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What's Behind The Mask?

Finding the courage to say what it is that we really need

· Insights,You Matter,Being Seen and Heard

It’d been a challenging day. After hours of driving the day before, I didn’t sleep well and my chronic fatigue/ME symptoms had been really bothering me. I feel weak, drained and have pain that just won’t shift. Yet I don’t tell anyone. I smile and carry on.

Keeping it to myself until a good friend who I meet for coffee says

“Alison, what is going on with you, what’s up, you’re not right, are you?”

At which point the back of my eyes prickle, and before I can do anything about it, tears are flowing down my face.

It’s a familiar scenario. I push on pretending all is fine, yet as soon as someone is kind and compassionate, and I feel really seen, I crumble.

It’s made me realise just how much of a tough exterior shell I have been carrying around to protect myself. I have a role as loving daughter to my elderly parents, and of the voice of experience to my sister who’s having a hard time with her youngest son, and compassionate listener to a close friend who’s father-in-law passed away today. I can give and give, and I do so very willingly. Generally it takes my mind of my health issues and, gives me a sense of purpose and significance.

But today I let the tears flow and realised I had to make a stand for what I needed, to put myself first. It was so hard, and caused more tears as I judged myself for letting people down, and back-tracking on an arrangement I had made.

My son’s first reaction when I told him I couldn’t take our dog, Murdock, to Wales with me was “you don’t have a choice, you said you would”. But as I gently explained how exhausted I was, and how I just need a break for being responsible for any other living thing he softened and said, “no problem, it’s fine, we’ll manage”.

So, after yet another long drive, I am now in Wales, staying at a friends house not far from the sea. No dog. Just me. I have some jobs to do around the place but mainly my intention is to take good care of myself.

I still feel wobbly about it. It is a challenge to say what I need. And it feels like my body has taken the lead and made it impossible for me to do otherwise. I’m curious about how I might change that in future so I don’t have to be ‘broken’ before I say what it is that I need.

I am really curious about how others balance their own needs and those of people they care about. Do you, like me, find it a challenge to put your own needs before those of others? Or have you developed a way of prioritising self-care so you are able to be there for others when they need you (like putting on your own oxygen mask first), I’d love to hear.

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