Curiosity isn’t a swear word

Growing up, the family motto seemed to be “Don’t make waves”.

It was so habitually thrown around that to me, as a curious, intelligent, eager-to-know-things child, the words in the phrase lost their meaning. “Don’t make waves” just became the response to a question that was too hard; or a reaction that was a little too left of the very, precise, exact, absolute centre.
Don’t make waves. Keep quiet. Don’t ask questions. Don’t challenge authority. Do as you’re told. Don’t think, just do.

Don’t make waves…

When my partner and I first got together, he would frequently ask me why I didn’t ask questions about his life, his feelings and his thoughts.
My response at the time was so ingrained with that social norm of my family. Shrugged off as “just how I am”; dismissed and defended with “not wanting to be nosy”; “I don’t like to pry”; “If I’m supposed to know it, I’ll find out about it”… THAT was the one that sent a little red flag pinging up in my brain.
“If I’m supposed to know”… Like I’m not allowed to want to know more about my partner. Or a friend. Or a colleague, or a job description, or anything ever.

It wasn’t until my first clinical supervision session of the semester, that I realised I’d been disagreeing with the concept of “not making waves” for most of my life. Trouble is, I’d become so practiced at sailing a calm blue ocean that I kinda forgot that I didn’t even enjoy it!
Another student was presenting a complicated client case, and our supervisor calmly urged her to: “Be curious about that”. About what? I thought… Be curious? How is that going to help anything? She continued; “Be curious. Always be curious. It’s how we learn more about our clients. It’s precisely how we help them”

Be curious?

Curious?… Doesn’t make sense. Curiosity killed the cat.
Saint Augustine wrote that God ‘fashioned hell for the inquisitive’. Being curious meant prying, and prying into other people’s business was a sinful vice…

No, see, what suddenly dawned on me is that curiosity removes judgement. Being curious about something means innocently, openly asking for more information, clarification and striving for understanding. Curiosity is how we learn! Puppies, kittens, foals, calves, baby-anything’s learn about their world by questioning it! “What happens if I touch this?”, “What does that taste like?”, “Can I jump over this thing to get over there?”.
What if no-one was ever curious?
What if EVERYONE made no waves?
We’d still have a flat earth, would never have made it to the moon, be afraid of the dark, and would probably still be walking everywhere. EVERYWHERE.
Curiosity is defined as “A strong desire to know or learn something”. How can that POSSIBLY be bad? I live in one of the most privileged regions of the world. HOW can I have been taught, (with two exceptional academics in the family, no less) that curiosity is a BAD thing!? Ask the family and they’ll deny ever teaching me that, but that’s child-raising, I think; the intentions of the adults and what the child actually takes and latches onto, don’t always align… Perhaps they’d say it has nothing to do with curiosity, but everything to do with respect. But how can we respect people if we’re not doing what we can to understand their situation better, and understand their feelings.
Maybe I’m being a counsellor when I say that… Because my JOB is to understand people… But maybe it really is important for everyone.

Curiosity didn’t kill the cat. Curiosity showed the cat a whole new world! Curiosity sees something it doesn’t understand, and wants to know more. Curiosity questions why things are they way they are and searches for more possibilities. Curiosity isn’t gossip. It isn’t judgement, it isn’t inappropriate, and it isn’t a dirty word.
I’ll make waves now. I try to be gentle around my family so I don’t make them too uncomfortable… but making waves is a side effect of passion! And passion is (should be) a symptom of life! Passion for something or about something. And passion is what led us to modern aviation, space travel and mobile phones.
Be curious. Without judgement.

Learn more.
And love more.

4X4 track epiphanies

So we’ve realised our parents aren’t perfect.

We’ve stepped back from them, their expectations and their timetable and rituals…

But how do we stop the habits that we’ve formed watching them?

How, when something breaks, do we not panic about how much it might cost to fix instead of laughing at the genuinely funny situation?
How do you realise your potential to be you and make your own judgements on situations?
How do you laugh more than you fret?
How do you remind yourself that having anxiety will always exacerbate this pattern of reacting rather than responding?

Sleeping helps; not having a migraine helps and having a super supportive and communicative partner definitely helps, and let’s be real- a couple of Midori Splice’s help too.

There’s a lot of clutter in my mind (and in my life, as I continue to cram a house-worth of existence into a bedroom with 2 cats and another giant human…), and I’m endlessly sorting through it and trying to organise it… Part of the reason I started this blog, to be honest…

One of my favourite things to tell people when they have major realisations about issues in their lives is that conscious awareness is key; a first step in changing behaviours, understanding our actions, ourselves and our relationships. My therapist told me this and I never believed her. I thought I was trapped and helpless in my situation and that my “conscious awareness” was like the consolation prize in my therapeutic journey… The “thanks for coming, we want to tell you you did good… but you’re actually really shit… Here’s a crappy ribbon” prize so that we don’t look like arseholes…

But it’s SO TRUE! Conscious awareness is like the first step! The actual KEY to moving forward and changing habits and creating new patterns!
Without being aware of these reactions and learned responses, how are you EVER going to change them!? How are you ever going to move forward in your own journey? You can’t possibly!

I welcomed the realisation that I had reacted by rote today. It means that I’m actually able to react differently next time in the same situation. It means that I don’t have to accept the habits I’ve learned from either of my parents as my own and it means that I’m on my way to really creating my own person.

My parents are amazing. Each of them, for their own strengths and their own beautiful idiosyncrasies and their own craziness. But I don’t want to be a replica of them. I don’t want to take on board all the things that, in my opinion, have held them back from their happiness.
I want to be on my own journey. I want to be my own person. Proud to be my parent’s daughter, but carving my own path through the jungle that is life: NOT following theirs. I don’t want to fall down the same ravines that they did and I don’t want to take the same ditch they did and wind up taking on water when there was a possible dry track a few metres to the left. I want to trust my gut on ever decision that I make. And maybe that decision finds me down a path towards a lesson I’d rather not have had to learn, but just past that little scrubby patch might be the most glorious view across a magnificent valley! A view I might never have seen had I just kept blindly following the path already forged by my parents.

So. We become aware. We step back. And then we practice. Practice and practice and practice until we’re making our own choices and responding to situations from they heart rather than from a habit. The tricky part is applying the same awareness across multiple situations, not waiting for the exact same moment to arise… But that, again, comes with practice.

I’m working out who I want to be. I’m developing a clear picture of her in my head. I’m beginning to be able to visualise what she will look like, how she might respond if presented with the same situation again and how she might feel to exist within. Visualising her will bring her into fruition. Believing in her will make her powerful. And BEING will … … I don’t know what that will do… But I’m excited about it!

A panic attack in prose

Last week I had a pretty severe panic attack… One that made me question whether I had a hold on my anxiety or whether it had a hold on me, even though I knew logically and rationally that I’ve been doing awesome with it…

I was at placement… during a staff development/student free day and after pulling on a facade of calm, I sat quietly at the back and wrote…
I intended to share it immediately after, but lacked the courage to be that vulnerable… Now, as I prepare to transcribe it from pen and paper to interwebs, I’m left wondering if it will even seem half as dramatic as it felt at the time…
The point of me sharing it is that while it might not feel like it at the time, panic attacks, anxiety, ocd, depression etc are nothing to be ashamed of. They happen. Sometimes you can calm yourself through symptoms, sometimes you can’t. But they do not define you and they absolutely do not make you a less valuable human.

——

“I’m writing to try to take my mind off a panic attack.

I feel so watched.

This one has been long
3 hours
I’m already exhausted as if I’ve done a 16 hour day… In 3 hours…

Everyone is a familiar stranger.
I know everyone but no-one’s name…

I’m trying to pay attention.
Met with conflicting emotions about a Christian Sermon.

What we think about God shapes everything that we do”

Well that’s not untrue, I guess…

So contrived… A mask… A costume… A gang colour…

I moved my chair to a secluded place but now I’m surrounded.
I can feel everyone’s buzz pushing on me…

I’m just exhausted.

3 hours. “Good work will naturally serve others” 

I’m starting to blank out now.

I spent my drive here not hearing the radio.

I split myself in two but it wasn’t even.
7/8ths silently screaming for help, for peace, for stillness.
1/8th tiredly saying to breathe, to pull over and recite numbers, to recentre heart and mind, to clear chakras.

How far is a 7:1 fight? It’s not.
Never
How am I ever supposed to believe that that is going to end favourably for the calm, rational side? The panic is so powerful. So relentless, so unforgiving. SO convincing.

When you’re in the throes of a panic you start to question whether you’re ever calm, whether you were ever on top of your anxiety or if you were just kidding yourself.
It’s always there.
But it’s always surprising when it hits you again.
And I’m not going to pretend it’s a gentle knock on the door and a polite request to enter your life again…
It’s a tank. Armed. Unstoppable. Unreadable and destructive.
Devastatingly destructive sometimes…

That moment- because it IS a moment, in the scheme of things- it feels like it’s all over, and you’ll never get a grip again…
And it’s tempting to throw hands in the air and give in to the dragon that is my anxiety
But in the calm wreckage that’s left after a panic attack- I realise that I’m ok…
I’m doing good.
They’re fewer and further between. I’m better at acknowledging them
And believe it or not, I’m getting better at managing them…”

——

Elastic-waist pants and too much pizza

My inner critic has always been so quick to berate me for saying the wrong thing in the wrong company at the wrong time with the wrong tone of voice…
Something I’ve been working on a lot in the last 3 years is acknowledging the notification of “that was wrong/dumb/stupid/insensitive/inappropriate” and sending it off for further analysis by the rest of my brain, then to my heart for final approval and response…
Most of the time, my brain can filter out all the rubbish and conclude that what I said or did was fine, nothing to worry about and move on with my life, but sometimes I get stuck on one…

Sometimes I get stuck on something I said that caused an energy shift in the room… The sorts of things where you can’t say “I meant no offence by that comment, by the way”, because saying something like that means that you’ve assumed that they HAVE taken offence by it and that, therefore, you’ve popped them into some box that you’ve created that would see them being offended by the sort of thing you just said and it just gets way too messy and disastrous…
So you sit on it… And because you’re sure you felt a shift in the energy the first time you said it (yeah, that’s right, you said it more than once, goodness knows why), you’re sure you’ve done some damage to someone in the room at some level. And because you’re sure you’ve done some damage, your inner critic rips the reins from your hands and takes the wagon off road and careers through the desert castigating you until you feel so isolated from rational salvation that you begin to believe it. You begin to believe everything your inner critic is raving on about…
Maybe you HAVE ruined that person’s day. Maybe they DID think you were aiming your remarks at them with intent to hurt and manipulate them, maybe you ARE crazy for thinking these things in the first place. Maybe you’re a horrible person for even thinking that that remark would affect the person/people at all in the first place and the fact that you think it would is just as bad as having said it in the first place…

Man, I’m exhausted just WRITING that… Let alone THINKING it ad nauseum!!

Short of overcompensating with compliments and niceties, I never really know what to do with this one; but I’m having a red hot go at understanding and dealing with these situations…
I’m trying to look inward and see what I was projecting into the group, what insecurities I was covering up… Or rather laying naked for all to see…
Sometimes it’s easy; I’m feeling a little uneasy about my appearance today, or I’m not feeling intellectually dexterous today, or I’m trying to justify some self-care action that, in the past, has made me feel guilty…

Sometimes it’s not so easy… The inner-critic-declared ‘faux pas’ is hidden, cryptic, confusing… So what do we do with it then?
I have this cartoon image of my brain sometimes, where a situation like this comes into the office and the power-tripping team leader (inner critic) is going ballistic over something that the rest of the team aren’t really seeing as a big deal… They bounce it around to a few departments, receiving analysis and having meetings until finally they shrug and pop it in a basket labelled “misc”…

The misc basket is where a lot of my “not sure what to do with this one” things go at the moment… And while it might seem irresponsible to some; it’s really a great balance of self care and self reflection. Sometimes I’ll revisit a Misc Basket deposit with new information and resolve whatever issue was left in there; sometimes I’ll revisit and realise it’s really an unimportant issue and can probably be binned now that the team leader is on annual leave, and sometimes I just leave it there…

In this great journey that I’m on, trying to work out who I am, who I want to be and what I’m about; reflection is important… but balance is more important… And if my darned inner critic is going to try to take over the controls; then I’m going to take a good solid step back and out of myself so it has less to grab hold of while it’s on its rampage…

You’re gonna say dumb things. But if you keep dwelling on them and replaying the conversation over and over in your head, then no-one benefits, you achieve nothing and you just wear yourself out!

Stop

Over

Thinking.

Cleaning out my closet

How do we come to terms with the awareness of undesirable traits in our parents?
For many of us, growing up, our parents (or maybe parent, singular) is the knower of all and can do no wrong.

So what happens when we start to really see things from the adult perspective? See both sides of a marriage? and what happens when you give yourself permission to draw from your own life experiences without assuming you know less than the pair that gave you life.

I think we slowly start to work things out, but still want to believe that they’re superhuman or magical because they always knew the answers or always made us feel safe… But in the end, they’re just another set of perfectly flawed, learning, growing humans. Just like me. They’re not the same people they were at my age, and they’re not the same people they were yesterday… And they’re certainly not perfect.

Trying to keep the disappointment of this fish-slap of reality at bay is, no doubt, challenging… And the transition from rose coloured childhood glasses into clear, adult frames might cause some friction and hurt feelings… But it’s a crucial part of becoming your own human.

This bit is the hardest for me. We spend so much of our childhood trying to live up to our parents expectations that we feel like we’re throwing it back in their face when we say (verbally or otherwise): “thanks for the guidance and advice, but I’m gonna do it this way; because that’s what’s best for me right now”…

“I release myself from the expectations and limitations of my parents in order to become the truest version of myself”

“I am a counsellor”

At what point do we feel comfortable taking ownership of a title, or identity or qualification that we’ve worked so hard to achieve?

Are there people out there who still don’t feel comfortable saying it but have been doing it for years?

When does a teacher become a teacher?

When does a lawyer become a lawyer?

Do we all have a number of defining moments where we dare to try out the title and see how it feels?

I’ve just done this myself. I just referred to myself as a “qualified counsellor”, and I paused after I’d written it, wondering if I should delete it or not…

It surprised me how significant a moment this was for me… Two words. Do they stay or do they go?
What would it mean if I left them there? What was I afraid of? Judgement? Who is going to judge me for being confident in  my chosen profession? Do I feel unworthy of the title because I do not yet work as a counsellor? Will being PAID to have my qualification make it feel more real? Does a mechanic who decides to start building ornate bird houses for a living stop being a qualified mechanic? Am I afraid that I will be seen as fraudulent as I sit at my reception desk NOT counselling people?

This was all on Facebook, and I received a notification for a “like” on my comment… I went back and read it again and, incredibly, I was filled with an enormous sense of pride. I was proud of myself for leaving it there, I was proud of myself for writing it in the first place, and I was proud of what I had achieved. I may still be finishing my degree, but for the last 2 years, I’ve had my counselling diploma, just sitting there begging to be used. I am qualified! And soon I’ll just be MORE qualified!

Titles can be limiting or liberating… For me, “Receptionist” is limiting. People treat me differently to how they treated me as a “Manager”… They talk down to me and, (while I have developed some beautiful friendships with incredible people here) it challenges my sense of worth at times…
I wish it didn’t… And I hope I’ve never made any receptionist feel the way I have been made to feel at times (let’s not dive into “no one can make you feel anything without your permission etc, shall we?)… But the fact is that our society places so much importance on your job title and then boxes you accordingly, that it was bound to have some impact on my self worth, since it is still developing anyway!
“Counsellor” so far, as I sample the taste, is empowering, liberating and exciting. And I hope it remains as such.

Owning my title, I’m sure, will come slowly, with many more similar moments of sampling and testing. Being proud of my qualification will be easy. Being excited about my work will be easy… Being confident in my worthiness of the title will likely waver…

This is not an uncommon phenomenon, I realise. But knowing that it’s normal doesn’t make it feel any less isolating, terrifying or achievable…

What might sound like such a simple event, writing two words in a Facebook post, has had a profound effect on me today. And strangely, it has made me feel settled and at ease after a week of emotional calamity. I feel directed and purposeful. And I look forward to my next opportunity to test my ownership of my amazing title.