I seem to have more pregnancy related symptoms creeping in this week, namely heavy feeling wrists, calves and ankles and a numb bum when I sit for any time! All part of the normal course of pregnancy according to my midwife, who I saw this week for my 25 week appointment. Both bump size and baby’s heartbeat are doing well. And I am now toting a step stool and tri-pillow around with me as apparently sitting firmly upright and with your legs at a right angle to your hips helps combat the butt numbness. And, I have to say, it does seem to be working which is good.
On to today’s topic, self confidence….
As odd as it may sound for someone who writes a blog, I’ve always been someone who has struggled with self confidence and valuing my own opinion. It is an issue that has plagued me for most of my life and has caused me a great deal of stress and anxiety over the years. It probably won’t come as any surprise that pregnancy has brought a whole world of new possibilities for feeling stressed by other people’s opinions. When it comes to pregnancy and baby bumps, everyone seems to think they’re an expert and to want to share their experience and advice with you; often in a fairly dogmatic way. Or at least that’s how it can come across to someone who takes what others say as fact at the expense of her own feelings and desires a lot of the time.
Now I know these friendly comments are only shared with the best of intentions. But it can be quite anxiety provoking. Take one trivial example, I went for a pregnancy massage, which was lovely and I can’t wait to have another, but the therapist commented more than once how small my bump was and how she couldn’t believe I was 5 months pregnant. Cue me then spending hours examining my bump in the mirror comparing it to pictures on Instagram; worrying that I was too small for my stage and that the only natural conclusion must be that baby wasn’t growing correctly and that something was wrong.
The apparent smallness or otherwise of my bump, except when measured by the midwife with her special tape measure, is merely a matter of opinion. It is a belief. And not, most importantly, a fact. Every woman carries their unborn child differently. The massage therapist was merely expressing her opinion which does not, and should not, be binding or persuasive to me. It is merely her perception and I can take it or leave it depending on whether it is helpful to me.
I try and deal with other people’s opinions and advice in two ways: 1) remembering an opinion is not a fact and; 2) by building my self confidence so my own opinions carry more weight in my mind.
Remembering the distinction between fact and opinion has been important as I have felt at times a bit bombarded by negative messages from well meaning friends and medical professionals alike. Just because a friend wanted an epidural to reduce the fatigue of labour does not mean I will necessarily need one. Just because a doctor thinks breastfeeding and ME/CFS are incompatible, does not mean I shouldn’t breastfeed (which incidentally is not something I am willing to give up on without trying). Here I give just two examples, there have been many others. All these nuggets of information – negative messages so to speak – clog up my brain and rapidly eat away at my original thoughts and desires, demoralising me and stressing me, which of course does nothing to tame my ME/CFS.
I don’t pretend to know everything and I don’t flippantly disregard the advice of others and especially not those of medical professionals, but as fellow ME/CFS sufferers will attest, so often the medical profession is found lacking regards care management of our condition leaving us feeling that we know our own bodies best. I am not arrogant and believe I know best. In fact I think that the fear of coming across as arrogant (fear of what other people think) has worked to quash my self confidence for so long.
My aim, now more than ever, is to cultivate a mindset of quiet confidence so that I can internally review advice that I receive, do my own research where necessary and ultimately make a choice, that feels right to me, with a cool calm head rather than acting out of fear or in a haze of self doubt.
And so I have worked to build my own self confidence using simple techniques. The easiest for me is a visualisation. When I become aware of a negative voice reverberating around in my head I stop it by pausing and breathing. I make a conscious choice to change the voice.
When I’ve been feeling overwhelmed and disheartened by other people’s comments, I have felt the need to exert myself – not literally in their face, they are nowhere near at this point, but instead I want to radiate a calm confidence and to me, confidence is about standing tall with your head held high.
The image I create in my mind that encapsulates this tall confidence is a wise, old oak tree in a forest. He who stands so tall, strong and sure of himself. I see myself standing so tiny at the foot of the tree, looking up in awe at its great height; the breeze fluttering its green leaves, the sunlight filtering through its canopy way above, its rough trunk so strong and safe, its roots burrowing deep into the earth holding it steady. I can smell the crisp fresh dewy air of the early morning forest, leaves crunch under foot as I walk and the oak tree is cool, calm and confident.
I see myself grow and morph into the tree, taking on all its characteristics, feeling myself grounded by deep roots and enlivened by the sun’s energy on my face as I stand tall above other trees in the forest. I am strong and steady as birds fly by and perch on a branch but I remain true to myself. I am strong and confident, yet open to possibility.
I use this in the context of the Lightning Process, but visualisation is powerful and can easily be used on its own and it definitely works for issues other than pregnancy. It can be used any time you feel you need a little boost in confidence and self esteem; to stand a little taller as it were.
My mind can be my greatest ally through this pregnancy journey, in the same way as it became my greatest tool in combatting my ME/CFS. But it’s not easy and it will take awareness and perseverance.
For now, I will simply go back to my oak tree.