I sat in the drivers seat of my car, sleeping babies in the back, awaiting the boy as he queued inside the supermarket for sundries and watched a couple walking towards the trolley park.
The woman was tall, strong and carrying weight in the legging and velour top combination that exposed her sturdy form as she carried her child close to her in her arms. A man, who I took to be her partner, shorter than the woman, shuffled steps behind her with a limp, bearing some of the burden on a stick. The child was around the same age as my two little ones in the car and was cosy in a snow suit, wrapped up against the chill of the shifting seasons which brought us to this, the first day of October. The man’s movements were less suggestive of injury than illness. The woman looked back at him and paused, smiling, a moment of genuine love and care. The child joined her with a tiny red-lipped grin and the moment was fixed – of happiness and love. None of the three wore clothes of any expense or structure, their shoes were cheap, everything was well worn and put together in the best way they could muster.
I looked at them and wondered what lay ahead for them. The future does not bode well for people with any vulnerability, particularly not in the current system. Meagre offerings for disability are being attacked and questioned in continuous waves in this political climate, relief from poverty even more so. I watch their child with sadness, wondering what sort of a life she will have in this coming world. I wonder for my own children, for my family.
You wouldn’t think, perhaps, that Deadpool 2 has much to say on this line of thought, but there is a part of the dark comedy Marvel action film that has resonated with me in this respect. If you’ve not seen it, it has a character, Cable, a time traveller who has come back from a dystopian future to kill a young boy, Russell, from the film to prevent him murdering Cable’s wife and daughter in his present. He takes with him a blood soaked teddy bear belonging to his daughter as a grim mascot. The journey has used up one of his two charges for time-hopping, the other he plans to use to return to his family once the deed is done.
In a series of events the main character, Deadpool, sacrifices himself to essentially save the soul of Russell and as he dies Cable, seeing his daughter’s bear become cleansed of blood, slides through time again, this time to insert a lead-based arcade token he has taken from Deadpool, into his body suit, to save Deadpool’s life, yet still allowing the sacrifice to be evident enough to reach the heart of Russell.
The point of this isn’t, as Deadpool crows “You did it for me…”, it’s a matter of hope, as Cable reveals his daughter’s name to be in the moment he slips the token. Cable knows Hope will be safe, but he also knows that without this premise, the premise of him being part of something bigger than himself to reshape the history of the future, the future will still be unbearable. Cable chooses to sacrifice the time with his family to try to be part of something more, to create a better world for Hope to survive in.
Hope lives in a world where people are willing to make sacrifices to make it better. That’s the truth of it all isn’t it. Hope lives when good people refuse to give in, where they work together, raising people up and standing in the way, taking the hits. We all like to think that, when the chips are down, we would be the people who would do our bit.
Well the chips are down.
There’s a lot to think about, for what needs to be done next. We all need to be part of something bigger, for my children, for the little girl in the snowsuit, for hope.
* Quote from Josh Brolin, as Cable, Deadpool 2
We live in a big, big world, with an ever increasing population coming up to seven and a half billion at the time of writing.
Does every single one of those souls matter? Are they all special? Does each and every one have worth? Type “self worth” into a browser you are offered a dazzling array of solutions for lack of self worth – psychological and motivational options being at the fore – and open any website and internet algorithms supply a number of options for boosting self worth.
Some people appear to brim with self worth, self importance and self confidence. Often this comes in tandem with a less-than meaningful approach to kindness towards others – it is inbuilt, often without negative experience and therefore a privilege. In my mind this is probably embodied by a scene in Thor: Ragnarok in which the titular hero is shackled upside down by a magma-based baddy Surtur, before managing to escape with the help of his hammer and super-strength. “You have made a grave mistake Odinson,” warns Surtur. “I make grave mistakes all the time. Everything seems to work out.” Thor knows everything will be all right because, for him, it has never before gone irretrievably wrong.
Meanwhile there are people in the world who have had their self worth systematically destroyed by others. This often goes hand-in-hand with extraordinary levels of empathy and kindness to others, often to their own detriment. How do we find a middle path where balance can be made between looking after others and looking after ourselves. How do we find self worth?
I suppose the start must come with a decision. An agreement with one’s-self on the answer to the question “What Do I Not Deserve?”
I posit the query in this form as the question “What Do I Deserve?” is simply far too big for many people to comprehend and certainly a question with which those with self-esteem issues will struggle to answer. It is just too much as it is wrapped up in expectation. What you do NOT deserve is far easier to define and becomes a line in the sand as to what we can expect to not happen to ourselves.
So grab some paper and work it through with me. What, feasibly, could happen in relationships with other people, whether they be romantic, family, friendship or just daily interactions that you are not willing to accept?
Well, in any of these I have the following thoughts for myself. I will not be physically hurt – I do not deserve that; I will not be spoken to without respect – I do not deserve that; I will not be ignored – I do not deserve that. What do you think you do not deserve? Write it down.
It might be a list of things, it might just be one thing, but what you have before you is the minimum standard you can expect in your life, the MINIMUM. This is what you expect not to happen to yourself and it is the beginning of self worth because you have decided that there are some things you do not deserve. It may seem like a little thing but it is not, it is the foundation for building self respect. Look at that list. What can you do to make sure that you do not suffer what you do not deserve? What needs to change for you to not suffer it? Think about this, write down some thoughts. Remember – this is only a beginning.
If you cannot think of one thing you think you do not deserve please talk to someone – a friend, a relative, a teacher or one of the agencies I mention below – trust me, there are things that no-one deserves. No-one deserves violence, no-one deserves pain, no-one deserves exploitation, no one deserves to have their freedom taken away – these expectations should be at the very minimum.
Please remember that the biggest kindness you can do for yourself is to ask for help. If you are struggling there’s a number of places in which you can seek help. Give yourself permission to use them – do what you would ask any loved one or even a stranger if you are struggling.
▪️Links for a few organisations to help if you are struggling for someone to turn to:
National Domestic Violence Helpline (UK) (I link to this part of the site as it has the helpline and the reminder to clear search history to keep yourself safe)
The National Suicide Prevention Alliance (UK) -This site offers a variety of contacts in your local area, including Mind, The Samaritans and a variety of other support organisations.
Unseen provide support to those impacted by modern slavery and trafficking.
The NSPCC offer support to children and young people affected by abuse and their families.
There are a number of different agencies around the world offering support for a variety of situations – if you’re looking at this article you have the resources to find help – use a search engine to find the help YOU need. It is out there and please believe me when I say you deserve help, you deserve support.
* This blog is part of a series of my writings on Kindness which starts here.
Last month was welcome in sweeping away and closing doors behind it. Taking with it the immediate instant sting of grief, of loss.
It had started with a tiny heartbeat. For us this was Hope, a miracle after an earlier loss. We saw Hope on a screen, wept and held hopeful hands togerther, marvelling at that tiny heart beating in less than a centimetre of potential.
Just three weeks later as my slightly rounded belly was pressed down, we saw Hope again, not much bigger but with that strong, minute pulsing absent. Hope was gone, lost. All there was now was grief and medical options to physically let her go.
That heartbeat had drummed out a promise of a future world, a world that we now know will not become. Thoughts had been turned to preparations. Preparations which are no longer needed. The loss of that tiny heartbeat had been incorporated into our own heartbeats, only to be a soft echo and nothing more.
Two weeks after that, well, what we are left with is the wondering – what is Hope?
What is hope? Defined by the Merriam Webster dictionary as “desire accompanied by expectation or belief in fulfillment”. The dictionary definition, as with so many words, falls far short of the lived experience of hope.
Hope is, in the absence of concrete guarantees, the need to get back up. Hope is not a wish, not a vision of what is better, it is the part that screams “DO NOT GIVE IN”. It is not a petalline and blush concept – it is found in the viscera, perhaps even is of the blood rather than the heart. It is the part of all of us that – in the face of abject mortality, in the line of failure after failure, after losses so great we fear we might never breathe again – tears apart at fear, at defeat, at fatigue. It understands that there can be better than this and shrieks “GET BACK UP.”
Hope is in every act of carrying on, every moment of continuing with each other, with our children who have made it into the world. Hope bursts through, blistering and ripping through grief, into love. It does it again and again and will not stop. Hope is the thing that unifies us all. It inspires courage and lets us start over again and again, and again.
Hope is not lost. Hope lives on always, in all of us.
* If you have been or are being affected by pregnancy loss please make sure you are supported. If you are struggling there are a great many organisations offering help and support. The Miscarriage Association and babyloss are good places to start. And, for all it’s worth, our hearts are with you too.
My partner James has also written about this experience- unusually from the perspective of the dad. I warn you, it is heartbreaking but worth reading here.
More early morning dispatches – today I sit typing onto the laptop at 4am. An odd sort of kindness to myself, waking up in the early hours to be fully awake to feed my children, but it has helped me carve out thinking space and in turn writing space. This is time I am starting to make my own, to tap into something that is ill afforded to me in the hours where it is easier, and more acceptable perhaps, to go about the business of tidying and binge watching television.
Self kindness is something I have always struggled with. I have not been as kind to myself, by a long chalk as I have been to others. I’ve always been subject to a greater level of criticism, scrutiny and intolerance from my own view of myself, something I would not impose or even consider applying to anyone else. I’m hyper critical of my appearance – I can’t be seen dead in public without any make-up, the dimensions I see in the mirror are apparently not what everyone else sees and I worry constantly about not being a good enough mother. Even in the introduction to this blog I’ve managed to knock the fact that I’m doing my best in being a mother of twin newborns, a seven year old and stepmum to an eight and six year old, a partner, a daughter and all the other roles I strive to fulfil, and reducing my lack of time to pursue my intellectual ambitions as down to being lazy.
I suppose by reflecting on how kind, or more importantly how unkind, we are to ourselves goes a long way to answering what kindness might be.
For me, this clearly involves addressing judgement. I don’t consider myself as judgemental of others, but I am aware of how judgemental I am of myself. I’ve discussed the matter of self kindness widely with others, both in person and via social media and it seems it is as complex as anything else. One of the themes that has emerged is the link between self kindness and worth. For some of us we don’t treat ourselves kindly because we simply don’t believe we are worthy.
For some people this meant they struggled to do themselves simple kindnesses such as making themselves a cup of tea in the morning, or to make sure that they even ate during the day. For others it meant that they actively tortured themselves with the details of their own perceived shortcomings.
In my own experience it was the prioritisation of other’s needs beyond my own basic welfare – every time. Putting others first is not a completely negative thing – it is the basis of service and duty. When unmitigated self-pressure and sacrifice go unchecked and unrecognised over a long period, however, it leads to self-neglect, burn out and serious health (mental and physical) implications. Almost two years ago I found myself in a situation of burn-out and stress at work. I had been putting work ahead of my own welfare for around a year, whilst trying to balance my responsibilities as a parent and to care for a relative. I came to the point that I was almost unable to go into work – how I carried on going in is still something I am not able to explain. My temper was short, my memory was poor and daily I found myself searching for vocabulary which could not be called to mind. The worst of it was the physical panic reactions – the feeling of my heart racing, the sensation of being trapped and the inability to remember anything.
It took me a long time to learn that I deserved to be factored into my own priorities. I had to train myself in the skill of saying “No” whilst being able to reconcile this with my own sense of what was right. I took to taking little steps towards self care – giving me time for myself, starting to acknowledge my self imposed high standards and how I should let go of all my “shoulds”. It is important to note however that I started to resolve this with the help of a very talented and eminently qualified consultant psychologist. Accepting help is a vital self kindness I wish to address at another point.
As it was, when I became stressed at work, it still wasn’t for myself that I went for help. It was for my daughter, when she became the victim of my short temper, albeit just with a single snappy comment made to her, but once was enough.
Ultimately for me, drawing on my own experiences of behaviour and therapy, and the discussion with friends, my conclusion on kindness to the self boils down to two elements:
1. Recognition of self worth
2. Honouring needs and wants
And I don’t mean this in a manner of two separate things in isolation – these factors work in a cyclical fashion – one feeds the other. You can’t honour what you don’t recognise and unless you honour your value then how can you recognise it?
When it comes to honour I’m not considering devotional offerings of animal sacrifice or utilising an altar – I’m considering small ways of making sure to share kindness with yourself.
As I write I have my littlest, big twin balanced in the crook of my arm, trying to relieve her of the wind which I can hear gently growling within her belly after nursing her, as her minutes-older little sister, already full of milk, gurgles softly within the safety of her moses basket a few feet away.
Its 5.45am, just over two hours after I’ve relieved my partner for my share of the night shift. We’re working as a team and tonight I’m trying a new approach to my share of the night feeds. The last couple of nights I’ve found half-asleep breastfeeding a little trying, often ending with me dozing in bed with a child in my arms. This is a bad state of affairs – I’m more aware than most of the threat of co-sleeping – so I’ve had a think and decided a fully awake set of early morning feeds is the answer. It seems it has also given me time and headspace to create – so here I write.
In the last weeks I came to the realisation that I was thoroughly entranced by the scrolling of social media. It’s understandable I think, alongside the exhaustion of dealing with two newborns, to revert to mindless scanning of all the feeds, but it can become an exhausting and consuming process of mentally sifting words, concepts and news. It has stifled creativity in me and, although sparking ideas, has become somewhat obstructive due to its distracting ease. I came to realise that, having had months of a pregnancy so physically exhausting that it rendered me massively mentally diminished, that my faculties were back firing on all pistons and time was a-wasting. I decided on a full-blown act of self care and gifted myself the kindness of a week long break from the pressure of social media, full force cold turkey.
Kindness has become a new obsession, with the return of my capability to reflect and analyse. It seems that the threats to the world right now are rooted in a place where kindness is somewhat lacking. There is a lot of focus, globally on protectionist policies and a reduction in social provision which has seen the most vulnerable start to suffer – the news in the UK recently has reported increases in homelessness, the impact of benefits changes on the poor and increases in racism reports following Brexit. Globally the headlines have been dominated by the accounts of sexual assault and harassment, looming threats of nuclear war and mass manipulation of people and democracies using covertly collected data through social media. The world has become a dark place, without redeeming features.
This is a bleak setting in which to be nurturing new life, so its understandable that my brain might be reaching for answers to this darkness. Kindness, that most basic sign of the good that permeates humanity, is the easiest to go to. It leaves traces everywhere.
I’ve been lucky over the last six weeks to have benefited from kindnesses of several kinds. The kindness of strangers – the cheering comments of other social media users on the days when new baby exhaustion has been grinding; the kindness of personal values – the anaesthetist flying in the face of accepted practice by insisting I have the support of my partner’s presence as the doctor administered the terrifying spinal block needed for the birth of my children; and the kindness of love as my partner set aside the suffering of full blown ‘flu to ensure I did not have to deal with around the clock feeding alone.
This is all such great fortune and I know that in this I am supported by so much advantage and privilege. This is not the norm for so many people. In fact structures and systems in this world mean that so many people are exposed to discrimination, cruelty and exploitation. I resolved to set my mind to kindness, to understand how kindness might become a revolutionary act, how, with intention, kindness might change the world, starting small and growing outwards.