This piece of writing, of which I have no idea to the content yet because I am about to allow myself a brain dump that is long overdue is inspired by and dedicated to my dear, anonymous friend, who I could not do life without.
The other day, my daughter came home from school and told me she had felt alone inside during the day. Her class are talking about the zones of regulation and she told me she had been in the blue zone. When we unpacked why she had been in the blue zone she was able to articulate to me that she had felt alone, that that feeling of being alone had made her miss me, and that she had felt sad. We talked about it and concluded that actually it’s ok to be in the blue zone sometimes, that is normal to sometimes feel sad, and we dispelled (I think) some of the thoughts she had when she was in the space of feeling sad – like that she has no friends. As a parent, it’s hard to sit and listen to your child say that they feel alone. Crucially however, and what I always try and do (and sometimes fail at) is park the desire to swoop in and make sure she never feels alone or sad again – because that isn’t healthy – and give her the space and time she needed to talk about all the stuff from her day, with all my thoughts and feelings packed away. Children don’t need us to fix everything, sometimes they just need to be heard (I think any way).
“Sometimes I feel alone inside too” I said. She wasn’t having this. She is still in the little bubble of thinking us adults all have our shit together, which must be a nice place to be. So we chatted about it, and I told her about the backpack and how sometimes it makes me feel so alone.
I tend to think of all our stuff as being inside a backpack, that we take with us whenever we leave the house. Inside our backpacks are all our things that make us ‘us’ – our experiences, our memories, our feelings, our tiredness, worries, hopes, dreams, everything. Now, what will differ from person to person is the size, weight and content of our backpacks. But what never differs is the fact we all have one. At night, when we come home, or are in our safe space we take our backpacks off and unpack them. And in the morning we put them back on and venture out into the world with them.
It isn’t accurate to suggest that the older you are that bigger and heavier your backpack will be. Some children will be lugging around backpacks that are rammed full of things that the rest of us will never have to squeeze into ours, whereas some adults will have little backpacks – a bit like the mini Fjallraven Kanken backpack I got for my birthday not realising it’s actually marketed for kids. But I love it and it has rainbow straps and most days it takes all the things I need it to. As a law of average, most people will have the same size and weight of backpack but it will be made up of different things. Sometimes, we will have the same things – grief for example – but the size or intensity of our grief may differ from someone we know. It doesn’t make our grief less than someone else’s, in fact it allows for common ground and relatability.
Regardless, no matter what is in your backpack, you have one.
Now, as an adult that some days has her shit together and enough coping mechanisms to mostly recognise when she isn’t ok, I can choose what to stick in my backpack. So if I am going to work I’ll take some compassion with me, some unconditional positive regard, lots of understanding and patience, lots of ability to listen without the intent to reply or fix. I also take all my experiences and memories and feelings with me.
Crucially though, there are the other parts of me, that either get left at home because I am together enough to make a decision to leave them there, or sneak into the backpack because I either haven’t noticed or because I just don’t have the capacity to unpack them that day. All my anxiety, my worries, differing levels of self confidence and belief, my negative experiences, which inevitably lead to negative thoughts and feelings. Then there’s everything else – hormones, sleep levels, hunger, exercise levels.
It all gets rammed in there. The good, the bad, and everything in between.
Some days, my backpack feels so heavy, so weighed down by everything. The worries about whether I’m doing a good job as a parent, the worries about work, whether I am ever going to run properly ever again, if Family Court really will be the straw that breaks the camels back, the thought that maybe I don’t text my friends enough, plus my jeans don’t fit, I don’t feel accomplished or successful enough.
On those days, I feel like the only person in the world that is lugging around such a heavy backpack. I can’t unpack it when I get home because it’s just tired me out having to carry it all day, so then I wear it at home, where normally I would take it off and relax and rationalise, and all of that leads to just feeling…alone. Alone inside. Weighed down by the heaviness of all the stuff.
And all of that leads to how I interact with the world. Whether I meet a situation with patience, and rational thinking, or whether I am so overwhelmed by my backpack that I can’t even begin to think about how to deal with things so become short tempered, distracted, disheartened, intolerant even.
And it’s the same for us all.
All of that will lead to how we think about ourselves as well, whether we can believe in ourselves, whether we feel good enough, whether we interact with others or whether we are weighed down by anxiety that tells us not to bother.
But what I am realising, and trying to allow myself to understand is that we all feel like that at times. All of us, even the little ones, sometimes feel like we are alone. Flying solo in this crazy rollercoaster of life. Sometimes it feels as though we are the only ones whose backpacks feel so heavy that they seem impossible to carry.
Society has tricked us into thinking that we have to be happy all the time, and that if we’re not then there is something wrong with us. We simultaneously run huge campaigns telling everyone that it’s ‘Ok not to be Ok’ whilst pushing the rhetoric that mental suffering is abnormal.
The fact is – none of us are honest enough about what we are carrying around in our backpacks, which leads to us all assuming that we are the only ones that are carrying some ‘less than shiny and happy’ shit around with us most days.
My backpack is cluttered, full of things that have been squashed down to the bottom so I don’t have to think about them. Sometimes they come to the top and take me by surprise and then I push them all to the bottom again. I used to wear my backpack on my front so that people wouldn’t get too close. Now it’s on my back and most days it feels manageable, but then a few months ago it got so heavy that it almost broke me. In the end the doctor told me that my heart palpitations was actually fear from previous trauma and I took time off work to focus on not being afraid of my own shadow. I went to therapy for a bit and realised that not everyone has to talk about all the horrible stuff in minute detail to be ok with it. And now I give it no power and carry on with my life.
Over the last wee while I have recognised that there are things that don’t need to be there anymore – my fear of premature birth for example. So I took it out and allowed myself to accept that it just serves no purpose for me anymore. There are things that still live in there that I wish wouldn’t – my fear of rejection – which is why I don’t pursue social situations or friendships with as much vigour as I used to but then feel sad because I have no pals. That’s called a vicious cycle by the way – of which I am yet to break. What I can do now though is note that that is what it is even if I haven’t managed to figure it out yet.
I really wish we were all a bit more ‘I feel in the blue zone’ and less ‘isn’t life amazing’. Yes, life is amazing. But not all the time. I don’t have all the answers either to how to make things less heavy. Yes, coping mechanisms are excellent, and things that make you feel good are crucial, like exercise and talking about things but I do think we should recognise that it is actually ok to just accept that some days, things feel tough. There is so much pressure to fix things immediately as opposed to noting, accepting, and sitting with the feeling. They are just feelings, over which we have no control. I genuinely think that attempting to eradicate negative thoughts and feelings leads to increasing despair when they inevitably come back. Maybe more acknowledgement that a constant state of happiness isn’t health is the key.
You are not alone. Ever. Not even when you think you are. And if your backpack gets too heavy, I’ll carry it for you.