In visible

The dichotomy of being invisible – yet- aching to be seen”

For most of my life, I have felt like a contradiction. In many ways I have felt torn. Torn between countries and roots, girls and boys, good and naughty. It was/is hard being a people pleaser and a sensitive one at that.

I am unearthing a whole lot of things that have kept this contradiction in place and today I came across a very old (or is that young?) vow. I need to be invisible.

I was born into a big family and many had hoped that I was a boy so in a way my birth was met with a disappointment, much like many a baby girl’s birth worldwide sadly. I took this seriously. Yet I was a few seconds old, so how can I know this? Because as early as I can recall, I felt fundamentally flawed. Somehow being a girl wasn’t good enough, so I tried to be the best tomboy I could be, and when that didn’t work, I made myself invisible.

At primary school I did my very best to be a model child, obedient, bright and eager- yet somehow I never felt seen. I was one of those teacher’s pets, and took great pride in being complimented on being a good girl, yet I was never rewarded for it. High school came and the rebel kicked in, but still a ‘good’ rebel. I found a confidence that I projected onto the world and I did some crazy things, but I still never really felt seen.

Fast forward many years and I find myself being complimented for being ‘low maintenance and easy’ yet it no longer feels like a compliment. My invisibility has made for me not speaking up when I should, not saying no, and not charging what I am worth. I made myself small and not needing much yet there is a part of me that feels like Katy Perry and wants to’roar’. It sometimes spills out when defending the weaker or bullied people, yet I cannot blow my own trumpet. Who am I to make a noise? I dodge rude people thrusting their weight about on pavements or shopping aisles, I apologise if they bump into me, and I am often caught holding the door open for too many people (although that is usually in Glasgow). People talk over me, or interrupt my conversation and I passively melt back in to the shadow.

Yet I love giving public talks and revel in the joy of an audience. I  blab constantly on Facebook and at the same time, find my writing voice. I give presentations and workshops and relish the feeling of helping people. I love the idea of being on radio, and when feeling very very brave, will admit – TV. Oprah is a role model, yet I could never push myself  that much.

Instead, I hide. I keep quiet (mostly) and mind my tongue. I be a ‘good girl’. I stay modest, build others up, work hard and don’t expect too much. Yet that is only a part of who I am. The full version of me is unfolding and I am realising the power of this young girl’s vow to stay invisible. Now I have the tools and power and desire to change it.

Still a work in progress!

 

Flew

For the past few weeks I have been ill, really awfully sick. Not life threatening though, but still ghastly sick. Now I know there are sadly, plenty people in a worse-off situation that I found myself in for a temporary basis but for a good chunk of that period, it felt terminal to me (maybe it was manflu – haha!)

Now why write about something that happens to (mostly) everyone on the planet? Because the whole month of August just seems so strange and I have to write the strangeness out of me. It helps with my perspective.

This flu slapped me suddenly and violently and it knocked me completely off my feet. There was no flu-ish build up, and no warning signs to give an indication that a loony eclipse was going to darken my planet. I woke up on a Tuesday morning and there it was. In my joints, lungs, head, everywhere.

This is often the initial period of achy flu, so I managed to get through the day very sluggishly although I was coughing like a very seasoned sailor. On day 3 of the achiness I realised that my lungs may be infected so needed to bring in the big guns. Okay, it was a doctor and he had a stethoscope and it was around this time that I realised I had no jokes in my head. Not even one. I think this is what was the most alarming thing of all on reflection because I realised that I had lost my sense of humour, my appetite, my good health and the saddest of all- my inner jukebox.

Of course, being a tapping therapist, I eventually stopped chastising myself for getting into this situation and realised that my body obviously needed to sleep. It also needed to get irritated, frustrated, short tempered and not give a damn about anyone/thing else. This feeling stayed with me as I struggled to hold my head up for any length of time without a cushion and eventually the novelty of lying on the bed wore off. I had many guests in August too, but they had to just work around me.

The weeks ticked by and the shell of me remained. My one dear friend suggested that perhaps my soul needed a rest, and after much thought on that, I agreed. I was like a shell of me and had no joy, nor positivity and somewhere deep down, I hoped that this would not be a permanent state of being.

For a strange reason, I said to myself ‘Friday is the day’ so on Thursday I was floating about thinking that that goal is futile and was getting worried that this may well be me-forever. Ironically the nominated Friday was also 1 September, Spring day in the southern bit, yey! I didn’t know that initially as I think I got stuck somewhere mid July… possibly on a plane… over Ethiopia.. or in the Dubai desert.

Anyway, Friday comes, and I gingerly get out of bed and stop. I listen, I feel, I move. Gone…. the dizziness, floaty feeling is gone. PLUS- the music was back as I started humming tunes (getting ready for the shower- may have been a different kind of hum!)

The ‘good me’ is still here, and I am ready… to rock. Okay, maybe not rock, but I am ready!

Bring it!

 

 

Young dreams

I blame my brother.

He had dominion over the record player and at the tender age of seven, I was subjected to David Bowie, Yes, Deep Purple and the likes. When we got the first stereo hifi he also bought headphones, which we had to fight over who got to use them. In a crowded home of nine people, music became a beautiful escape from the noise. As I entered my teens, I still used music as an escape. Like every teenager in the Eighties, I sat glued to my radio for the weekly Top 20 and I imagined myself with the idyllic job as a Disc Jockey (DJ). Neil Johnson created a show called ‘homebru’ where he showcased local bands and I was in heaven. Around the same time, I decided I wanted to be a nurse, you know, to help people. My quiet, unproclaimed dream of being a DJ remained silent. I mean, seriously, who do I think I am wanting to do that job? To be surrounded by music all day and not help people? Plus, saying something like that came across as boastful and egotistical and I could never be that! So I let the dream lie there, deep within.

I did become a nurse, and was a damn good one, except that I failed my anatomy exams. My life plan instantly shattered, I immediately thought of new goals, new dreams because I couldn’t wait the three months for a rewrite. I now know that I was too emotionally involved my my patient care and cared too much in a way, well at least, I cared too much for a 17 year old Fadget.

Fadget? What on earth….?

My nursing year also saw me fall in love with a local band, eVoid, which had a regular gig at the Chelsea Hotel in Hillbrow. Every spare cent went towards my entrance to the dodgy club where I was surrounded by ‘live’ music which seemed to fill my soul. I watched the roadies and sound engineer do their thing and quietly thought to myself ‘I would love that..’

Roll on 24 hour nursing notice and I was suddenly free. Free to do what? I felt extremely relieved to be away from the responsibility of nursing and I was so swept up with confidence that I called the local broadcaster, the SABC (Mnet didn’t yet exist) from a pay phone (tiekie box) in a neighbouring block of flats. I was given a job interview and I sailed my way through the process, with the only real obstacle being, to prove that I could ‘praat die taal’. This was 1985 and the soutie girl applying for a fantasy job seemed a little out there. But, I got the job that I didn’t know had an actual name… a sound technician/operator. I threw myself into the work and I even had a fantastic Scots boss which eased my way into the very male dominated world at the time.

This century sees me on a completely different plane but I am still enjoying the journey. I had forgotten about my ‘secret’ dream of being a DJ until recently. I was asked to do a radio interview for an ‘older’ station with a friend and I jumped at the chance. I have been on radio a few times as well as on TV but somehow this time made me think… ‘what if?’

I don’t know what lies ahead, nor the what if’s, but I do know that by letting my old ‘young’ dreams wash over me, made me feel that ‘anything is possible’. I spent a long time in my head thinking ‘I can’t’, maybe it’s time to explore those dreams with a feeling of ‘I can’.

In the meantime? I’m pretending…. be right back after this break!

My Selfie

In the new digital world of relationships, I find myself in the midst of a strange one. My relationship with my self.  I know this may sound all vain and selfish but it it has all kinds of uniqueness and smart phones and cameras have almost ‘forced ‘ me to acknowledge the important piece of my puzzle.

Me.

As a teen, photos got taken by others so I have many pictures of friends but very few of me. Developing photos was expensive and restricted funds meant that most of our antics were only captured by the mind. Most of my youth goes undocumented so I rely on my siblings, cousins and friends to reflect on what I looked like. My husband has albums full of pictures of mountains, animals and nature but he is nowhere to be seen.

A few decades later, I find myself trotting the globe and am fortunate now, to put ‘myself in the picture’. This has been interesting in that the terrible self criticism has eased and I am somewhat slower to rush in judging myself. I consciously flick the lens around and put the lens on myself. My face. My body.

It was tricky at first, I would delete all of them. Then slowly, I would begin to keep some that I ‘like’. Then I began to publish one or two. Out there… in the big wide world of the web. The world didn’t fall, computers didn’t crash and at the same time I began to feel a little bit better about myself.  Then I realised that I always look for the personal approach online.  It became a matter of trust somehow, when checking out other businesses or people. So I started putting more and more pictures of my face online and I began to take more pictures with me in it.

On my first trip to New York, I learned how to flick the camera quickly and began to snap glimpses of a trip that I was fortunate enough to experience. The hurricane Sandy had left it’s mark all over the city and symbolically, so did I. Looking back at the pictures, I realised that they pleased me so I continued.

 

I walked across Spain for a six week period and before setting off every day, I would take a picture. It was only on my UK trip a year later that I realised that the ritual of starting my day in this way had become important. It symbolises a new beginning and the end of the day before. Fresh legs and puffy eyes, I can physically monitor how I look. As each day gets marked as done, I almost subconsciously can see any growth, stress or emotions that I am dealing with.

Putting myself in the picture means that I have finally become important. I am learning to accept my journey both physically and metaphorically and it is somewhat surprising that I am at last, making friends with myself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It has only taken me half a century but hey, who’s counting?

 

A Way to Run

Running. It became a way of life for me. But my preferred way to run is regular road running. Not track running, not treadmill running, not cross country but especially not Trail Running. Yes, it is in the great outdoors on beautiful, remote, quiet routes but it requires a lot more effort, nimble feet and a strong core. Cue my sister…

Debbie is like a mountain goat-able to pick out the best route and gaily runs through the tracks with ease. It made sense for her to say crazy comments like ‘I am going to run through the Kalahari desert for 6 days or up the Drakensberg mountains four times on a 50km route. But her latest endeavour was totally bordering on insane. 150km along a very rugged route in Scotland. But I no longer talk her out of these kind of things, instead I end up saying ‘how can I help?’ This meant that I found myself shivering at the 1am start at a station in Glasgow.

A crowd of us gathered around her and the 200-odd runners listening to last minute instructions before a siren unleashed the eager crazies onto the dark path. I wasn’t really sure what to do except try and guess what she would need at the support spots every 15km or so. This was hard because I couldn’t put myself in her shoes. (Neither did I want to!) The first support team stayed in the warmth of the car watching daylight begin to crack the sky at around 3am. Modern technology told us that she was soon approaching the point so we shuffled over to watch a steady procession of head torches weave their way through a dark field. She found us, and we jumped into action. Coffee and eats done, I didn’t have cream for her red cold nose with me, she set off again into the slowly lightening morning.

Summer in Scotland can be very elusive and this South African was very glad to be wearing hat, gloves and ancient ski jacket that staved off the cold temperatures. The upside? It wasn’t raining- yet. We drove on the windy roads along Loch Lomond to the next stop which had a very welcome restaurant serving hot rolls and coffee.  4am didn’t deter the Scottish friendliness as chit chat about the race broke the silence from the car. This stop was at the bottom of a steep climb called Connick Hill, which is Scots for -mountain. The air was warmer in the car park which meant another interesting Scottish challenge-the midgie. Flying insects which love the heat of human skin and can only be deterred by some Avon lotion and unflattering midgie nets, both of which I had.                              

Debbie arrived a little bit later than expected and she had complained that she had hit a bad patch early on but she seemed to be out of it as she changed her shoes, socks and ate some food before setting off on the path once again. We packed up the car and tried to get some shut eye while my brother drove through the narrow weaving road hugging the Loch.

The weather began to change and the cold crept in through my gloves and I began to get concerned for her out there in the elements. The next support point saw us try to get her some warm food but I misjudged her times and the food was long cold when she reached us. She confessed to getting a little lost so ran an extra two kays. Her colour was different from usual but she still sounded okay so we moved onto the next point.

By now, fine patchy rain kept changing the beautiful surroundings and in the north some menacing dark clouds threatened to move in. My niece had joined us as she was permitted to run alongside Debbie from this halfway point so the two of us walked towards the path in the hope of seeing her. We got concerned as familiar runners came by and the gaps got bigger. Now nearing what we thought was the cut-off time I got really concerned so my niece set out to find her. Eventually the threatening clouds arrived at the same time that Debbie did and I took one look at her face and I knew that she was done. She had done her best but the weather, tough route and hunger took its toll on her as well as 50 other runners who sadly didn’t get to the finish line in Fort William. 

 

I was concerned because Debbie is not one to give up nor bail, I am the one who surrenders but I don’t take it to heart, so this was new territory for her. However she took stock of her run and was brave enough to acknowledge her weaknesses and strength and had the wisdom to know her body.

Secretly, I was glad because the effort just seemed so enormous to me that I couldn’t comprehend this run. A couple of days later I walked a portion of the route and it took me over 8 hours to do a 20km section.  New respect for this little sister of mine but she may be pushing it when a few days later she started saying ‘well….’ I know her and unfinished business-arrrgh!!

One decade

Ten years ago I was in the same part of the world. Scotland. I had been here for a couple of months spending time with my gorgeous sister. All my sisters are gorgeous but Joanne was a lot like mum and dad seemed to favour her ( in my young girl opinion). There was no jealousy in this ‘fact’ but rather a simple acceptance of that is how it is.

Joanne was facing the last few months of her life and we all knew it. I was here to do whatever she needed me to do. Drive her red car to the doctor, hospital or shops through the narrow crowded roads; make her tea and sort her meds while her family maintained a semblance of normal; watch breakfast tv in bed because she was too sore to get downstairs; shave her legs because bending had become too painful and a girl still has to have her dignity- this proved rather hilarious trying to figure out how to hold the razor outwardly…. All these moments which became cherished memories of the fabric of my life that I was lucky to share with her….

A decade later, I am fortunate enough to be here again to share new moments with my Scottish family. I am excited and eager to explore the countryside, shops, transport, their home, their lives. It is a huge privilege to be able to do this- to be let in- to watch how people live. This time around most of my siblings are retired and free from the burden of work and it is great to see how they handle their time and play. My brother rides his bike, and seems to be an adventurer on wheels planning rides, trips and journeys. Although I don’t share his passion for wheels, I am loving hearing about it and learning about cycle paths and possible adventures his future may have.

I hadn’t planned a formal trip this year, it sort of fell into being. Youngest sibling, Debbie has a sense of adventure bordering on the insane yet seemingly fitting, this year. She is a week away from running the West Highland Way, a trail foot race of a 100 miles. Ten years ago us sisters became familiar with the same stretch of land as we walked it together but took seven days to do it. This drover’s route had us crying, laughing, moaning and celebrating our lives as we wrestled with the landscape, our boots and beds. Debbie is taking up the challenge to do it in 35 hours and we are here to help. We are going to pay homage to the route after she has completed it and for me I owe it my thanks. It set me on my physical journey of running and I never expected to continue running, ten years later. I am returning with gratitude to my home country, the 100 miles that I can barely remember in detail but the route lies firmly in my heart.

What an honour to be able to do this, to be here! How lucky am I!

Cheer-full

I started my eight official start to the Comrades marathon a few days ago. The marathon is a long distance run between two cities in KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. The distance varies but is around 87km (or 52miles) and for thousands of South African runners, it is the running event of the year.

Eight times I have lined up yet I only have 4 successful finishes. I am fine with this. Really, I am fine.

Many people have offered me condolences about me only doing 42km on Sunday but those people are usually runners themselves. Contrary to my coach’s thinking, I didn’t start off my race thinking that I wouldn’t finish, I had worked on my mental psyche and was feeling quite confident about getting my fifth medal. The day just went pear shaped. There was no huge mental fog on the race (which had been plaguing me during this training season), there was no real injury nor reason for my stopping either. But sometimes we don’t have the answers and I have had to learn that that too, is okay. It is okay to not have a ‘reason’, to not know the ‘why’. This in itself is liberating because I used to suffer from analysis paralysis so I always looked for the ‘why’. This year I am completely okay with not knowing the why, as well as not finishing the race.

Human beings look for reasons, we hate uncertainty as it makes us fearful. Okay, perhaps I need to own that statement. It makes me fearful. But this year, I am finding myself facing so much uncertainty that in a way not having a particular reason for stopping my race is so freeing. In the freedom, I am marvelling at life. Just like I did on my race. People, all shapes and sizes participate. People all delightfully patient, encouragingly support us, cheering us on for hours. I was even cheered while sitting in the support bus-recognised for participating. I kind of felt like a hoax briefly at that moment but I realised that I can take their support whether I finished the race or not. Imagine a world where we just cheer each other on, regardless of what we do. Well, I felt that on Sunday.

Our bus waited for the cruel but necessary halfway cut off point and us 60 or so wounded, nauseous, limping athletes all cheered our desperate Comrades to the line. No matter how sick people felt, they wanted the best for these strangers, fellow runners. This race brings out all sorts of emotions and pain, but for me it brings out the best of us in our gruesome, sweaty glory.

At the finish and for days afterwards we go through the results of friends and clubmates hoping that they achieved their goals and we celebrate their victories even in the face of our own ‘failures’. This running community has taught me so much about the human spirit that I can’t begin to really explain it. I used to be secretly  embarrassed by my small medal tally but this year, something shifted inside and I realised that I am not chasing a huge target. I am living and living the best version of my life. I don’t have to go anywhere or do anything to be better/faster/more because right here, right now…

I am enough.

Will I be back next year? More than likely 😊

The weight of the wait

I spend a lot of my life waiting and it doesn’t get any easier. Hang on, with the advent of smart phones, it has -a little. Now I can play games, check social media or check where my waiting ‘subject ‘ is. In this case, I know exactly where that subject is- 12 days away. I am talking about the Comrades marathon- a 89km road run between Durban and Pietermarisburg in KZN. This wait requires a patience different from other waits and all the best training in the world doesn’t really prepare me for the wait.

I have been here before in the pause before race day, eight times to be precise, so one would think that I should be used to it. However this year is a little different because I didn’t run it last year and the previous year I made it only to the 80km mark. So there is an element of curiosity again but not the same feelings of the novices. I know what the race entails and have experienced it in many different ways. I have a ‘Did Not Finish DNF, Did Not Start DNS due to both injury and choice, and 4 successfully Finished. But every year I have to pace myself through the waiting period.

This is called ‘tapering’ which means that the heavy mileage training is done and short easy runs should be undertaken. Note, I mentioned should. I have not run much at all, but I can validate my ‘reasons ‘ why not.

  • It has been cold
  • It has been dark
  • I am too tired
  • I am too lazy
  • There are germs out there

So instead of destressing myself with a short run, I am thinking about how I am training my mind during the waiting period. I go over my race season and thanks to my sister’s 100 miler race coming up after Comrades, we ended up racing a lot more than previous years. The six months of training have been really interesting, with races that I have never done before.  We visited Pietermarisburg for my successful qualifying marathon, Benoni, Pretoria, Bronkhorstspruit, Sasolburg, Secunda, Irene and the mother city-  Cape Town. I go over the successful moments as well as the crappy bits and try to understand it all. This has been a good training season overall and I am changing the mind shift into one of ‘ I can’. A freeing mindset -but it does have a touch of fear with it.

I think about all the great support I have from runners, family, friends and I realise how fortunate I am to be able to do this. Gratitude can get me a long way and on Sunday 4 June, I know that the day is filled with it. Many people say ‘but what about the pain?’ Yes, there usually is huge amount of pain, but for me the race is about gratitude for the opportunity to experience the magic of the day. But right now I am grateful for my training season, my friends and my awesome coach/sister who has helped me get out of my negative thought train and be ready for another week of wait.

I can wait.

Surrogate mums

In my part of the world, Mother’s day is fast approaching and it is always a good time to reflect and honour the special women in our lives.  For half my life, I haven’t had my mum but I have been blessed with having many stand-in mums in my lifetime.

Recently I got the chance to catch up with one of these special ladies who now lives in England.  Aunty Ann holds a dear place in my heart for many reasons and I want to express a sample of what she means to me. 

I was about 11 when I first met the Kondals, a large immigrant family much like my own. Catholic, but half English and half Polish meant that there were some unusual differences for me but Aunty Ann welcomed me ( and some other sisters) into her home like there was no financial pressure and plenty food, time and energy to go around.

Unlike my own mum, Aunty Ann seemed to enjoy cooking and I loved sitting round her kitchen table and laughed at all our stories to which she took a genuine interest in. Somehow she never seemed under pressure and it helped that she laughed at my jokes. We would sit late at night and chat about anything and everything and I think back with fondness for those times.

Wimbledon was exciting at their house as all us extra bodies would find a strip of carpet to lie on and cheer MacEnroe or Boris on. Dallas was also an overnighter, even though it was a school night. We would double up in single beds and I loved experiencing early mornings at my friend, something I still enjoy because it really shows a lot about people.

Aunty Ann was always an invisible presence in my later years because she returned to England after I left school. I visited her during my gap year and once again returned to tea drinking around the kitchen table in her home that was spookily over the funeral parlour in a darling little town.

Nowadays it is easier to keep in touch through virtual kitchen tables and on my recent visit she praised my writing skills and told me know much she loved it. It brought a surprise tear to my eye yet I felt really glad that we can still connect in this small way.

Thank you Aunty Ann for the doughnuts, the Polish cabbage mince leaves, the gallons of tea, toast by the bucket full, lifts in the Anglia, pushing the Anglia, laughter, tears, the use of the dart board, long summer swims, Dullstroom camping and secret Trout fishing, Slap chips on a buttie, brick building, puppy birthing,  lifts to scout hall discos, all the laughter and many other forgotten memories and now, the modern love…

Love you x

Beauty to behold

I visited a beautiful piece of the earth recently and found myself trying to take it all in. Cape Town is a city at the most southern part of Africa and is truly beautiful. I was there to run a race which gave me the opportunity to view the bay of Hout from a different vantage point. On foot. Walking up the road on Chapman’s Peak is an unusual occurance and I felt honoured to be given the chance.

My  friends live in the city and the flat table top mountain is visible from most areas, clouds permitting. I asked one of my friends if she has become used to seeing the big piece of rock. Does she still marvel at it’s beauty or has it become a taken for granted landmark? She conceded that sometimes the beauty is less visible but more often than not, she appreciates it.

I have been fortunate enough to have seen some beautiful places over the years but have always lived in kind -of -grim towns, visually speaking that is. Industrial towns aren’t usually aesthetically pleasing. I started thinking how I would feel waking up to a view of the city, sea or mountains.

What I have learned to do by being visually deprived is look for the beauty in smaller things. A rose my mum groomed with Rooibos tea, an autumn touched oak tree, a sunset setting clouds on fire, a twinkle in someone’s eye, a smile of relief on a resting worker’s face. I learned to look deeper into people’s faces, hearts and minds and I always find beauty.

I am looking forward to one day waking up to a view. To open my door and let beauty flood my senses but until then, I am grateful for my gift of sight and I will continue to look for the beauty.