The week before last I went to the House of Commons with eighty ‘game changing’ ladies. We discussed the need for women to put their message forward, to speak up, to put their hand up – however scared we may feel. But it’s really not easy……
Eleven years ago, I struggled into motherhood. The last couple of months of pregnancy when I was meant to be relaxing I nearly lost my Mum. Every day I sat watching her fighting for her life in intensive care. Then my beautiful baby girl came, 4 weeks early. I loved her dearly from the moment she opened her eyes, but although I desperately wanted to be a wholesome stay at home mum my over anxious brain, always trying to solve the next problem, quickly turned in on itself. The plan was to take at least a year off but the only solution to dealing with my unquiet mind was to occupy it (like distracting a small child). This was important not just for me but for my family – I was not a content, positive person to be around however much I tried. So, when my baby girl was about 7 months old I began working 2.5 days a week, riddled with guilt at leaving her. The rest of the week I struggled with feeling I didn’t quite fit anywhere in this new role or with other mums who seemed to be doing a far better job than me.
The next few years were not without hiccups – calls to travel several hundred miles to see Dad when he’d ‘once again’ ended up in hospital. Each time the fear of losing him engulfed me utterly. Another pregnancy – healthy and then a scan with no heartbeat. Pregnant again – healthy again and then a scan with no heartbeat. Investigation found I had something called Ashermans Syndrome. Another operation (I’d already had 2 with the above) to ‘fix’ things, followed by yet another miscarriage. Then, along came Polly – 6 weeks early. My pregnancy was far from straight forward and during the 2 weeks spent in hospital I became totally drowned by postnatal depression. To top it off not long after Dad died. So, I was feeling pretty vulnerable for those years.
Meanwhile I was trying to get on with a career while also protecting myself. I deliberately didn’t go out looking for work, just kept my own business modestly ticking along. But when my youngest recently started school I decided it was time to pursue my career with more purpose. To follow what I’m passionate about: helping empower people with what I know, giving access to psychology and understanding of behaviour to make a positive difference. To do this I had to put my head up and be heard. However, despite being feisty and determined I am also sensitive and fragile.
Since starting to put my work and thoughts out into the ether I have been knocked down a number of times and it’s hurt without fail. Today my book, an attempt to make academic psychology – rigorously evidence-based techniques something that’s accessible and user friendly, has been majorly cut down. A one-star rating on amazon and an embittered rage against what feels like me personally has left me feeling exposed, vulnerable and ready to throw in the towel. This isn’t how feedback is done in my line of work – instead, this is anonymous, faceless and without anything helpful.
Like the punch-drunk protagonist being knocked down in a brawl I will get up again. How can I make people’s lives better and share what I’ve learnt about psychology if I don’t stumble back into the fight? What’s the point of learning what I have if I can’t make use of it? I’m scared of being insulted, being critiqued and of being vulnerable. I know that putting my head up makes me so much more exposed but to make a difference that unfortunately comes with the territory. If it’s something I believe in (which it is) and equally whatever it is that you believe in – it matters to stand tall. And if you don’t want to put your head up to be shot down then support those who do, give them the reassurance and encouragement they need.
Shelley Zalis, an amazing, strong and inspiring lady who I was recently introduced to said “A woman alone has power, together we have impact.” She’s right, but imagine what men and women can do if we all hold each other up. Speak up with me. Don’t let me or anyone else stand alone.
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world”….Mahatma Ghandi