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Dear me, we got this: what I’ve learnt - Shanie Herbert

 

With a gulp of my new Christmassy-tasting Chai tea, the Christmas tree lights sparkling in the corner of my left eye, our new family pictures above my head, on our wall in our (small, but cosy) new place… I’m hit with a welcoming feeling of contentment as I realise, I’m in my happy place. And I’m ready.

 

So here goes…

I’m not going to go into the ins and outs of the shit show of a life I’ve lead of late.

But now I know. I take that back.

 

It wasn’t a shit show, it was an essential obstacle on this unpredictable bittersweet road that we call life, and it needed to happen. It needed to happen because it wasn’t meant to be. I wasn’t happy, without realising, for such a long time. I thought it was me. It was him. I know that now, but the beginning of the end was the worst. Gut-wrenchingly awful. To be quite honest, I couldn’t even see me making it from one day to the next.

 

I didn’t want to.

 

What I wanted, was to hide under my duvet for an eternity. My head “resting” on mascara-stained pillows. Unable to lift its weight… physically hurting. Pounding. My mental illness had very much become physical.

 

I tried to speak, but the words couldn’t escape me. Putting one foot in front of the other was near enough impossible. Losing more weight every day. I couldn’t face eating. I didn’t want to. I wanted to punish myself.

 

“It’s all my fault”

 

I couldn’t deal with the daily 4 year old emotionally-turbulent mum/dad split up-induced tantrums and I sure as hell couldn’t deal with 4 month old baby’s shitty nappies. Or sleepless nights. Ironic – I never slept anyway. Not during those 2 months. Those 2 months were hell.

 

“I’m an awful Mum, they don’t need me. I don’t have the strength.”

 

A couple of months on, many a best friend pep talk and a couple of self-help books later:

 

“He destroyed you. You are trying your best to be the best mother you can be to your two beautiful boys, despite having been controlled, cheated on and manipulated for the past few years. You can do this…”

 

So, having come out the other side here’s what I’ve learnt:

(and the realisation of these points enables me to move forward without malice and with the ability to self-love whilst sustaining other important relationships in my life – take that controlling shit stain of an ex!)

 

1. It’s OK to trust.

After quite frankly being spectacularly fucked over by a man that I trusted with my life, I spent some time crucifying myself for allowing myself to have trusted him. But the thing is, to trust is healthy and is surely vital to the building of human relationships.

I now realise that I wouldn’t change the fact I trusted the fuckboy that almost ruined my life. Because most importantly, that’s who I am: a trusting and loyal individual. So first and foremost, I will not let him to detract any of my most self-valued attributes from me. He doesn’t get to do that.

But also, I spent a long time investing in our relationship, as I do every relationship in life. How could I have lived – and I’m talking both logistically and emotionally – if I were to not trust him? Every Saturday night would have been spent worrying about potential infidelity whilst out with the lads, every hour of overtime worked and every friendship made with a girl (who he’d refer as being like “sisters” to him).

To not have trusted him would have been all too time-consuming, taking my time away from my life and the lives of my children.

My beautiful, innocent children. (The reason…)

And yes, I realise for all of those excuses, there were other girls.
He did cheat.
He lied.
God damn it, he lived a separate life.
Above all, he massively betrayed my trust.

But to never trust again would be to tarnish every other man, friend, family member – who have put the same effort into loving, supporting and standing by me as I have them – with the same brush.

 

And that just isn’t fair is it?

Or healthy. 

Furthermore, not healthy to allow him to a) still be in my thoughts and b) jeopardise the longevity / strength of the relationships with those around me who actually choose to not be untrustworthy, disloyal, narcissistic twats. (Who’d have thought?)

To trust again, is to let him go.

Trust is vital.

 

2. Yes, it’s ok to ‘DO YOU’

My ex wasn’t a big fan of me. Funny really, how you can stay with someone, tied to someone who in reality, doesn’t really like you. He didn’t like that I was creative. Didn’t understand my love of Sunday walks. Nor did he enjoy board games – and he most certainly couldn’t get on board with my love of writing.

My karaoke singing embarrassed him to the core… almost as much as my kitchen dancing. (I loved kitchen dancing on a Friday night with our little boy. Him? He’d sit on his phone, chatting away to who I now know were his “women” – how lovely.)

This lead to me doing these things on my own and not sharing parts of me, with him.

Slowly, I did less and less of me, for him.

I hoped and prayed that one day he’d wake up and love me again.

(Some nights I even prayed to the God I don’t believe in. I prayed he’d love every part of me one day. One day, I’d be enough.)

But: with the hope that he’d eventually cherish me, I slowly slipped away.

Before I knew it, and I didn’t know it, I was gone.

He had my continued support with every choice he made and I gave him my enthusiasm even when I didn’t feel like it.

On my worst days, I gave him my best. My all.

His excitement was my excitement.

But I didn’t excite him did I? No.

I bored him. He rolled his eyes at me. Became disengaged when I’d talk to him. Me: excited, longing for support… love. 

And like a child whose spent a month on their latest school project to have it torn apart by teachers, I became embarrassed of sharing my successes and happiness with him.

I was no longer happy.

(“Get a grip, you have the world. All that you could ever wish for”, I told myself. Riddled with self-hate, self-doubt.)

But maybe I’d have been happier if…

I’d not be told to “fuck off” or be called a psycho on a daily. To have not been shouted at for not cooking him a “nice tea” at the end of a 12 hour working day with 4 hour round commute whilst 7 months pregnant.

That would have been nice.

Because it turns out, it can be exhausting feeling unloved. It takes emotional strength and resilience; Essential qualities in becoming a broad-minded, strong person. Though to test such character qualities in such a way, seems a little extreme, does it not?

And so I stopped being me. What was the point? I started to believe that I was boring, disinteresting and above all, definitely not a pleasure to be around.

I lost confidence and became depressed, blaming myself for being boring, geeky, shit company.

I wasn’t loved by him. And certainly wasn’t loved by myself.

The kids don’t need me.

Neither does the world.

 

 

Fast track to post-breakup.

People – would you fucking believe – started to enjoy my company, the more forthcoming and less shy I became.

My confidence started to lift. Like the child whose month long project starts to pay off. He feels appreciated. Understood. What he does not feel is worthless. He feels ready to share himself. Maybe he’ll start to share more of himself and his capabilities, he considers.

Maybe I’m ok and maybe my Mum is proud because maybe I’m deserving of pride. Deserving. Worthy. Maybe I’m an alright Mum, I ponder on this thought. And maybe it’s ok not to be a good cook. Maybe it’s ok to love karaoke. And dancing. And laugh like an idiot at things that aren’t funny. And maybe, it’s ok not to be ok now and again. It is not a weakness but a strength. The greatest strength at that.

I started to feel more me than I ever had. 

I’m walking again, writing again, talking openly again, sharing my views without fear of rejection…

*enjoying life*

(Still drinking all the wine – not sorry!)

Doing ME… 

Let’s never let anyone else take us away from who we are.

Because perhaps… just perhaps, preserving one’s identity is the single most powerful, beautiful, influential weapon we can each possess.

Possess with pride, I say.

But distribute with caution. Not everyone deserves the best version of who we are.

 

 

3. It’s OK to change the rules

Here’s the thing: we live in the 21st century. And within this culturally ever-evolving western world, I think change is important. I try with all my might to be part of feminism, the pushing for flexible working hours, a decline in political apathy and an ability to use social media positively; as a platform on which to speak. To speak, to be heard, to relate to, to rant and to educate oneself.

 

Because social media can be positive and powerful – all in one. After all, it’s a place where conversation happens. The expressing of views, the understanding of important subject matters. And on social media, we find courage to be ourselves. So whilst there’s the inevitable risk of losing the art of real life conversation with the rise of internet interaction, I do believe that this can be balanced out by the idea that our online presence allows us be ourselves. And, after receiving validation, we then slowly find the confidence to be that very same person in real life. (Of course, there’s the argument that to seek validation in the first place, can be dangerous.)

 

Apologies, I digress.

 

The point I make here is this:

I take you back to 6 months ago. I followed fancy interior design-focused Instagram influencers and spent a lot of time divulging in fashion/beauty/make-up-related pages for my own voyeuristic gratification. Except, it’s not gratification is it? Not when we’re left feeling shitty. Like an unattractive ogre without fashion sense or the latest make-up and not nearly enough likes on the latest selfie I’d posted.

Previously, I let social media allow me to feel less of a person. Because I compared myself to others. Classic. 

So I changed the rules.

What had I been thinking? My relationship made me feel worthless – social media only further contributing to the feeling of dissatisfaction.

I was not good enough, he’d tell me. Instagram agreed.

So I unfollowed the pages that me feel shit, after realising that aspiring to be like people I was never going to be like wasn’t the best idea.

Instead I followed more positive feminist pages, women who spoke about female empowerment, parents who also let their children survive on beige foods, and gone was the unnecessary following of the latest reality stars telling me to drink detox tea and become flawless like them… as if that would solve all of life’s problems. LOL.

I’ve suddenly found likeminded people, the existence of Twitter humour and in changing the rules, I’m feeling positively positive and in control.

That’s social media; but let’s go back to a point mentioned above to explain how I’ve changed the rules in life also.

Letting children survive on beige food groups:

The father of my children was, I suppose, that of a traditionalist.

Mental health a taboo subject, ironing a “woman’s job”, feminism an eye-roll-inducing subject and a healthy, hearty meal (made by the woman) an absolute must.

Needless to say that as a self-confessed open minded liberal, these views infuriated me.

Still, I went along with it.

And actually, as I became a mother, these were pointers I learnt to live by. A set of rules, parental rules.

Must abide by parental rules. Otherwise, shit parent.

Crying in front of my children was a weakness, ensuring my 3 year old at the time was always dressed immaculately… how could I ever let him go out looking messy? But, it wasn’t always possible to keep him clean (DUH!). Still, the failing of raising to my own impossible standards made me feel like a terrible mother. God forbid I ever gave the children snacks or cereal for tea. God forbid.

But since splitting up with my husband – and not feeling that I deserve to die most days (always a bonus!) – I’ve realised that it’s ok to not abide by the rules.

The rules. What fecking rules?

The beauty of it is, there are no fecking rules.

I gave myself rules and boundaries to live by. And in fact, the consequences of not obeying them were catastrophic. Not for my children – who were always healthy, happy and fed – but for myself.

I drowned in feelings of inadequacy and felt like a failure.

And the devil on my shoulder (my husband), approved those feelings furthermore.

Watched me cry with feelings of guilt. Told me to get a grip as I lay on the kitchen floor sobbing. Laughed at me as I apologised for not being a good mum. Or wife.

“Look at you, the state of you. Nothing but an attention seeker. Is it any wonder I don’t want to be around you?”

“I’m sorry for not doing it right. I’m sorry for being so shit at this Mum game.”

(Sometimes, the consequences were more than awful.

Sometimes…)

 

No… I AM SORRY.

I am sorry to you, me. You fought – and you fought hard, even when you thought you had no fight left in you – and you conquered.

You are conquering. 

He never conquered, he defeated and defamed your character, whilst you gave him your heart and soul; your everything. (At least, he attempted to.)

You gave yourself rules that were his rules. And with that, he controlled.When you didn’t live by those rules, you failed. You failed him.

The failure himself.

You didn’t fail. You won.

You won freedom in the face of the storm.

And you changed the rules. Because the rules were his. Because there are no rules.

And with parenting comes only a couple of rules – to love, to care for and to support our children with all that we have. I’d say it’s pretty ok to wing the rest.

#fuckrules
#wingingit

 

4.(Single) parenthood is a powerful thing

The previous section brings me onto the subject of single parenthood.
In my case, single motherhood.
Being parents in partnership, a relationship is certainly a wonderful thing.

To work together, to take it in turns to do the night feeds, to share the load.

But I’ll tell you a secret… for me, parenthood has never been easier.

Single parenthood.

Just me… just us.

I use the word “easier” loosely. I miss going for a wee in peace. And I’d quite like to not always have to play the bad guy. To go for a run in the evening would be nice. And a trip to the pub at the weekend.

But, being in a relationship with someone who puts nothing but a half-arsed effort into being a parent, treating their children like an annoying fly that they can’t quite manage to swat away… is heartbreaking.

I nagged, came up with every family day out idea – watching his disengagement worsen by the day – and I suppose you could say, I was putting in the effort for us both.

So what is different now?

The difference is this:

Gone is the negative energy. Gone is the exhaustion of constant nagging… asking him to “play” a part in the unfortunate act of parenting. 

(FYI, Dear ex, I’m sorry you considered them an annoyance. You’d realise, if you got to know them, that they’re pretty spectacular.)

I now get to enjoy parenthood. 

To do it my way. 

And to reap the rewards for myself… 

Making the most of every moment with my children.

And giving them every ounce of the genuine love, attention and adoration they deserve, nurturing them every single step of the way.

I will forever give them all of me. And I’ll make up for you.

Alone. But stronger than ever.

 

5. SELF CARE IS EVERYTHING

Ah, that trusty lifejacket theory. How on a plane, we’re taught to always put our own lifejackets on before our children’s. I mean, I’m not entirely convinced by the theory. I reckon it’d come natural to save my kids’ lives first.

But the concept, I’m with.

Before the break up, I put everyone and everything else first.

Cancelling hospital appointments for work meetings, doing housework before I’d had time to sit down for a cup of tea, attending to the immediate needs of others and forgetting to take my own antidepressants.

Never had I considered, ever, to look after myself.

To look after myself would be self-indulgent.

And after all, I wasn’t important. 

I now realise that with a healthy mind, comes a healthy, happy soul.

The ability to look after others well. Once looking after ourselves. 

When I’m feeling rubbish, instead of carrying on and suppressing those feelings – whether mental or physical – I think of what needs to be done to fix the problems.

  • A mug of lemsip to cure a cold.
  • To read a heart-warming book at a time of despair.
  • To run… or walk a mountain. On a day when getting out of bed seems impossible.
  • A bath, just because.
  • A bottle of wine… without guilt.
  • Treating myself to my favourite chocolate. And eating it in peace.

Ripping up my housework to-do-list, just for a few hours, to write this. And consequently, self-medicate. 

And guess what? With a smile on my face, I’m ready for the weekend. 

And more importantly, I’m excited for what the future holds.