This is the most loving thing my daughter could say. For one reason or another, be they my physical reasons or my emotional and mental reasons, I have spent much of my life feeling invisible. Invisible, inadequate and never enough. But through my daughter’s innocent and loving eyes, I know I have a place and a purpose.
When I was in cognitive behaviour therapy at the start of last year, my counsellor recommended that I write letters to myself, addressing my sadness and my struggles. I call the series “Dear Me, Who Is”. There are instalments like “tired”, “trying hard”, “part of a family” and it helps me speak kindly to myself, as if I were another person. I have spent much of my life wishing to be another person, but being able to separate the “selves” that I have battled against allows me the chance to examine and ponder without quite such harsh levels of criticism. In fact, the letters often serve as nice reminders that I am, even in times of stress, doing well.
I don’t know why, but I write them with a photo of me attached. I think it was because I began to notice in the memories that all photos portray when I was sad, when the world felt dark. I could read what my smiles were hiding, when my eyes were dull. Equally, I could be reminded of the times that I was genuinely happy, happy to be me. Again, not looking at myself with a critical eye, but with empathy and kindness.
Kev likes to put all of our photos onto a loop on our TV. Squidge loves to see them too, to remember the places she has been, the fun she has had and how big she has grown. Some of them I struggle to look at for the reasons I have outlined above, because I know what I was feeling in each image and I am acutely aware that I haven’t always been very good at sharing those feelings, so Kev might not know how sad it makes me to revisit certain memories.
In times of lockdown, almost into my third trimester of my second pregnancy, I am increasingly feeling inadequate and not enough. This time last year, that would have had me turning in on myself, to an ugly degree. I would have blamed myself, I would have hated myself. I have long been my own worst enemy
Yet, yesterday, as I watched the photos flick through on our TV screen, I felt different. I don’t know why, but I was so relieved that I did.
This photo was taken on our 4th wedding anniversary, during our first family to Newquy in September 2019. There was a lovely view, so we braved the fierce wind and walked outside to a bench to admire the sea, something that always makes me feel peaceful.
What I used to see
The fact that my hair was a mess. That I have hands that can’t get my hair out of the way so I don’t alays have to look a state. I really used to get annoyed at myself
What I see now
The fact that the wind was whipping our hair – mine & Squidge’s! I can feel the force and chill of it on my face and it reminds me that we were happy that day. We were together, we were laughing and smiling at the wind being out of control. That’s what you want your mum to be isn’t it? Laughing and smiling. Not caring about her hair!
This photo was taken on another day of our Newquay holiday. I didn’t think I’d actually seen it before, but when I saw it yesterday, I didn’t think about how much I hate my nose, or how static my hair was. I was glad my mind didn’t go straight to the negative.
What I see now
I can see my family, my world, smiling. We’re all together, we’re having fun. My eyes aren’t hiding any sadness, they’re happy, glad not to have to think of anything other than the fun we will have.
I’m actually impressed I managed to get my hair up this day. I tried not to care too much about how I looked when we were on holiday, because we were going to have fun together whatever. But I did try and practice the instructions a lovely hairdresser had given my awkward hands for putting up a ponytail and in this photo, I can see I did a good job, given that it’s hard for me to do.
Even my skin looks pretty clear. I don’t look like the tired, frightened little girl I am so used to seeing. I look like a happy mum
This photo was taken when Kev & I were on holiday together in Cuba in 2018. It took a lot for us to get there. We were originally supposed to go there on honeymoon in June 2016, but the Zika outbreak and Squidge’s imminent arrival meant that it was off and in fact, it took Kev being made redundant from a job he worked so hard at to provide for us all in order for us to be able to go again.
I hadn’t wanted to leave Squidge, almost 2 at the time, but once there, it was the most enjoyable, peaceful week of my life.
What I used to see
Again, I used to look at this and think “Why am I such a state? Why couldn’t I have done my hair? Or gone on a bikini diet for the holiday? God, I’m so fat and lazy and I always use my CP as a barrier to taking care of my appearance! So it’s my own fault I can’t look better.”
What I see now
Me, at peace. I’m happy. That smile is real. I’m wearing one of my favourite dresses and actually, I look in pretty good shape for someone that spent their entire lives convinced their legs, incapable of working as others do, were repulsive. My hair might be frizzy, but God, there wasn’t any stopping that in Cuban humidity, why would I waste precious holiday time caring about that? I am a tired, hard-working mum, I deserved to enjoy this holiday. This was a holiday my wonderful husband planned for years and I am so happy to be there with him. I am a happy wife and I’l go home to Squidge a happy mum.
I like who I am in this picture. I have grown. I am not a frightened little girl. I am a calm and happy woman. I can feel sun on my skin. I am having fun with the person I love most in the world. I deserve this. I will savour it.
These photos have helped me see myself as my daughter and my husband see me. I have never really been able to do that before. The hatred inside of me for the person I thought I was has always been so sure that they are the ones who are blinkered, that they see me wrong.
Amongst all the struggles, the darkness and the self-hatred, I am slowly able to see who I truly am. I may not be this person every day, because sadly, sans lottery win, not every day can be a holiday, but I see who I really am to the people I love. I see the woman I have become. I feel how happy she was in these moments when the little girl that came before her never thought there were days like this out there to be lived.
I see that I will be OK.
I see that I am enough.
I see you, Mummy.