Tuesday, 31 May 2011

One Big Social Faux-Pas

I will be forty six this year. Forty six! How did I get to be so old? I’m twenty eight, or sometimes thirty seven, deep inside my head. I liked those ages. I was temporarily happy with myself then. I was slim-ish, confident, happy with my life and the way it was all going. Then I hit forty and my world turned upside down and I was lost, bereft. It was more than a mid-life crisis, everything I believed in and had worked so hard for disappeared. I also hated the thought of being forty. It was not a joyful time, back then and I entered a darkness from which I am just emerging. I see the light ahead. But it’s dim.  

I think back over the years and I was never blessed with confidence and much self-esteem. I was a thin, scrawny child who never spoke and was crippled with shyness. But I got over that. Now I just babble. A lot. Especially in social occasions. I am apt to making a fool of myself and leaving people staring at me in wonder – who is this woman? I feel like a character from a sitcom. Miranda perhaps. Or Frank Spencer. You see, I also have a coordination problem, one not brought about by drink but linked to my condition of Ehlers-Danlos. It’s the clumsy gene, the thing now called Dyspraxia, once termed Sharonitis by people in my life. The real name for this particular problem is Proprioception. It’s a kinesthetic thing, the sense that deals with sensations of body position, posture, balance, and motion. Mine is out of kilter. It doesn’t help with my confidence. I’m a large clumsy oaf. 

I know I have achieved. I know I am a capable and able woman. I can be strong. I worked hard at a career I loved and I was good at it. And when it went, I started a business in 2005 without any prior experience or knowledge of the field. This month my business won two prestigious awards. We have a Gold Investors in People, because I believe in my staff and working with others for all benefits. I collected my First Class honours degree from the Open University at the weekend after eight years of long study. Yesterday I found out I had won first place in a writing competition, my third big competition win this year, with many more stories shortlisted and published, not just this year but over the last five. I know I can do many things with a lot of graft and hard work. I’ve had lots of things published now. I have a successful business. I’ve battled the demons of being forty. Nothing has ever come easy but I value the rewards all the more for it. 

So why am I still crippled with self-doubt and poor self-image and hatred. Yes. Hatred. It’s a big word. For a big woman. I’m a large lady. Really large. I was five foot nine and a half once. Now I’m barely five foot eight. But I’ve always liked being tall, even at school when I worked hard and kept my head down. I think it saved me from the bullies. That, or they just ignored me, didn’t see me. I’ve often felt invisible and often wanted to be invisible when I wasn’t, but you can’t hide someone like me very easily, even if you can ignore them. 

I’ve never been pretty, but then, I’m not sure I ever wanted to be ‘pretty’. Attractive would do. Perhaps it stems from childhood – Freud says so. Perhaps it comes from that abusive boyfriend I had for four years in my teens who told me I was a big fat lump and I was ugly and nobody would want me so I should be grateful he was with me. The irony was, he was a big lump and I was slim in those days. Perhaps it comes from a lifetime insecurity that’s part nature and part nurture. Whatever. It doesn’t help me much today to figure out where it came from. The fact is - this is me. A huge fat bleb who wants so much to do well and be accepted and to achieve but I’m wracked with how I look. I have nice hair though. 

I need to lose five stone. At least. I can’t look at the photographs from my graduation ceremony last weekend. I am a house-end. I don’t want to be seen in public. How can anyone respect someone who looks like me? I can’t even respect myself. And I can’t see how anyone can possibly like me. Whether we like it or not, we live in a world of image, where a good image is promoted and a bad one ridiculed. Heck, even Cheryl Cole has been told to lose weight and has been sacked for her accent. It’s not so dissimilar to mine.

It’s easy to say ‘lose weight’. Very easy to say. Very hard to do. I know. I’ve done it all my life. I’ve been a very thin ten stone which was far too thin for me and my frame. I looked ill. I’ve weighed much much more than that. I have clothes from a size twelve to twenty four in my wardrobe. I hate it. Clothes shopping. I have big feet too – size nines, sometimes a ten. But that’s all right. You can’t make your feet smaller so that’s not my fault. Like my height. 

I’ve dieted my life away since I was twenty one. I’ve toyed with bulimia, couldn’t face anorexia. I’ve used diet pills. I like them. They worked for me. But it never kept the weight off. And now I’m stuck in this body that I hate. Not only is it defective because of Ehlers-Danlos but it’s gross because I’m fat. There, I’ve said it. I’m fat. I also have an intestinal problem due to EDS but I can’t use that as an excuse as I’m still fat. I don’t scoff or cram food. You hear stories of women who eat ten packets of biscuits in a morning and then three packs of bacon with five eggs. They tell stories of how much of this and that they would eat. That’s not me. I rarely snack between meals. I don’t eat chocolate. I once had an addiction to it – I did scoff many bars a day but I successfully did the Paul McKenna hypnosis thing eight years ago and I rarely touch it now. Shame I can’t get it to work for food in general. I like good food, rich with flavour. My husband cooks and he’s brilliant at it. Of course, I have to eat it. I like to. Maybe I should just eat less of it. That’s probably the key. If only it was that easy. 

I’m supposed to be going to an event tonight. Ian Rankin and Sara Sheridan will be there, two people who inspire me and who I look up to. It’s a book swap in Edinburgh. There will be other people I know from twitter. Some I’ve met before, others I haven’t. I’ve got this huge pain in my very large gut. I can’t go. I can’t face these people. I will babble. I will make a fool of myself. I will be clumsy and trip over and spill my drink, like I did at a works Christmas do when I fell over the Chief Inspector’s table, pouring gin and tonic over his guests. I will be, and look, a fool. Or worse. If I don’t go I won’t have to see the look in their eyes as they speak to me, or avoid me. I won’t have to suffer the humiliation of them looking at me and knowing what they think, that I’m a big fat middle-aged woman who wants to be a somebody but never will. Not whilst she looks like that. Nice hair though. 

I’m just one big social faux-pas. I know I am able and capable. I can study at home in my own world. I can chat and make friends over the internet without anyone having to see me. I can pretend I am normal, that I am okay really. I can cheat and post pictures of me in my better years when I was almost passable. They don’t have to see the real me, the me that repulses me so therefore must repulse them too. 

Perhaps one shouldn’t meet one’s icons. I am only setting myself up for failure. We all want to be liked. I can’t even like myself.


  1. When we met last summer I didn't see a clumsy house-end.

    I thought you were a witty, intelligent, fascinating woman. I have a huge amount of respect for all you've achieved; and even more respect for you, and how dignified and articulate you've been when under the most awful pressures. A lesser woman would not have been able to cope with your grace.

    Please have more faith in yourself. You're a fabulous woman, and really don't deserve to feel at all bad about yourself.

    So there. xx

  2. We haven't met in Real Life (I think) but I trust Jane's judgment. If I was you, I'd print her comment and stick it to the inside of your eyelids. (Though that might admittedly make you look a bit odd ...)

  3. ahem, I am one of the people you will be facing tonight and I have no intention of doing anything other than embracing you and having a really good laugh with someone i remember with fondness from our brief meeting last year! And like Jane, I do not recognise the picture you are painting for yourself.

    My first thought when i knew you were coming was 'Fab', then i thought to myself, but i must remember not to crowd her as she'll have so many other people wanting to talk to her! That's the impression i got from meeting you last year.

    It has taken me a year to get the guts to do more than lurk on twitter so you're not alone in the lack of confidence club. I try not to see life as a competition though - and i think that helps when you encounter bozos who seem to think undermining people is the only way to proceed. Listen to the Jane Smiths of this world and you'll be on the right track.

    i'm going to DM you my mobile number now so that you can ring and meet me ahead if you'd rather not go in on your own. I'm going with one other friend - who is lovely, and who is a tonic to anyone she meets. x

  4. Jane - thank you so much, so very kind and I appreciate it.
    This whole thing is crippling me so much. I need to get a grip! It would be very easy to stay indoors, esp these days with the internet. Other members of my family have suffered with agraphobia (I don't know their reasons) and it would be so easy to end up like that. However, I do believe it is fairly normal for some people to think like this, I am not alone, but nobody speaks of it. Perhaps by sharing and putting it out there, it can become an acceptable and acknowledged problem and it will help to diminish it and all that goes with it.
    Look, I'm babbling now!

  5. Effie, I was moved by your post and have this to say in response. I think you are too hard on yourself. How do I know this? Because I spent decades being too hard on myself. My father was very critical. I grew up hearing criticism above all else. Then I returned to teach junior high school when I was 40--it was a parochial school--and the greatest gift I received working there is that I was treated to the example of kids happy in their own skin. Were they perfect children with perfect looks? Hardly. It was such a startling difference to see 13 year olds happy with who they are and a 40-something still too self-critical. I decided to cut myself a break. I wasn't going to spend anymore time self-loathing. I could lose 50 pounds, too--I'd be healthier. I am what I am. I'm 52, overweight, not nearly as diligent in my writing as your or as accomplished, but I no longer play negative tapes in my head and wished I had learned that years ago. I wish you peace, Effie, I really do--the peace that comes with being content in your own skin.

  6. I have met you several times face to face... and I don't think you're any of those things.

    However, I understand exactly what you mean and where you're coming from. I feel the same way about myself on a daily basis.

    Just know that you are loved.

  7. Thank you Gail. Hopefully this is a step towards doing that. Maybe it will come soon, I hope so. I have three kids and I need to instill in them a sense of self-worth and that they are beautiful and flawed and marvellous - and that's how it should be. I tell them every day I love them. I'm hoping it will work.

  8. Stef - thank you. I know this is a common problem and I knew many people would understand.

  9. What a fantastic post - for everyone who comes out and admits to being awkward in social situations, I think there are probably 1,000s who feel similar qualms without admitting it. I don't think I would have thought all these things of you having met you once last year. I was probably stressing out too much myself about being overweight, for example, to notice anyone else wasn't of petite build!
    I have some excellent news for you about being in your forties, which is that (in my experience) once you reach the age of 50 you probably won't care nearly so much about what anyone else thinks, and without wishing to reveal my age too exactly, by the time you get to 60 this is the case in spades. Also, you tend to accept your own quirks a bit more and just shrug and say, no I can't stand being with people for more than an hour at a time, that's just the way I am.
    It sounds to me as if you've been over-achieving your way through your forties anyway, so something must be working! Good luck for tonight, Sheila (ceciliapeartree)

  10. Thank you, thank you Sheila!
    I think one of the reasons I managed for so long in the police force was because I could be somebody else whilst I was at work. When I left, it was just me and boy, did my confidence dip. I never had much anyway, and I have never been driven by power, but without the sheild, I was exposed.
    I'm currently trying not to stress about what to wear ...

    I will come back tomorrow and let you all know ... if I went (I hope I do!) and how it was.


  11. Sharon, I so want to put my arms around you and hug the self-doubt out if you. I have felt the way you do. In truth, I still do occasionally, but now I am more or less at peace with myself. I'm fat: so what? I have a Mensa level IQ, can take some reasonable photographs and write a bit. And I seem to be able to make people laugh. What difference would being thin make to that? I also have a wicked temper, hate housework and don't suffer fools easily. Again, what difference would being thin make to that? You have people who care for you. For YOU. The size of the packaging is neither here nor there. We care for Sharon, the smart, funny, friendly, creative, caring lady we all know and love. And you have great hair.

  12. Ahh Nettie. I know I speak for so many people, men and women. It's so hard for a lot of us. I wish I could be one of those who could shrug things off and not care what people thought. I'm not. Not sure I ever can be. But I can try to work on it. And I am sure I will always hate housework ; )
    Thank you.

  13. I respect you, Effie/Sharon (which do you prefer?). I've not met you but I've just read 'A New Woman', you admit your insecurities, you've just got a First Class Degree, you've won 'The Yellow Room' competition and more, and ... I haven't got room for more, but I can tell you're a REALLY nice person. What's more, I like you ...

  14. I hope you do go tonight Sharon. By the time you read this you hopefully will have gone. Like everyone else I think you are a fab woman. I haven't met you but I have 'known' you on Twitter for nearly a year. Like Debs said above you have got so much talent, you have won competitions and have a first class degree.

    I have never won a competition and I'm going to be 50 this year. I have always struggled with my weight, but my hair isn't too bad I guess! We all feel like you from time to time. Know this - you are not alone and there will be better times ahead xx

  15. You have made so many personal achievements and things to be proud of over the years, its not really surprising that you take a moment and look at where you are.

    You've won awards with your business, you've accepted our degree and you have the honour of saying your an ex cop. Now the frame that is holding that incredible person may be a little larger than you want, but so is mine. It's the person inside people care about. Our personalities and actions are what make us, our capacity to love.

    Do you have that capacity to love? I know you do, do allow others to simply love you for who you are. Which is not just a sum of your achievements, but the person who worries about meetin people and cares about others, its all mixed in to make you and i for one like you.

    I hope you went to the event. And went proud and enjoyed it. Be gentle with you xx

  16. Oh Effie - come over here and get a big Otter-hug. I knew there were lots of reasons I took to you on first meeting and now I know some of them - we're twins, aren't we? I'm clumsy both physically and socially but unlike you I do this enormous over-compensation thing so people think I'm brimming over with self-confidence and get confused when I wimp out of things.

    You're great - don't you ever let me hear you saying you're not. We can't help having low self-esteem & saying useless things like "buck up n cheer up" is pointless - but people telling you what they see when THEY look - that's worth something. I see a wonderful woman doing fantastic work in so many ways.

    Cam xxx