“What happened to you? You used to be as tough as nails.”
That’s what Mum said last week when I told her a story about needing Dreamboat’s help.
“I’ve never heard you talk like that.”
That was another observation made by Mum this week when I was describing my Covid symptoms. I was using words like fatigued and lethargic and describing having no energy in my body.
(Yes, I’ve had the dreaded ‘Rona’ again, and it dropped me on my ass.)
Mate, it’s not a fun time.
(Also, sorry to use you as an example, mummy, these were too good not to, and they raise such a good point that I want to write about it today. Love you. Xx)
I’ve reflected on both of those statements.
You used to be as tough as nails and,
I’ve never heard you talk like that.
I wondered, have I never needed help before or been this sick?
Of course, I have.
But years ago, I wouldn’t have asked for help. I’d have just sucked it up and done it myself. I also would have never shown weakness of any kind to anyone.
Even my mother. And even when something was objectively very wrong with me.
I once went to work (as a chef) with chronic vertigo. I couldn’t stand up straight, but pretended it wasn’t so bad and went to work with the world tipped sideways.
I’ve known for a long time that being ‘strong’ is a ‘story’ for me. I define a story as anything I tell myself, subconsciously or consciously, that I believe to be true, even if it’s not.
We all have stories.
Some are relatively harmless –
‘People who don’t like vegemite are weird’.
Some are harmful –
‘I’m not worthy of love if I don’t earn money’.
But all stories impact the way that we live our lives.
My ‘strong’ story goes a little like this –
‘I need to look after myself’,
‘I can’t rely on anyone else’,
‘Needing help is a bad thing’,
‘I should be able to do it all’ and,
‘If I can’t do it all, then I’m weak.’
(Cue links to being unlovable, unworthy, undeserving etc.)
I know where my stories about being strong came from. My childhood. That’s where most of our foundational stories and beliefs come from.
Mum didn’t sit me down one day and say to me – “Now Lauren, you need to understand that you can’t rely on anyone, and it’s only you against the world and being weak is a bad thing, so never be weak, or nobody will love you. Got that?”
That’s not how children learn about the world anyway.
Children learn about the world through observation. They don’t have the cognitive ability to ask questions and understand things like adults do.
We learn through observing – with my mum (centre) and Aunty Janet (right).
When I was little, I observed my mum raising my brother and me by herself and doing everything.
She had to be strong because she had no backup.
I watched her and formed the story that you can’t rely on anyone else.
For her, needing help was very bad because nobody could give it to her. Her parents were deceased, and she separated from my dad when I was four.
(I later discovered she had a wonderful friend circle that helped her, but I didn’t know anything about that when I was little.)
I watched her and formed the story that I also needed to be able to do it all.
Mum couldn’t afford to take time off work if we got sick, herself included. She had a mortgage to pay by herself and no backup. I remember her telling my brother and me (jokily, but also not) never to get sick.
But seriously, how cute were my brother and I?
It was advice that I took to heart. I mean, I still got sick – because, obviously – but I never really showed how sick I was.
(Being sick is extra loaded for me.)
It’s not Mum’s fault that I came to believe these things. Big people with big people’s problems can’t afford to second guess their every move in case they give their kid a complex.
And besides, all kids are different. Some are more sensitive than others. More ‘predisposed’, some might say.
But there’s also more to it than that. Those stories I formed as a child didn’t just come from observing my mum. They came about from observing the world around me, too.
My mum was the centre of my world, especially given that I don’t remember living with my dad, but these stories go way deeper. They’re an epidemic in our society.
We live in smaller groups – very commonly our direct family (mum, dad and kids), and often only mum OR dad.
Humans did not evolve to live in communities this small. Humans evolved to live in broader communities, whereby everyone contributed to the community’s success.
We were RELIANT on each other. Which meant that we helped each other, always. Our safety and happiness were intricately linked to the safety and happiness of everyone else in our community.
If someone got sick, they didn’t keep going and going and going until they were about to collapse. That would have made no sense whatsoever.
But these days, it makes a lot of sense. Because if you allow yourself to rest, then who’s going to do all the things?
The work. The child raising. The cooking. The bill paying. The life admin’ing.
Who’s going to water the damn plants?
Fucking plants. Why are they so needy?
I’ve shared my stories about being strong. Maybe you have some of the same?
I’ve done a lot of work around these stories.
At first, this meant simply shining a light on them, in other words, being aware of and able to articulate them.
I did this by journaling every time I felt triggered by something.
Whenever something got me upset or fired up, I would grab my journal and ask myself, ‘When else have I felt this way’?
I would keep following the story back and back and back until I (inevitably) got to some (probably insignificant) childhood memory, where I had locked some (usually ridiculous) belief into my brain as fact.
I’m being glib, but the truth is that it hurts when I do this work.
I journaled like this for at least a year after discovering personal development. Journaled and cried. Journaled and cried.
I did a lot of journaling when my dad was dying.
I can get to the root cause these days without using a journal. And either I’ve identified all of my major stories (hah!), or more are hidden even deeper in my subconscious. (It’s called the ‘forever’ work for a reason.)
But awareness is only one part of it. I’ve also had to change how I behave to change the stories.
If I believe that I can’t rely on anyone else, as I have for most of my life, then I’ll act like someone who can’t rely on anyone else.
The proof of this has been especially pronounced in my relationship with Dreamboat. I used to call myself ‘fiercely independent’ with pride. The truth was that I just didn’t believe that I could rely on him.
So, how did I change that story? By starting to behave as if I could rely on him.
Urgh, this killed me for years! It still is a little sticky some days. Basically, I do the following:
ADMIT WHEN I AM STRUGGLING! (Gah!)
ASK FOR WHAT I NEED! (Disgusting!)
RELY ON HIM TO LOOK AFTER ME! (Kill me, kill me, please.)
This week, it looked like this.
“Can you please look after the kids?”
“Can I go and rest?”
“Can you heat me some soup?”
I did say ‘white rice’, but he did a great job.
I’ve also expanded my reliance on other people. So, not only am I breaking down my stories about strength, but I’m also creating new, more empowering stories.
‘Nobody can do it all’,
‘Other people love to help me’,
‘Vulnerability is strength’, and,
‘I can rely on other people’.
These stories have me showing up in the world differently, expecting a different reality.
(Which is the definition of manifesting, by the way.)
Kind strangers often see me with the children at the grocery shops and offer to help me transfer groceries to the car or make other considerate gestures. (I accept!)
I have higher expectations of people in a good way. (Higher than the bare minimum I used to expect of people).
I have completely changed the dynamics of my relationship with Dreamboat so that we feel like a partnership in every way and,
Importantly, I am modelling to my kids that it’s okay to need other people, hopefully breaking the cycle for them.
People need people.
With all that said, it’s been a rough week. I’ve been really sick. I’ve had to rely on everyone a lot. There have been tears. I’ve had to remind myself often that I won’t always feel this way. I’ve had to surrender to it, cancel all my plans and let good enough be good enough.
Uber eats, online grocery shopping, questionable personal hygiene and all.
Good enough is good enough.
At least I’ve worked on this ‘story’ before the coronavirus came along – stuff relying on yourself alone with the dreaded ‘Rona’.
Mum and I in Namibia in 2018. I made her hot air balloon. She wanted to kill me.
** Originally shared to my email database on the 7th of September, 2023 **