Hello, do I know you?

A woman is waving enthusiastically at me from the other side of the hall. She approaches me smiling. We exchange greeting pleasantries. I wonder if she has misidentified me or whether she is just a particularly friendly lady. Either way, I am open to a chat.

As the conversation unfolds she asks about each of my children by name, and then enquires about our recent holiday abroad. The fixed smile on my face masks my complete lack of recognition of who this person is, despite the fact that this is clearly someone I should know in some detail.

We reach the point in the conversation where we can’t go any further without me openly admitting, with a great deal of embarrassment, that I cannot recall where I know this lovely lady from. She shuffles awkwardly with what I can only image might be a combination of embarrassment, disappointment and insecurity that she might not be a memorable person. She advises me we are close neighbours. I cringe inwardly for the rest of the day from the awkward embarrassment this created for both of us.

This is the kind of things that happens to me regularly though thankfully not frequently. I can normally mitigate any awkwardness by playing along, doing some delicate probing as to our connection. Sometimes this works without embarrassment for either party. Sometimes it doesn’t. This is just the way things are for me.

It is not until I have been thrown into a semi-permanent and persistent new environment that this has really come into focus for me. I have recently become resident at the local hospital with my poorly boy for 13 days so far. There has been a whole host of new nurses, doctors and other medical staff with whom I have needed to build relationships – all wearing similar uniforms.

What I have noticed in this situation is just how much I rely on indicators other than faces to identify who people are. Clothes, body shape, hair style and voice are all key identifiers for me as well as a process of elimination if the person is a member of a group.

Another thing I have become aware of is the effect that this condition has on me. I put off connecting with people for fear that the person is not who I think they might be. I carry an almost constant worry with me that I come across as rude for not proactively connecting with people because of this. I experience feelings of being not good enough and lacking in social skills, and I harbour a lot of self-doubt in my ability to build new relationships with people particularly in a group setting.

I think this has set the scene for me taking a back seat with building relationships generally in life, waiting for people to come to me rather than putting myself forwards to connect with them. I often push people away as a defence mechanism for doubting my relationship building skills. It has left me more lonely, isolated and self-doubting than I care to be.

Additionally, although I think I am quite sensitive in picking up on vibes, I struggle at times to read facial expressions which can leave me doubting my reactions during a social exchange. Less importantly – depending on your priorities – I struggle to follow a plot in TV shows and movies because when a character changes their clothes or setting between scenes I often can’t then recognise them. I am the annoying one who interrupts the movie with “so who is this guy then? Do we know him?” “Yep – he’s still the main character!” Doh! Honestly, it puts me off watching… and no doubt puts other people off me watching with them!

After a little recent googling I discover this is most definitely a thing. Prosopagnosia. Not so uncommon I learn. An easier term of reference for this is face-blindness. I’m not sure I like that better but at least it’s pretty self-explanatory and easy to remember!

One thing I have learnt through our time in hospital is just how important effective communication is. I am the kind of person that tends to explode if I let things boil under the surface for too long, so communicating in a timely manor is really key for me. To communicate effectively with new people includes being open with them about all the relevant information that will affect our interactions. And face-blindness is definitely relevant!

After 13 days in hospital I am now in a place where I am able to recognise a lot of the staff consistently and confidently and have starting building rapport effectively. However we are currently transferring to a new hospital where we will start  from square one again. Having learnt from my recent experience I feel the best way to build effective relationships is to be upfront and open in sharing this information about me with nurses and key staff. I hope this approach will pave a way for easier settling in to this new environment, less fear of judgement about coming across as rude and more understanding on both sides of our communications.

In the scenario I wrote about at the beginning I hope that being open about my condition will reassure the other person that it is not that they are not memorable and hopefully avoid embarrassment on both our parts. And maybe sharing my experience of this will actually help me build great relationship by leading with effective communication. I’m glad I shared it with you.

Living and ever learning x

Halloween Insights

What is the equivalent of bah-humbug for halloween? Boo-humbug? Whatever it is… That is me. Year in year out! Normally this manifests in me not dressing up or taking part in any meaningful way and waiting it out until it all blows over.

This year however, I positively embraced my boo-humbugness by being a rainbow unicorn for the evening. It was my stand for joy, and lightness and dreams of magic and happiness rather than death, and the dark heaviness that I find generally accompanies All Hallows’ eve.

This was actually quite a revelation for me. It was – at the age of 33 – the first time I have ever willingly got involved in fancy dress. I experienced it as an actual burning desire. It has definitely been a turning point for me when it comes to embracing the idea of fancy dress more generally.

And as much as I loved being a rainbow unicorn, and by golly I did love it – In fact I would happily be a rainbow unicorn daily if I had some kind of sensor on the end of my horn so as to be sure not to injure any unsuspecting bystanders (which frankly, was a slight issue!) – I have since been questioning whether it was arguably disrespectful in some way to flagrantly flout the conventions of that particular evening?

My experience of boo-humbug actually runs deeper than a reluctance to embrace the festival of Halloween. It seems to me to be a pretty extreme aversion to all things dark. I think this is partly down to personality and preference. I like to embrace the happy, and I find that sunshine and fairies and things that reinforce the beauty of life make me feel nourished, which is a feeling I enjoy. Conversely zombies, saucery, pain and death make me feel on edge and fearful which is not a feeling I enjoy. Therefore I reject it – makes sense!

However, I also wonder that, as an all-or-nothing kind of gal, maybe I resist any and all types of dark in fear that if I welcome any small part of darkness, this will open the floodgates to a whole torrent of dark. Likewise I have a question mark over whether my aversion stems party from an inability (or unwillingness?) to empathise with that extreme pain which is often experienced on a deep soulfully bruising level, when you loose somebody that you love. I have been very lucky in life not yet to have experienced any crushingly traumatic loses. May it continue that way for a long time. The idea of identifying with that kind of pain, seems overwhelmingly intense… avoid, avoid, avoid.

This year just after Holloween I came across this quote – which is rather long, but nevertheless kept my attention – by a guy named ‘Agamemnon Otero’, who – just from the name – sounds like someone who knows what he’s talking about! This was the reason I started to question whether being a rainbow unicorn was actually disrespectful on Halloween.

“November arrives as the harvest is complete. Grain has been stored, fruits picked and conserved, vegetable seeds for the next growing season are separated out and kept back for planting.

The dead have passed away from the social concerns of this world to the primordial chaos of the Otherworld where all fertility has its roots, but they are still bound to the living by the ties of kinship.

We strengthen our ties to the dead when the natural cycle of earth passes through its own moment of death so that the community of the living might benefit from the energies of increase that lead out of death back to life.

Now is the time to remember those who have entered the spirit world, a time to pay due homage to the dead in order to ensure the return of new life.

Dead kin are our allies in the Otherworld, making certain that the creative forces deep within the land are being directed to serve the needs of the natural community.

Now is the time when the veil between the physical world and the spirit world is at its thinnest and so it is the most likely time for spirits to be seen on earth.

Tonight, as the barrier between the two realms grows thin, spirits walk amongst us, once again.”

I love that he draws parallels between the cyclical nature of life and death, and the seasonal changes of the Earth. And that he guides on the usefulness of the dead in the replenishing of nutrients for soil fertility for future harvests. I love that he points out the importance of fostering a healthy respect for this natural way of things, and that he puts value on the kinship that those still living have shared with those that have now been lost. Frankly, Agamemnon has framed Halloween here in a way that makes me want to embrace the deathly darkness for the festival as a mark of respect, both to natures necessary cycles, and to the kinship which has been shared with those that have passed on. Maybe next year I will be a little less controversial.

Holidaying Insights

I find holidays stressful. Unreasonably stressful. Grump inducing, almost panic strickeningly, stressful. Not the being on holiday… That bit I enjoy. It’s the preparing part which I invariably become unreasonably stressed over. My long suffering partner and children can testify to that!

To be clear, this is a motherhood induced holidaying stress reaction. As a youngster I holidayed breezily. I backpacked round the world, twice, with not so much as a twitch of pre-trip anxiety. But with children, all those potentially anxiety inducing questions – “will I have everything I need? For every single possible scenario? In every possible weather? For everyone that needs it?” – are highly amplified. When you are the ‘responsible adult’ it is easy to feel the weight of the world on your shoulders!

However, as I sit here on the floor, drinking tea, writing, entertaining my children, less than 96 hours before I leave to fly to the opposite side of the globe, with said children, I feel an overwhelming sense of calm. Packing has not yet been done, to do lists that have been written are minimal at best. I’m not sure if this is a deliberate head in sand burying tactic type calm, or a genuine wholesome, over my holidaying-anxiousness affliction sense of calm. Only time will tell. The next 4 days will certainly be revealing!

So what has changed? Where is the undesirable flood of cortisol which we have become so accustomed to in the pre-holidaying period?

It seems to me that there is nothing like an investment of £5k in a single holiday to aid in a bit of necessary personal development! For me, this is a once in a lifetime holiday, a small throw back to my care free travelling days – with 2 children and my mother in tow – and I refuse to be stressed for any part of it!

The fact that we will be visiting family in Australia, and the support network that provides in terms of forgotten necessities, may be a contributing factor in this instance. But for me, I think  the biggest change has been a shift and a release of some of the perfectionism and addiction to achievement which I vehemently cling to. Mothering in general is not compatible with perfectionism and addiction to achievement, and on a day-to-day basis I still have work to do to release that fully. But for this holiday, and hopefully future holidays, I feel happy that I may be able now to simply embrace the excitement.

Having spent some time reflecting on my pre-holiday melt downs, I have realised that preparing to go on holiday for me is actually a gradual process of accepting that all of things that I wanted to achieve before I go on holiday are not going to get done. The bathrooms will not be beautifully gleaming on our return. The carpets will not be spotless. Those weeds in what was once my vegetable patch will be a few inches taller. That’s ok, they are practically the only plants in my garden anyway! Life on our return from holiday will look pretty much like it did yesterday… That’s ok. It was fine for yesterday, it will be fine for when we get back!

What will have happened is, clothes – probably clean, and hopefully appropriate for the weather – will be in a suitcase. Toe nails will have been painted; necessary hair removal will have occurred (priorities!). If we are lucky, the fridge and bin will have been emptied. We will jump on a plane, with an adventurous spirit, and eyes wide with excitement, happy for the opportunity to create some amazing memories with my nearest and dearest. No stress required!

Post-blog update: I can undoubtedly say, having holidayed since this adventure, that I am definitely not over my holidaying-anxiousness affliction. However, like most things in life, I know now that my reaction to it, is a choice. And I would like to think that i will choose to create minimal stress pre-holidaying experiences for us in the future. And yes James, please do hold me to this!