The end of should

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I am ready to let go of the shoulds.

I should wake up earlier. I should go to bed earlier. I should drink more water. I should eat less chocolate. I should exercise more. I should socialise more. I should get out the house more. I should phone my family more. I should stop obsessing about X. I should let go of Y. I should be happier. I should be more grateful. I should chill the fuck out. I should be more extroverted. I should blog more. I should do more marketing. I should organise my accounts better. I should learn how to do X. I should stop doing Y. I should be more brave. I should be less scared. I should be more optimistic. I should smile more. I should be less serious. I should look on the bright side. I should be more supportive. I should be less judgemental. I should be more responsible. I should be married by now. I should have kids by now. I should be less selfish. I should have more patience. I should wait and see. I should trust. I should believe. I should stop thinking about it. I should stop shoulding myself all the time.

Oh yeah, I’m so ready to let go of the shoulds. Should is a spectacularly unhelpful word and every time it enters my head — which is most of the time — I feel myself sink lower and lower. Should is the strict headmistress telling me what to do. Telling me how useless I am. Telling me I’m no good.

Well, sod that, I’ve had enough. I am ready to let go of the shoulds.

What are you ready to let go of?

This is why therapy rocks

This is why therapy rocks |
Because it’s not always enough to talk things through with friends or family members

Because it’s helpful to have an impartial witness to your discoveries

Because our heads and hearts are jigsaw puzzles and sometimes you need help putting them back together

Because the past is just the soil we grew up in, but it never hurts to plough it for gems

Because healing our hurts means we don’t pass them on

Because healing our hurts also makes room for new joy and possibility

Because saying it out loud, no matter how silly it seems, is preferable to pushing it back down

Because it’s just talking, and talking (and journalling and thinking) is not a bad thing

Because, quite frankly, it’s like green juice for your mind, and we all know how important green juice is ;)

This post is dedicated to Jill and Wendy. Thank you, ladies xo

Portrait of the author as a 40 year-old woman

Susannah ConwayMy grandmother was in her 40s when she gave birth to my mother in 1943. She already had two grown-up children, so to be pregnant again at her age was quite a shameful thing. When I compare my experience of being a 40 year-old woman to that of my grandmother, or even my mum, I know that I got the better deal. Despite living in a culture that places such ridiculous importance on youth and beauty, turning 40 no longer signifies the end of your juicy years; in many ways it feels like just the beginning. Yet every time someone tells me I don’t look forty — which is always appreciated! I’m as vain and insecure as the next person — I still wonder what is forty supposed to look like?

Susannah ConwayAfter years of making do with Polaroid and iPhone selfies, I thought it was about time I got some proper author photos taken. In Unravelling — actually, in all of my classes — I talk about the value of self portraiture. I don’t know many women who enjoy having their photograph taken, so taking your own portrait is a way to take back some control. You can play with angles and light; figure out which side is your best; finally get acquainted with the woman whose eye you studiously avoid in the mirror. But it has to be said that photographs usually lie. Being photogenic has nothing to do with how attractive you are and everything to do with how the bones of your face translate into a flat image. If, like me, you have a particularly expressive face you’ve likely had a shock when you see snaps of yourself. Really? That’s what I look like? But it isn’t. It’s your face caught in the split second of the shutter opening and closing. Thankfully we don’t live our lives on camera.

So when I asked Xanthe to take some portraits of me I had to let go of my need to control the outcome. Obviously we talked about best sides and angles and what I think works and doesn’t because I’m a perfectionist and that’s what i do — if this rattled her she was professional enough not to let it show :) We spent an hour walking around my neighbourhood, finding walls for me to stand in front of, awkward at first but gradually loosening up. Despite having absolute faith in Xanthe’s abilities as a photographer I was convinced we’d have to redo the shoot. I thought it might be easier to do it inside. I thought perhaps I should have worn something less…clingy. Fret fret fret. But as it turned out, my sweet friend had done what she does best. Looking through the 40 images she sent me I was quick to skip past the ones I didn’t like… and then there it was — a photograph of me that looked like I feel. She’d caught me through her lens when I’d let my guard down. She saw me.

Susannah ConwayIt’s nice to be seen through the eyes of another — taking portraits was one of my favourite things to do when Polaroid film was in plentiful supply. And as uncomfortable as it can be to have our picture taken, think of them as gifts for your future self to find. I’m grateful for all the self portraits I took at art school, glad to have those reminders of who I was trying to be:

1993I look at this photo from 1993 and wonder what the hell I was so worried about. I had such great skin! Great hair! I want to pat that girl on the head and say there there, you really don’t know you’ve been born, eh? And I know my 60 year-old self will want to say the same to me when she looks back at these new portraits. And boy, does that put everything into perspective on the difficult days.

Today, right now, is the youngest we will ever be. Let’s make the most of it.

The Permission Slip

The Permission Slip |
I wrote this poem last year after a morning of internet reading. Even after seven years of blogging I still get triggered. Social media in all its forms has the power to keep us connected, and it’s a wonderful thing, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes knowing everybody’s business all the time can be draining. It’s hard to keep our eyes on our own page when “everybody else” seems to be rocking the shizzle out of their life/business/relationship (delete as appropriate).

Sometimes it’s inspiring to see what’s possible, to join the slipstream of positivity and HELL YEAHS! and be reminded that if she can do it, so can I! *shakes pom poms* But then there are the craptastic days when all it takes is a single Facebook update read in the wrong moment to make you wonder why you even bother.

Does this ever happen to you?

I’m self-aware enough to know that any time another person’s blog or bit of news or whatever triggers me, it’s because it’s probably something I aspire to myself. I also know that anyone I have a strong reaction to (read: don’t like) is likely just reflecting back the things in ME I struggle with. (When you really start to get a hold of that last point it’s amazing what you start to learn about yourself!)

I shared The Permission Slip in a Love Letter to my mailing list last week and was blown away by the amount of replies I got back. This is (still) a brave new world we are navigating. The hyper connectivity of life online brings extraordinary blessings and opportunities with it, yet more than ever we need to figure out how to exist in a space that also provokes strong emotion at times. I’ve blogged about all this before and am still trying to find my way to balance the inspiration with the energy sucking why-do-i-bothers. I love the internet, and I love that my work is internet-based. But sometimes I also need to retreat and remind myself to plug into my own wise counsel. The truth that I see with my eyes. That I feel in my heart. No Facebook updates required ;-)

As a little gift, Jo and I have created a downloadable PDF of The Permission Slip for you:

Permission Slip 1 (beige) | Permission Slip 2 (purple)

Read it. Print it out. Share it along. Remember it. I hope you find it comforting if you’re ever caught in the eye of the social media crazies (I’ve pasted mine into the front of my journal, just to be sure).

Ps. Roll on the August Break! I really cannot wait :)