Category Archives: self worth

Woman, Spectrum, Being, Loving.

Well, who could have predicted…? No, not the complete pigs breakfast we are making of our democracies across the globe or the total neglect of care we show to our planet. Not those. I am referring to the fact that into my 60s I am finally beginning to grow up. It’s an odd feeling. I quite like it.

For the longest time I have beaten myself up for being awkward and sometimes difficult. I have over the years made a decent if variable fist of covering up social awkwardness, mostly, and have also made quite a good job of mothering, wifeing and friending. Less so daughtering, less so in-lawing. But at long last and partly due to my sons MA in autism and my own historic work with people with autism, I recognise that perhaps, maybe, if I squint at it a bit, I can see that it wasn’t all my fault, or indeed a fault at all. It just was. And having got this far I reckon I can keep going. I do work I love and am pretty good at it in all honesty, I have family and friends who are exceptional and brilliant, and this acceptance feels like the next and crucial stage in a mildly chaotic and chequered life story.

“On the spectrum” is such a lazily dismissive phrase which simultaneously manages to sound a bit fun and jazzy. It reminds me of when I was at school and we had to do sewing classes, which I hated. I was so excited to see one day, on the paper we had to read before class, that there was something called a selvedee that we would be making. It sounded whizzo! It sounded like a dance, or a new colour, interesting and inspiring. My disappointment on finding it was a typo and the thing was a selvedge, something that sounded like the sludge in the bottom of a bucket, was irreversible. I didn’t sew for years, but love it now. As I love the refreshed self confidence I have found in just being who I am. Some things just take time.

Why do I want to share this? Because I am not alone. Many women in my position muddle along for years making the best of it , developing coping strategies to enable family life to happen with as little disruption as possible and indeed burying ourselves in that family life, not seeing or valuing that there may be a reason for the uncomfortable feelings and struggles, but we do one thing really well: we blame ourselves. And then we burn out. We rage, resent, defy. And then accept. And maybe if women know that how we feel is ok, is just how it is, and we don’t have to try to conform in order to have a family life or a life at all, maybe then women can breathe easier and enjoy the life they have rather than try for the life people think they should have.

Women face a series of challenges. We are women for a start, subject to a torrent of expectations mostly created by and beneficial to men and perpetuated by everyone because that is how society works. How we look, sound, smell, behave, who we sleep with, live with, how we procreate, if and how we give birth and rear children. We are groomed into a mindset of daintiness and submissiveness and those of us who fail to toe the line have experienced a range of punishments over the centuries from simple rejection and mockery to a lifetime of dieting and anxiety, trafficking and rape, rejected for barrenness and equally rejected for having explicit desires, for being too old/fat/thin/clever/stupid/ambitious/addyourownwordhere to burning at the stake. Even, in the present day, some women and girls feeling somehow that they are better off as, should be, men and being encouraged to surgically alter their bodies, take sterilising drugs, and live a life they don’t need to live and from which there is no return, avoidable if only they could just be themselves. Control epitomised.

So much talk about wellbeing and mental health. For many women that starts and ends with rejecting others expectations, or at least adapting them. For me the catalyst that started my reinvention was grief. My parents died and I dealt with it very badly, although it was probably not obvious. I have had years of practice at carrying on regardless. Menopause also tagged along for the hell of it. A perfect storm into which I tumbled like a discarded, dried and wrinkled leaf, twirling down and around, cold and alone, waiting for the ground to meet me so that I could rest. Regret, grief, infinite change, a budding understanding that I wasn’t doing too well and that there may be a reason for that caused so much introspection that I felt a womans guilt for spending so much time on me. D’oh.

But here we are: not only a survivor of all that has gone before but also of covid, with a bit of a health hangover to go with it. That also causes a rethink or two. And in my 60s, perhaps now I can just be me. Businesswoman, poet, copywriter, social and community activist, whisky drinker, dedicated Mother and Grandmother, tattooed discreetly and probably more to come, part time battleaxe but mostly cuddly and fluffy, and not asking anyones permission to be anything at all. I think I am nicer now, if that matters, more patient, kinder, knowing that almost everyone who looks serene and competent is probably also paddling furiously under the water so I should cut them some slack. I manage very well, thank you, it works for me and I don’t need to change who I am, I just need to endorse it, love it, and work with it. It has brought some great gifts as well as challenges. I would say to women struggling in this way: You are your gift to yourself. It’s ok to just be, we are Human Beings not Human Doings, and you will find your way of being. Every day that I wake up I have a future. So do you.

Arms and the Woman

I was looking at my arms, thinking how old, flabby, ugly they are. Then I remembered: these are the arms that held each of my children as they breathed their first, held each of my parents as they breathed their last; these arms held my husband when we lost our babies before their time and when we finally had our family, when he received his degree and when he lost his Nan; they carried the children when they were tired and hugged them when they fell and when they smiled, and later when love hurt them or disappointments pained, and when love was good and weddings and babies and houses and degrees and happiness; these arms held patients and their families and their friends during good news and bad news, secrecy, recovery, death. They felt and loved the cool breeze and solitude on Wexford Harbour after my Dads funeral and again after my Mothers funeral. They hugged me too when I couldn’t bear anyone else to hug me but needed it so much.

These old, ugly arms have done their job well, still do, and so what if they are a bit scarred, a bit pocked and wobbly? They are still strong, still working, still open for business, still warm, comfortable, still the arms of a woman.

Next Time

Scabs on the bruised sky ooze filthy rain into her face.

Reflection inside her.

Scratching opens flesh from ear to ear and eye to eye

so she sees little but the unseen stains that seep further and deeper each time, hears little but the screaming no one else hears.

Next time.

Bosom buddies over the years

My bosoms have been around the block a bit.

Early development brought early attention from older men as well as other students, long bus rides to school being littered by moments of leering and lurching, scary intimations of what being a grown up would be like. I was not alone in that, it just happened a little early for me, while I was still colouring in my future and playing with dolls. Fascinated by the appearance of maturity I soon became shy of the evidence, covering them up to stop the leers, rejecting them as evidence of change, and slowly having their deficiencies brought to my attention. Too big for comfort when horse riding, too small for instant popularity, too this, too that, two much.

And then I began to understand they could be fun as well. If I chose to share them it could be quite nice and they have joined me in a few lovely moments bringing some happiness to me as well as to someone else. Large and juicy and bouncy they caused me some joy, and spread a little of that stuff too.

And next thing I knew they were useful. I fed four children with them, nourishing my children, making them strong and healthy, bonding with them deliciously and creating memories for me and relationships for us all.  I spent a decade or so either pregnant or breastfeeding and it was, perhaps, the best time in my life. A wanton, verdant space in which my body made things right and that was all that mattered.

And after that, another opportunity for some joy. Short lived, but memorable. Because then I noticed things of all kinds changing, a little less overall bounce and more wobble and not just in the bosoms, part of a generalised weary reduction in joy and upswing in tasks and a tangible draining of verve, less noticeable purpose and a slipping away of meaning and value. The devaluation of the bosoms echoing a reduction in worth. The bosoms that had created such fear, then joy, then deeper joy and meaning, were entering a new and unexpected chapter. Cause and effect, or effect and cause? Outwardly so much was satisfying, so many achievements, but inside there was a little necrosis every day, a spreading of the dark shadows and the loss of significance, the essence bleeding away into a sticky vacuum of regrets, guilt and exhaustion.

But then, with little ballyhoo but with such a warm and welcome relief, it stopped mattering. My bosoms – MY bosoms – triumphed and became part of my story. They were mine and I dressed them for me, washed and cared for them for me. This old feminist remembered who she was and hacked and whacked through the  flourishing detritus uprooting the pernicious growths of expectation and control, flinging them onto the waiting pyre and planting nutritious saplings and mature thoughts in their place, where they have established and now thrive giving me colour, energy, the scent of a life to be lived. These bosoms have been through the mill, alongside the rest of me, and here we are having emerged from that vacuum into glorious sunshine and promise, with some beautiful hands to hold and memories, some obscured and some hovering on the surface, waiting patiently for me to sift and sort and calibrate them with proper reflection and some context. It may take a little while but I know now I am up to the task.

Two of my favourite, doubtless irritating, phrases are A Work In Progress and Onward and Upward. I have come to realise that both are applicable to almost everything, including me. And you.

Whoever you are, if you feel the pull of that vacuum, the quicksand beneath your feet, please: remember your unique merits, own your Self, live your life. It is yours, colliding with others but yours to fit into whichever jigsaw you choose, yours to steer or not, to enjoy the ride and harness the journey as well as savour the peace when it happens. Hard to see when the waters are closing over you, but swim upward with all your might and take the hand that opens for you. It is there.

Onward and Upward.





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