This Light Of Mine

Nobody ever told me what it meant.  It was simply a song with a catchy tune (to a ten year old) that we sat around the Girl Guides’ camp fire singing.  It was one of my favourites, but I never stopped to ask what it meant.  That was until I looked at a picture that a friend had posted yesterday of a flame burning (not this picture), and something switched on in my head.  I got it.  I finally got it.

Image credit: Jerry Jacobs/Wikipedia.com

I assumed that it must have something to do with Christianity because we sang it occasionally at Sunday School.  I still didn’t know what it meant but assumed it was something to do with the Christian idea of being a light in the world of darkness.

The song?

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine
Let it shine, Let it shine, Let it shine.

What it was meant to mean in Sunday School or at Girl Guides isn’t actually important to me now, because I have been gone astray with songs in such places before.  One would think that those places would check out what meaning is being transferred by singing as a child, but some of the biggest misconceptions I have had about myself came from Sunday School songs.

But back to this song.  When I saw the picture of a flame I finally occurred to me that I am the light.  The light is me.  This light of mine is me.

The light is all my thoughts and feelings.  My opinions.  My likes and dislikes.  The characteristics of me.  The light is what makes me unique.  The light is what makes me who I am…   and I should let it shine.  I should celebrate my light.

Nobody told me to let me shine.  Nobody told me to be proud of who I am.  Actually if anything, I was told the opposite.  Pride was a sin, I was told.  And “pride cometh before a fall“.  Again I knew the words but had little idea of the real meaning.

I was taught that being proud was a bad thing, so anything that celebrated who I was had to be bad too.  I went so many years believing that this was true.  And I extended it in my own head to mean that I was bad.  For a ten year old, or younger, it makes sense to follow that line of thought but it is can only end tragically.

Through so many years of pain and heartache, there was no clue in my head that I should let me shine.  Maybe I’m a little different from the rest, but I still celebrate who I am.  It doesn’t matter whether I’m different or the same.  I am me, and I should let me shine.

Maybe for others, they got the meaning of this song as a child.  For me though it was just a nice song.  I couldn’t think that it might be about letting me shine, because I thought that was a bad thing to do.  It might have taken 40 something years, but now that I’m worked it out I’m going to celebrate me.

If I can do it, so can you.  Celebrate you!

“For once, you believed in yourself. you believed you were beautiful and so did the rest of the world.” 

― Sarah Dessen, Keeping the Moon

I Matter

One of the things I battle with on a daily basis is that I matter, and whether I actually matter to anyone else.  Do I love myself enough to say I matter to me?  And does anyone else love me enough to say that I matter to them?  And will they show it by their actions?

Some of the struggle with this comes from the Christian upbringing I had which constantly told me to put others before myself.  Songs I sang in Sunday School taught me that I came last.  And I guess that’s where I always put myself.  As the youngest child in the family, my name always came last.  I’m not saying that my parents put my needs last, but that my brother’s and my parents names always came before mine.

In the school roll my name came near the end because my surname was Reddell, near the end of the alphabet.  I can remember wishing my name started with a A, so that I could be at the beginning.  But then the Christian upbringing  would no doubt have listed that as a sin.

Another thing I was taught was “pride cometh before a fall“.  That meant I couldn’t be proud of myself, I couldn’t take pride in my achievements, and actually no one else was ever going to proud of me.  It might not be what I was meant to learn from the statement, but it is what my young mind concluded.

My Christian upbringing even served to protect those who stalked me.  I was specifically told in relation to them that I should ‘love my neighbour and do good to them that hate you“.  What that meant in reality was I was supposed to be nice to them, and my needs for protection didn’t seem matter to anyone.  Christian love and compassion was what was called for.  When I was a teenager I thought that was just how life was.  My needs didn’t matter.  Now I am an adult I worry that teenagers might be taught this stuff now days.  I hope not.

Since my mental health ever became an issue (it’s interesting that it simply doesn’t matter until diagnosed with a mental illness) people have been telling me that it is okay to put myself first.  It’s okay for my needs to matter.  At this stage, after many hours of therapy I can tell you that I do matter, but I still find it hard to put it into practise.

At what point do my needs matter more than loving and accepting another person?  I still haven’t worked that out.  I still am not sure how to put this into practise in everyday situations.

I struggle with it in a number of places in my life, and still there is this little voice in the back of my head that recites ‘Jesus first, Yourself last and Others in between’.  It’s so ingrained in my head that I don’t know how to say ‘well actually my needs come first’.  Even as I type that, I’m thinking “selfish“.  I’ve done the textbook learning but I still don’t have it totally in operation in my life.  I don’t yet know how to strike the balance between me and the rest of the world.

Last week in What Matters To Me This Christmas Eve I told you about my family starting a family meal before I had arrived.  As I sat there that day my thoughts were “I don’t matter to these people“.  It seemed to me that I didn’t matter enough for them to think/say “We can’t start yet because Cate’s not here yet“.  Now I can see a number of logical reasons for why it might have happened, but it still hurts.  Not that they started lunch without me, but that I didn’t matter to them enough for them to think of me.

What makes it more painful is that I look around for people who I matter to, and actually most people have their own lives, their partners and children, and I am just me.  I know that I mattered to my father when he was alive, and so it makes his absence is more painful when something like that happens with my family.

The thing that I wonder is ‘who’s going to put me first?’  Will anyone?  Or has everyone got greater priorities than me?  I promise I’m not having some pity party for which I need huge doses of sympathy.  I don’t.  But I know that learning to matter to myself is helped when I can know that other people say to me “you matter to me“.

Maybe the psychology of that is all wrong, and I need to be able to just matter to myself.  But don’t we all want to matter to other people?  And surely knowing that I matter to someone else teaches me about mattering (Is that a word?  It is now.)  to myself.

I know I matter to some people, and yesterday I spent time with some of those people, purposely because I desperately needed to feel I matter to someone.  I knew with them, I would feel that, and I did.  It was in complete contrast to the lunch I nearly missed last week, simply because I knew without at doubt that I mattered to them and that my needs were important.

PS.  I need to say this isn’t at all a criticism of Christianity.  It’s not.  All it is, is my experience.

“Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the
person you are.” 

―    Marilyn Monroe

“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life, but define yourself.” 

―    Harvey Fierstein

A Long Hard Journey

Music has always been a really good way for me to learn.  Give me a song, and I’ll learn is quickly, but trying to learn a poem is really difficult for me.  It’s always been that way.  I can easily remember all the songs I ever learnt.  I can sing perfectly the parts I had to learn for school choir, so many years ago that I’m not saying how many.  But I don’t remember much of what I learnt in classes at school, or even university for that matter.

So it makes sense that the songs I learnt as a child, had their impact.  I still know them word for word.  The songs regularly leap to mind and actually when I think about how I learnt how to live my life, it came from songs.  That can be good, but it depends what those songs were.  And like I spoke of in Happiness Is…, the songs I learnt in Sunday School  made the biggest impact on me.

This isn’t a theological discussion of what children learn in Sunday School, but rather an explanation of my personal experience.  I’m not saying it was wrong to use such songs.  Actually I think music is an excellent tool in such settings.  I’m simply saying that for me, they made their mark.

This is one song that perhaps left the biggest mark.  It was sung to the Jingle Bells music:

J O Y,    J O Y,
This must surely mean
Jesus first, yourself last and others in between,
J O Y,    J O Y,
This must surely mean,
Jesus first, yourself last and others in between.

Note that I didn’t have to go looking for lyrics.  I know this one perfectly so many years later.  Whether or not this is my, or your, interpretation of what joy might be is not what message I got from singing this repeatedly.  What I got from it is that I always had to put myself last.  My needs didn’t count, but that Jesus came first and then other people.  Actually this is a message I got repeatedly as a child.  I’m not saying it was intentional for me to learn that what I needed didn’t matter, but it is the lesson that fixed itself in my head.

That ‘yourself last’ is what I heard over and over again, right through to well into my adult years.  It was what would make me a ‘good Christian’, apparently.  And if Christianity wants to believe it, that’s fine, but for me, it was actually very harmful to learn about where I came in the world.

I was last.  My needs were last.  Actually my needs didn’t matter because it was what other people needed that did matter.  It’s an often taught principle in the part of Christianity that I grew up in, to put the needs of others ahead of yourself.

But what if I’m being harmed by my needs coming last?  On a number of occasions this idea that my needs didn’t matter, caused me great harm (physically and emotionally) because other people took advantage and it was said that what they wanted was more important than what was safe for me.

The following is an example of the type of teaching I got, both as a child and adult:

We must aim to put Jesus Christ first in our lives. Matthew 6: 33 says “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you”.

If we want to know the fruit of joy in our lives we must do all we can to have a close growing relationship with Jesus Christ. We must seek to be like Him And to live for His glory in our daily lives. We must put ourselves last. Too often we are taught in these life that we need to blow our own horn .We need to praise ourselves. But God tells us to be humble and not braggers about ourselves.

In humility we are supposed to seek to live gentle lives for the glory of God. In our day to day lives we are to seek to help others. We are to seek to be light in our dark world. The lives of others and their needs ought to be the emphasis of our lives and we need to seek to be extended leaders pouring out ourselves for the glory of God. We are to seek to put others in-between Jesus and ourselves. We are to seek to be magnets that draw others to you our Lord.  ( 1.)

Let me be clear that my point is not about whether individuals choose to ‘put Jesus first’.  To me, that is an entirely individual choice and it’s not what I have the issue with.  My issue is that I was taught to always put other people’s needs ahead of my own, and how I interpreted that (as a child and then an adult struggling with serious self-esteem issues) was that what I needed didn’t count.  Even my safety didn’t count, and I saw this demonstrated in a number of ways over the years as both child and adult.

I don’t mean to offend anyone’s beliefs but for me this didn’t work, and I don’t even believe that God wanted me to get harmed by what I as taught was my Christian duty.  I believe it is important that we practise compassion and be there for other people, but I don’t accept sacrificing my safety and my needs in order to do that.  Let me put it this way: by having this teaching, I was harmed and I have spent many years very unwell because of that harm.  That meant that  I have been unable to be there for other people.  Isn’t that crazy?  If I had been protected then maybe my journey would have been different, and maybe I would have been able to help more people.

I totally agree with helping others, and much of my life at the moment is devoted to trying to do that.  But I can’t do it unless I put my needs first.  I have to make sure I am safe, and I have to make sure that my needs are met.  If I don’t do that, I can’t adequately be there for others.

In practice what this means for me is realising that I, personally, can’t help some people because it is harmful, or at least triggering, for me.  It’s okay for me to leave those people to someone else to help.  I have to do this or I never get free from my own past hurts.  Maybe one day I can use my experience to help, but for now my physical and emotional safety has to come first.

The lyrics of the song were harmful to me, but then I was taught this message repeatedly in different ways, and so I can’t completely blame the lyrics.  I needed to know that I was important.  I needed to know that I was safe.  I needed to know that I was loved.  And I needed to know that my service to others was not to be at the expense of myself.

It has been a long, hard journey to learn this, and actually removing myself from a church environment was necessary for me to ‘get’ that I matter.  I’m not saying anyone else needs to do that, nor am I saying that I have given up my Christian beliefs.  It’s just that these particular beliefs didn’t work for me.  Actually they worked completely against me and I was hurt by them badly.  I’m inclined to think that too often religious beliefs like these get warped by people who don’t care about what happens to others, and they simply cause harm.

“Putting yourself first is the highest level of service you can offer in the world. It allows you to serve your partner, family, friends and others with joy and generosity. As long as you put yourself first to keep your love tank on overflow, your heart knows no limits in its ability to love.”

 - Susan Blackburn

One Day… I’m Gonna Fly

Yes, I want to fly.  Firstly it is a simple wish to get on a plane and fly.  It’s years since I boarded a plane.  Far too long.  I have friends I want to see.  I’d start here in New Zealand and then head off around the world to meet and catch up with some very special people .  One day I’m going to make it happen.  How?  I don’t know.  But it will happen.

I love flying in a plane.  We all have our preferences for where we sit but I always want a window seat.  That way I can watch us fly above the clouds and that is always a magical feeling I will never get sick of.  I love looking out on the mountains on my flight north from here.  Way up there above the clouds it feels like life is exactly as it should be.  I can appreciate the beauty of this world and forget that troubles exist.  I love it.

One day I want to fly like in my dreams.  I love my flying dreams.  I have no idea of the significance of such dreams, and I don’t care much.  I just love the effortless feeling of flying on and on, high above anything that could cause me trouble.  I’m not sure whether I will have to take up residence with The Jetsons, or buy myself a Jet Pack, or maybe technology will advance so that other means exist.  But it would be great.  Here in Christchurch we have an abundance of badly damaged roads thanks to our earthquakes of 2010/11.  Flying would be so much better than continually having to get the wheel alignment on my car adjusted.  Yes, somehow I am going to fly.

And I’m going to fly one more way (at least).  About 20 years ago my mother gave me a birthday card that said “to the woman who has everything” (maybe that’s how it seemed on the outside).  I wasn’t at all convinced as while I had a good job, a nice home (including a nice mortgage) and plenty of material possessions, I also knew how much of a fraud I felt.   I was convinced that one day soon people were going to find out that I wasn’t really who I portrayed myself to be.  I didn’t think I actually deserved the job I had (or any other job I had in the past), and ‘knew’ that one step wrong and my bosses would realise I wasn’t the great worker they thought they had hired.  Everytime I was called to the boss’s office (which was often due to the nature of the job) I was convinced my days were over.

I thought one day my friends (and my family) would realise that actually I was a horrible person that didn’t deserve their love or friendship.  The man I had a relationship with (who I thought was the love of my life) would realise that I wasn’t the person he really wanted to be with.  Actually that one happened and he left.  Not just me, but left the country.  That’s another story.  But in terms of the others it was my lack of self-worth that convinced me that I was a complete fraud and one day, my number would be up.

Cut a long story short and what followed was nearly twenty years of mental illness.  It’s not exactly surprising. Now though, I feel like I’m getting a handle on things again.  I’ve started to believe in myself and that makes a huge difference.  It’s certainly not plain sailing and I still battle every day.  It’s not helped by the recent diagnosis of Fibromyalgia which leaves me wondering what life is going to be like for me.  The thought of another 40 years of what I’ve had in the past nine months is enough to plummet me back into depression.  I feel like I have to literally fight it off every single day.

I don’t know whether I’m going to get, or whether I want another “woman who has everything” card.  That’s just not me anymore (even in pretence) but I would like to feel I could fly… without the turbulence of the past twenty years.  I’m going to keep on working to make it happen.  Borderline Personality Disorder is not one of those one’s you can recover from.  It’s me.  But I’m sure I can manage it better and push some of those demons away.

Meanwhile relax and check out this kiwi music.  Music helps me push those demons away.

Easter Kiwi Style… My Version

It’s Thursday here in New Zealand so Easter starts tomorrow for us.  I thought it would be a good chance to tell you what happens for Easter in my country.  And what happens for me.  I always get excited to see how many different countries readers are from, and I realise the New Zealand is only small but maybe you might be interested.  Before I get started though, do you know where I am?  I’m in Christchurch, as shown.  Two small dots in the Pacific Ocean.

I think New Zealand is officially regarded as a Christian country (whatever that means) and Easter is recognised as a Christian celebration, but I think for most people here it is the last holidays before winter.  It is also the start of a two-week break for schools so many people go away to make the most of the last of the good weather.  Let’s hope for good weather anyway.

As a child in a Christian, preacher’s family the Easter break of four days would revolve around church, with a service on Good Friday and another on Easter Sunday.  I know some churches also have special services at other times and this may involve some type of Easter procession of the cross.  That said though, I have to admit the two things that I remember Easter for was hot cross buns on Friday and Easter eggs on Sunday.

My earliest memory of the English hot cross buns came with a nursery rhyme we used to sing:

Image via Instagram

Tune and lyrics for Hot Cross Buns, North York...

Tune and lyrics for Hot Cross Buns, North Yorkshire version (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hot cross buns! Hot cross buns!
One ha’ penny, two ha’ penny,
Hot cross buns!
If you have no daughters,
Give them to your sons
One ha’ penny, Two ha’ penny,
Hot Cross Buns!

In case you don’t know, a hot cross bun is a spicy yeast bun with sultanas (and optional peel) that have a white cross piped across the top.  They are eaten hot either straight from the oven, or toasted – either way with butter.  In what seems like a previous life when I liked baking I have made them but they’re much easier to buy.  Keen to give them a go?  Check out this recipe from one of NZ’s best-loved cooks.  I’d love to hear if you give them a try.

Image via Stuff.co.nz

Easter eggs seem the other priority (certainly for kids) and the supermarkets are stacked high with them.  All kinds of chocolate but a lasting favourite in NZ seems to be chocolate marshmallow eggs, which were the only ones available when I was a kid.  As for me now, a frozen chocolate marshmallow egg is the way to go.  Anything else and it’s a bit sickly.  Going back to when I was a kid though what I remember was wanting more chocolate eggs but getting more painted eggs, usually with the egg blown out of the shell rather than hard-boiled.  They looked pretty, and they were fun to make but I always felt a little cheated.  They weren’t chocolate.

As you can see Easter in New Zealand tends to be about holidays, maybe church activities and food.  That makes it really hard for someone who struggles with family gatherings, struggles with church/religion and has not much idea of where she fits even though coming from a background entrenched in it, and having an eating disorder.  Setting aside the church activities the holidays and food aspects are in pretty much every holiday celebrated in New Zealand.  I hate it.

The problem with having an eating disorder, of any sort, is that you still have to deal with food on a daily basis.  It’s not possible to abstain.  Well, I kind of tried that for many years and that’s what landed me with the ED label.  I don’t have anorexia anymore but I do still struggle with food and body image, so while everyone thinks it will be nice to give me some type of food gift, for me it’s agony.  Please if you get nothing from this, hear that people with ED’s don’t want gifts of food ever.  And don’t think that s/he needs to put on weight so s/he will appreciate this food gift.  S/he won’t.  I don’t.  It simply just screws with our minds some more and us feel worse about ourselves because we can’t just simply appreciate the gift, let alone know how to deal with it.  It doesn’t work like that.

So I struggle to get past the hot cross buns and easter eggs but then have to deal with the holiday aspect which generally involves family.  When I started this blog I made the decision to respect my family and leave them out of what I write.  I don’t want them hurt by what I say.  But family occasions have always been hard for me.  Maybe it’s because again, they often revolve around food or maybe because I come away feeling like a complete idiot and failure.  And no, it’s not that my family do that to me, I do it all by myself.  I know I’m the culprit but it is with them that it often comes out the worst.  As I wrote in Dancing With Dad, Easter Sunday is the anniversary of Dad’s death, and that’s going to complicate things for me because he made the occasions manageable.

Don’t get me wrong.  I have a good family who love me (most of the time) but I struggle to love me so somehow I create issues all by myself.  Dad, often just by his presence, helped me get through.

So… have a safe Easter and don’t forget, I don’t want chocolate!   And let me know what you do special for Easter.  I’d love to hear.

Hindsight

How many times do I have to bang my head against the wall before I learn?

How many times do I have to let myself be hurt?

Since starting my blog recently I have been debating with myself whether to make use of the Trigger Warning Symbol, used by many of the mental health-related blogs.  I can see that it is helpful for some people to have a warning of something that might be upsetting, and in the on-line mental health support groups I am involved in warning systems like these are used.  The thing is, they don’t work for me.

Bloggers who use the system commit to where possible, indicating by the use of the symbol that the subject is of a sensitive nature and could cause distress.  The idea behind it is that the reader makes their own decision whether or not to read the post, in order to protect their own mental health and safety.  It’s a great idea and I fully support their commitment to use this system.  But I know from experience over and over again, that it doesn’t work for me.

Image from unknown source

A trigger system, or whatever words you choose to use just doesn’t work for me because I seem to like taking the hard road.  It has to be the longest route and most dangerous.  In my head I know that if I see the warning, then it has been put there for a purpose and I should heed it.  But I don’t.  I think…

1. I’ll be fine

2. I have enough skills in my bag to stop me from being affected by this,

3. I want to know just how sensitive and disturbing it is

4. I’m going to test myself to prove I am tougher than that

5. I want to punish myself and make it hurt (a kind of self harm on my brain)

6. And then sometimes… I just don’t think

Yesterday I  was in a position where I really had a physical trigger warning sign in front of me.  I ignored it.  Not completely, because I was being asked to read a letter which I knew would not be complimentary of me.  I asked twice, “are you sure you want me to read it?”  What I didn’t stop to ask myself was whether I wanted to read it.  I knew enough from the outset to know that it wasn’t going to be nice.  I also knew that other people’s opinions of me are just that, an opinion and I don’t need to be destroyed by that.  Actually I can choose to pay no attention to it.Day 264 - turn back now

Hindsight is a wonderful thing damn it, but it’s no use to me by then.  All the warnings I needed were right there in front of me.  But I still ploughed on in.  I should never have even cast an eye on what was being put in front of me.  I already knew what the person thought (well some of it anyway) and I knew it wasn’t something they intended for my eyes.  At the time I thought I was being quite grown up about it, but really I was using the opportunity to beat myself up.

I know I struggle with depression.  I know I struggle to make sense of my emotions because of Borderline Personality Disorder.  I know my self-esteem, while growing, is still fragile.  I know enough to not put myself in that position.  I also know that because of fibromyalgia some thing like this could  affect by body in days to come.  Yet I did read it.

I’m not going to use the trigger warning symbol because it doesn’t work for me.  I accept it works for many, and for them I think that is great.  But for me it is like a red rag to a bull.  I just can’t help myself.  I just have to go there.

But all I end up with is hurt feelings.  Dumb.  Really dumb.  And yes, today my body aches and my head is still a bit battered.