it because she didn’t want to be; no effort made to give her a non-speaking part…and when I told her teacher my aspirations for her take the assessment for grammar school at age 11, I was laughed at to my face, though I knew she was incredibly bright). There was huge guilt backed-up in me that I hadn’t been around so much to deal with these things while I worked but, the reality was, I was often the last parent to pick up because of my commute and the long hours I had been putting in. Somewhat as alluded to in my last post We still have a lot to learn, I had become that typical parent, preoccupied, tired, begrudging of parental tasks, distanced from my own child by the fact of having bought into the culture of subjugating that whole part of her educational and even pastoral upbringing to teachers and “the school”, but now I was going to bring the responsibility home and play my part, come what may.

I really hoped that my being around for her, at least for a handful of months, would make everything right as I had been so thinly spread for the past two years of doubling up a demanding job with self-employment and commuting. At that stage, I was still imagining a bounce back to so-called normality a few months down the line, when some suitable job came my way, meaning I would resume the typically modern dynamic of parenting plus career, both at the same time (such is the ingrained blueprint for female “success” these days…) but, for now, I wanted to make amends for my mental and emotional absence and really make this whole parent-school dynamic work for both of us, including getting to know some of the other families in the village in the process.

However, my daydreams of making friends at the school gate had quickly turned sour just before Christmas when one of the parents, whose daughter had been bullying mine (which I only learned about much later), decided to spread a vicious and completely unfounded rumour, in fact a barefaced fiction, about my partner and I amongst other parents, after the daughter came to our house and was verbally told off by my partner for her bad behaviour towards the other children; her way of getting me back for a grudge she harboured over an unrelated matter. So, not only was my daughter now experiencing friendship issues on top of not thriving in class but I was getting the cold shoulder at school, being whispered about and pointed at by other parents; a shocking demonstration of how bullying more-than exists amongst adult cohorts as well as between the very kids we should be modelling far better behaviour to.

This extremely nasty episode, towards the end of 2006, drove a shockwave through my social confidence in school-scenarios for a long time afterwards; I never again ventured very far into making friendships out of other parents at school and this only added to my isolation for the next few years, without a conventional job where I could meet people, since I was never part of those kinds of friendship groups that neurotypicals form around parenthood. Knowing what I now do about my Asperger’s traits, my compassion towards myself, over that exceedingly painful episode, is now enormous and I understand completely, realising as I finally do how much I already struggled to mingle and the gigantic effort it takes to consider whether I am doing or saying the right things in social settings.

I can also, in hindsight, observe at work in that episode the pitfall of an old tendency of mine to over-confide in people, giving them too much, too soon, often before knowing if I can trust them; being my attempt at following the neurotypical version of intimacy I had long studied from the side-lines and thus often tried to mimic, only, it never seemed to pay off for me. Instead, my confidences were often lapped up only to be used as material for laughing at me behind my back or used against me. People would get to know my vulnerabilities and, if I did anything to upset their apple cart (for instance, pointing out their child’s bad behaviour) they would know exactly how to get back at me, with a degree of thirst for vengeance that perpetually eludes my understanding as someone with Asperger’s. So when I look back at that 2006-07 era, I can also see it was when I began to draw these conclusions and, as it were, prepare to go it alone much more…though, as I said, it was to be years before I realised it had so much to do with my autistic wiring. This in itself has been valuable to review, in hindsight, given how much I have recently come to understand, and have compassion for, these undeniable autistic traits in me.

So, in summary, I was out of a job, or a plan, on scarily limited income, my child wasn’t thriving, I had been given the cold shoulder in the community, my health was in disarray…what else was there? I was facing a giant void in my life and have tended to look back at that time as very dark and bleak and yet, what did I find when I unearthed the journal? Was it like that at all? Was it a story of woe?

On the contrary, what I read in those pages wasn’t down in the mouth at all, nor do I find evidence of chronic illnesses in any of the words I shared, for all I have labelled that the time when my health went “wallop” overnight…in fact, not even one mention of health across two month’s of diary entries. Nor do I find a single downbeat or defeatist attitude in there but, rather, such optimism and can-do positivity glowing out of the pages it was an inspiration to read. There’s no crying over spilled milk (I allude to the school-episode passingly followed by “that’s not worth retelling – either I will will recall that instantly if I ever read this or, if not, its not important and part of last year anyway”). Instead, I talk about feeling as though “I am back!”, continuing…

“Feeling strong, remarkable, creative, attractive, a good person and mother, a lot about me that is interesting and a deep well of creativity to draw upon in ’07, its just waiting for me, I can feel it and my smooth amber orb of life-force is pulsating gently, strong and steady. I’m ready for it all, and I intend to enjoy every moment. Already a year of rich colours, bring it on!”

If the orb bit sounds bizarre, it’s worth mentioning that I had been going for some hypnotherapy sessions around that time and it was a visualisation she often used with me. Yet I have been all too easy to dismiss the years before my spiritual awakening, in 2011, as the “before” era of my life, devoid of a highly awake conscious awareness that was somehow yet to spring to life, but what I find in my 2007 journal clearly contradicts that rather presumptuous surmise. Oh yes, I was all there alright, and clearly had the means to teach the “me” of today a thing or two, especially in those moments when I allow things to close in on me enough to snuff my own light out because, back in 2007, I wasn’t having any of it!

So, its been monumentally powerful to reintroduce myself to my 2007 self via this journal and to find that I was so intact back then, in spite of a several harrowing years of abuse, divorce, struggle and stress so recently behind me or continuing, and this has been one of the biggest gifts of unearthing the journal (plus huge encouragement for continuing the mostly daily practice of journaling or writing for myself since it can be sooooo retrospectively powerful!). Ive been taught this truism many times over, and this situation serves as a good example; the reason we write is primarily for ourselves, even if others happen to gain benefit along the way. Also, we are each our own best teachers, if only we are prepared to listen to the deep inner wisdom we might only ever say to ourselves…so, journaling is a great conduit and often this information comes through best in a non-linear fashion (for instance, I have been taught very much indeed, as a bewildered adult, by tuning into my child-self via old journals or pockets of memories held in fragments of music and other prompts that serve as catalysts to epiphany). It’s all there, waiting to be plundered from our stash of treasures; as long as we are open to the wisdom that each of us embody.

The other thing I have been taught, repeatedly, is that good things organically grow from the kind of positivity I had just found, in spadeloads, in my old journal. When we dial into that kind of frequency, magic just seems to happen, as was about to happen in my life when I started this dairy in 2007; perhaps even because I was taking the time to put it all down into gratitude words. Even as has happened as I have sat here typing up this post; good, even great, beyond the realms of possibility wonderful things have happened in the past day of drafting these words for my blog (my husband just walked in to deliver the most astonishingly good news a moment ago); because its all good energetic ju-ju and, when we express it, it then feeds back into its own root-stock to grow even more of itself!

Meanwhile, back in early 2007, I was clearly finding pleasure and deep-lasting joy from all the little things, the ordinary and domestic moments with my family over an extended Christmas and New Year compared to all the years when I had been at work. I was experiencing oodles of appreciation for having the time, at last, to be so-much more present with them all than the previous year, when I had been on leave for just a pitiful handful of days over Christmas and New Year (during which time I also had gastric flu), no doubt distracted with work-worries the whole time I was home, before heading back to even more stress at my corporate desk. This time I was relishing fish and chips on the December beach, the time to take the kids to the pottery cafe…twice, to go on long walks with the dog, teaching my daughter how to knit, playing Monopoly, eating great food, describing myself at the end of the day as “replete, glowy and happy. Perfect!!!”

My evident, undimmable, brightness of spirit and sense of trusting that “good things” are always possible, that they might be just round the next corner (perhaps because you believe they are possible), rings out from every word, for all the lack of logical “reason” for it. You could say, it’s a belief that the universe always has a plan; which is what has got me through these times, lately, too!

Which is exactly what came to pass because, by my final entry of January 2007, “that thing”, by which I mean a minor miracle, had already occurred…though quite impossible to predict or plan for… by which I mean an answer came to all my prayers and everything changed, or started to change, for the absolute better on the back of it. Perhaps what I am about to describe is not such a big-seeming thing from the outside looking in but it was a HUGE thing for me, my daughter and the way things turned out for us as a a family and with far-reaching repercussions in terms of the life my daughter got to live and the way she turned out as an adult.

Because a chance conversation with my not-yet father-in-law when we visited over New Year 2007, following a lively lunchtime conversation where my daughter had become uncharacteristically animated and chatty with these new grandparently people, met only once before, as a result of which he got to thoroughly appreciate what a bright little button of potential she was (when not hiding mutely behind my coat-tails) led to to him pulling me aside in private to ask for a frank account of how things were going for her at school. For once, I could really tell this person was truly wanting me to serve him up the absolute facts of the matter, not the polite answer (he and I have since learned that we speak the same language when it comes to our shared characteristic of extreme directness) so I gave it to him.

Of course, newly fired-up by recent events, not so much the social exclusion for me but the way the school had overlooked and ceased trying with her, I curbed none of the spleen that came up when asked. “I feared as much” he replied and, when asked if there were any other local schools she could move to, being told she was on a long waiting list, he followed up with “leave it with me”.

I could tell I had moved a mountain by the end of that conversation and, though I didn’t yet know in what way it had been moved, the mountain came to me a few days later when a letter landed on our mat declaring my prospective father-in-law wanted to undertake to pay my daughter’s school fees to the small independent school that my step-son already attended and for the remainder of her school career until she was 18. This decision was quite astonishing to me in so many ways, quite aside from being one of the most moving and generous things anyone had ever done for me or mine. This man had no evidence whatsoever that his son and I were committed enough to stay together in the long-term (though we did…in fact, we got married later that year and are still VERY happily together) nor did he have any need to treat a prospective stepchild to his son the same as he treated his other grandchildren, but he did..and he has…and continues to do so. In short, our world altered, in so many ways, overnight from that one act of inclusion and generosity. Suddenly we had an alternative choice and I could prevent history repeating itself, as per my childhood, as she was moved to a school where emphasis was on individual attention, bringing out confidence and working with each child’s inherent and expectably unique traits (which is quite unlike the common denominator stance taken in state schools). To quote my journal, “There were tears and a stunned sense of ‘I’m sure my life has just changed dramatically but I’m not quite sure how, or how much’”.

What happened over the next few days marked the start of it all and not least in terms of how much it, very quickly, began to alter my daughter’s trajectory from the locked-in gloom of the previous couple of years. I can clearly recall telling her the news, sat on my bed that evening, not really able to anticipate her response to moving school so abruptly (would she be sad at leaving her familiar school, changing her routine since she used to dislike changes of any kind) or even whether she would truly understand the importance of what had just happened. Yet she clearly did because….as my journal relates…she spent the next couple of days researching everything she could about the new school on “the web” (remembering she was only just turned 7 years old, that now seems incredible to me) and also “preparing for the taster day, choosing her outfit, like it was a job interview” (I can also remember that so vividly; how she was stood in our bedroom doorframe ready to go before we even got out of bed). She was offered a place and had been kitted out in uniform from their thrift shop by the end of that day and started a day later; it was all a complete whirlwind but she never looked back. Within a month, I had a very different-seeming, bright and unstoppably chatty little girl on my hands; she had so much animation, it was a true transformation before our eyes. The journal account is so moving to me to read back now, reminding me how much this was everything I had been silently hoping for without even knowing this was an outcome I could have hoped for; I just wanted so desperately to see her thrive and become herself and it was happening.

So, this was a different kind of success to what I was used to measuring life in; this felt like a true success of the heart, one that kept giving over all the years I watched her thrive. Looking across the timelines, though I seldom did, I could hardly dare to imagine how things might have continued where she had been, languishing in a classroom where she used to face the wall and have black circles around her eyes however early I sent her to bed. In my journal, I wrote:

“She’s animated, she’s curious, we have amazing in-depth conversations in the car between school and home (Romans, slavery, journalism, stock market whereas she more or less used to stick her fingers in her ears before! There’s been a few issues over shyness…but she’s also had an award in assembly for hard work and she’s up to 6 or 7 housepoints, mainly for PE or art-related. And in a way I can’t really pinpoint, its really ‘brought her on’ in just 3 weeks”.

By the end of that summer, she had joined the choir, taken up singing lessons and was a soloist in front of an audience by Christmas. She went on to take the lead in several musicals, perform at countless musical festivals and pass numerous singing, violin and music theatre exams, not to mention becoming an accomplished artist and an incredible all-rounder across the full range of subjects, plus one of the most captivating and kind people you could meet.

One thing that comes to my mind about that time, though its not in the journal. I can clearly recall sitting down to talk to her, around that time she changed schools, about trajectories and making the most of them, explaining how one small alteration in direction can lead to a massive variance in outcome further down the line…using two balls rolled across the sitting room floor to demonstrate this with a tiny nudge to one of them to show how they landed in completely different places. To my astonishment, she has quoted this memory back to me many times and I know its something she has never forgotten the value of. Our chats with one another, putting the world to rights, exploring into the crevices of everything, really began about that time and, as my journal relates, it was as though she began to really pay attention and want to discuss a whole range of topics in the car journeys to school; we began a ceaseless dialogue on unlimited areas of interest that continues to this day. Back in the old school, she hated that I tried to encourage her to think and question as she said this made her stick out and get picked on more; now she felt it was the culture of her school and new friends to be inquisitive and find things out so she wanted to be part of that…and it altered everything, not least what she went on to achieve, which was considerable.

So, did she never encounter difficulties at school ever again, especially regarding bullies? Well no but each time she had that problem reappear (and it was always handled swiftly through involvement of the school), it was notably instigated by a child that moved from the state school system into her school. If I sound biased then maybe I am on the back of how I had such a dreadful and life-affecting time with relentless bullying all through my schooling at state-operated schools; and all of the closest friends I have ever made in my adult life seem to have that same track-record in common. Its like a particularly aggressive attitude adopted by certain individuals, a sort-of toxic contagion, that gets into the flow of behaviour; a degree of hard-nosed competitive behaviour that includes complete annihilation of anyone that is deemed to be different or gets in the way of their path to supposedly being on top, including this whole belief system around the idea of “disrespect”. Point in case, yesterday’s headlines included news of an autistic boy stabbed to death by school peers from the very secondary school my daughter would have attended had I not moved house and prior to events taking her a different course. I hear it was instigated by his ex-girlfriend, who felt disrespected when he dumped her, thus recruited other boys to attack him on her behalf. I’m not suggesting my daughter is autistic just because I am but, akin to the rest of my family, she was certainly not so very run-of-the mill and yet, in the right hands and environment, she has utterly thrived. This, again, I count as a success that I had some small part in as her parent and most fervent source of encouragement.

To reiterate that point I made to her using the two balls, one small nudge in circumstance…and that nudge can be as minute as a subtle change of heart, a tweak of attitude, taking a broader outlook, putting more focus on the positive, or yes changing the environment that a person deals with every day… can make for a very different outcome further down the line. It feels important to hold that truism in mind, in fact more so than ever, as we head into 2021!

After all, I had just done this very thing with my relentless positivity at the start of the 2007; upbeat and optimistic, grateful and open to unexpected solutions appearing, even though “everything” had looked like a pile of rubbish from the hard logistical details of it all, the set of circumstances that looked grim, at the end of 2006. Yet I had grasped onto the present moment with all its riches whilst holding onto a tangible, glowing sense of hope deep inside me, fanning that small flame into life with my gratitude, even though I had no demonstrable reason for feeling such a thing…and then, suddenly, the mechanism for this entire change of trajectory simply appeared on the horizon and we made the jump.

What came of this one “small” change in circumstance almost took things out of my hands, regarding my so-called career, making retrospective sense of why things on that score had remained so hard to pin down or gain any traction with in the months beforehand. Had I already tied myself to a new job, the logistics of the new school wouldn’t have worked at all because someone had to get her there (none of the school buses came near to our village), school started extra-early and then finished early, there was prep to be helped with (a big part of the school culture was that parents were expected to play a much more hands-on role with this, every single day), they were also encouraged to come along to watch matches and performances on a regular basis and, in the fullness of time, there were school-related concerts and practices after hours, so many other things to get her to, plus I became a volunteer behind the scenes of theatrical events. Yes, it was a full-time role from now on…as, with the beauty of hindsight, it feels like parenting is truly meant to be, not this whole modern mentality of just hand the kids over at the school gate and let the teachers get on with it.

Also, thinking back, her life might have been precarious, many times over, without the long daily chats we had on school journeys, where she felt comfortable to air all the kinds of perplexing things that I was left to mull over, unsupported and unheard, as a child of her age. There were numerous times when I just knew that our unfettered conversation in the car had really made a profound difference (and she has confirmed as much many times); so I wouldn’t have missed those moments for the world. How many of my own issues, growing up, stemmed from the fact I really had no one to talk to about what seemed like my wholly unconventional thinking on so many deep topics; how much would a mentor on hand have helped me with that and led to different outcomes, where I could have come to appreciate and trust my own thinking rather than alienating it as different thus “wrong”. Even during the secondary years, I felt needed and justified in the degree of availability I offered to my daughter so that, even if my health had been up to it, I doubt I would have wanted to go back to full time work. As soon as the change happened, I could see this was the way things would be from now on: my words in the journal describe how I was kept awake with insomnia for quite a few weeks while this change took place (and this might well be the most powerful section of my journal-entry):

“filled with thoughts of ‘what do I do now?’ of feeling I need to justify my existence, feeling I should get a job or start banging out paintings every day of the week…This, in spite of the fact I am now very much a full-time parent doing 2 hours driving to school a day, getting her through homework and times tables, being more ‘hands-on’ as a parent than ever before. Just getting the uniform ready can be a feat in itself and there’s no rushing with things now, none of the last minutes stuff, especially in the mornings, the consequences of being late or unprepared are just too messy. It is (and this occurred to me in the car journey I’ve just done between the last two sentences…) a subjugated life, I am subjugating myself to my daughter, to give her the best possible things, be it education or experiences, openings through doorways and opportunities. That’s not to say there’s nothing in it for me – there’s lots. It’s an indescribable feeling, being able to do this much for your offspring, give them the best possible start, things you didn’t have and many you feared would be lost as the price to pay for a ‘career’. There’s a deep deep well-spring of happiness in me right now when I do these things, when I’m making things better at home for my family, in countless different ways”.

Sounds like I had found myself; all should have been perfect then…and, in many ways, it was, plus now we were on track for something better than before. So what brought it down? Well, believe it or not, I continued to self-berate for the lack of a career or even a job, even after my health took a turn for the worse (which really happened after two operations, including an ectopic pregnancy, the following year) and the long slog to get back onto an even keel which, in many respects, continues today. In fact, had we not trimmed our cloth to allow me to be the full-time parent the year before, my sudden tip into chronic illness in 2008 would have hit us far harder but we were, in a sense, ready for the further adjustment, having tailored our lives to a whole different set of priorities by then. Since that time, via the path of my health challenges, I have come to deep-dive the personal traits that, I have come to realise, reflect my Asperger’s wiring, exploring their many gifts and challenges, and so I fully accept now that I am really not a good multitasker (at all). This helped explain how I am not able to give my best as a parent whilst immersed in a career, both end up becoming poor offerings, nor do I want to be doing that when art and existential questioning are really what light me up; so, I would rather model to my child how making the first choice of whatever truly fires and inspires you is always a valid choice, whatever society says.

That aside, I never let go of that feeling of having to apologise for, or justify, the fact I didn’t go out to work in a conventional way (nobody seemed to take my growing art career seriously, even now I was regularly exhibiting and making sales). I could feel distinct wafts of coldness around the topic when it came up with certain friends and family, after they had inevitably asked “what are you doing now?” or “when do you plan to go back to work?”. I would find myself overstating my health symptoms, real as they were, as a sort of buffer to such questioning and its hard not to wonder how much that may have reinforced the need for them; to have that excuse in place when really I should have needed none of it to justify my entitlement to choose the lifestyle that best suited me in every way, taking into account my artistic traits, my parenting stance, my introversion and my (latterly discovered) autistic qualities. I had no socially acceptable job-identity to offer when people asked, so I ended up with a health-identity instead!

Its despicable, really, that our current society (and women are often the worst, most judgemental, culprits) demand that things be this way!

By now, my husband (as he had become) had made his own career change and things were working out much better for us on one reliable income stream, the jigsaw pieces falling into place in some surprising ways (which, again, I attribute in no small part to the degree of optimism we brought to them), so the pressure simply wasn’t there for me to go back to work as before. We didn’t have a grandiose house like many of the other families at the school but we also didn’t feel the trade off to get such things was worth it; our priorities were very different to many of those we rubbed shoulders with at school events. I was reassured by my husband, countless times, that it served us all far better for me to be at home and yet I felt this awful societal judgement wave enter the space whenever I engaged in conversations with other people. You simply weren’t deemed to be playing for the team of life, or were assumed to be lazy, rich or codependent, a fluffy-headed housewife, if you didn’t have that very urge for “a job”. Whereas, for me, it felt like discovering this whole other possibility…living to be alive, not to be some sort of input-output machine (where, based on my old life, the costs of working often gobbled up most of the hard-earned income, not to mention the time, energy and creativity to pursue my numerous interests). When I had a good run with my art, I took us all on a great holiday or contributed to improvements we made to our house, and this felt wonderful, but I didn’t output art primarily for this and never have.

So, on and on, this self-doubting, self-judgemental, societal belief system “thing” turned in on me as the price to pay, it seems, for our wonderful new tilt of life. It became softer, I’ll admit, after my spiritual wake-up in 2011 but the problem remained that it is a belief system so universally applied “out there” where peoples’ opinions lurked that I could still feel these judgements bouncing off me whenever I mingled. So, in a way, it became instrumental as yet another way that I felt separate from other people, devoid of local friends, whilst allowing myself to feel less-than in some regard, until such time as I realised how silly this was. Really, was I going to hang my head apologising for this stroke of luck until I reached the age when everybody else was retired? Not on your nelly…I began to laugh it off from then on, and also to stand up for myself more, but it has remained work in progress.

Never so more than now, at the start of 2021, as I review current events and how everyone’s attitudes to work and home priorities have been shaken up in the space of a year, catalysed by that other new year back in 2007…what have I got to impart to those people that live in fear of somehow losing their identity if they can’t go out to an office every day, dress up in a suit, network in a bar, all the trappings of modern selfhood that are deemed so very important by our society? I would say, relax and see what else is in there for you; what other gifts are ready to surface, ones that might make your old life look quite hollow by comparison. Who knows, it could be the beginning of an epiphany happening for you…

The start of 2007 is such a long time ago, so much water under the bridge, my daughter now a highly accomplished young adult studying for a degree that truly fires her up with creative enthusiasm at a top university yet still crediting so much of who she has become to the quality of parenting she got from me. Am I ready to redefine success, at last? Am I prepared to own that I have had it all along, that every step of this journey speaks of (yes, unconventional) success in so many areas? In owning it, can I bear to admit that modelling this different way, being who I was for all that time I spent as the hands-on parent, is giving back to the world as much as, or more than, anything I could have been “doing in a job” for all those years, if not to any of you then certainly to my daughter, who cites me as her strongest, most inspirational influence (to be passed on to her children)? Now, can I wind back to some of those positive attitudes of 2007 and truly own my chosen state of jobless self-definition, as in, I choose to be defined by nothing except for Who I Am (which has nothing whatsoever to do with “what I do for a living” or any other material factor); with no apologies or further explanation necessary? Here’s to setting that intention for 2021.

As it turns out, parenting has been (and continues to be) the most fulfilling task I have ever set myself, yes even though I have long considered myself to lack maternal qualities in the clichéd sense, and turns out to be my true life’s work, still in progress; to which art and a handful of other left-field accomplishments roll in at a secondary position every time. When I look back to the start of 2007, I see in myself just the seed of what was to become the realisation of all that…and which, had things turned out just a fraction differently, I might very-well have missed since I doubt very much if the art career, or the blogging, the self-seeking or perhaps even the spiritual epiphanies would have occurred had I been so outwardly focused; perhaps a nod to how these forcibly inner times might well be the very catalyst to self-realisation (as in to realise your fullest potential) so many of you have been waiting for, perhaps looking for in other places, all your lives. Well, they might be…if you remain open and optimistic, curious to what might be around the next corner, full of gratitude for what is and holding space for all the unexpected ways that things might suddenly shuffle into new positions, ready to work out for the best.

About Helen White

Helen White is a professional artist and published writer with two primary blogs to her name. Her themes pivot around health and wellbeing, expanded consciousness and ways of noticing how life is a constant dance between the deeply subjective and the collective-universal, all of which she explores with a daily hunger to get to know herself better. Her blog Living Whole shines a light on living with high sensitivity, dealing with trauma and healing from chronic health issues. Spinning the Light is an extremely broad-based platform where she elucidates the everyday alchemy of relentless self-exploration. A lifetime of "feeling like an outsider" slowly emerged as neurodivergence (being a Highly Sensitive Person with ADHD, synaesthesia, sensory processing challenges and other defecits overlapping with giftedness). All of these topics are covered in her blogs, written from two distinct vantage points so, if you have enjoyed one of them, you may wish to explore the other for a different, yet entirely complimentary, perspective.
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2 Responses to Reframing success (and the universe always has a plan)

  1. I think it was very serendipitous to find that diary and compare how you recorded feeling to how you remember it. Very powerful. I hope that the last year will have made many people think differently about how society could run and I’m optimistic that things will change for the better as a result.

    Liked by 1 person

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